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Susan Martin: The guest list may change but never the gravy boat

Thanksgiving is all about tradition. The homemade stuffing. The buttery mashed potatoes. The pumpkin pie you make using Lake Shore Solid Pack canned pumpkin because that’s what your grandmother used.

It’s not just the food many people look forward to year after year, either. It’s the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The Turkey Trot. The hand-lettered place cards created by someone under age 10. And, after dessert, the running of moistened fingers around the rims of goblets to make them “sing.”

Who needs football?

In many homes, very little changes with the dinnerware and serving pieces that come out at Thanksgiving as well.

So what if it takes multiple shakes to get a few grains of pepper through the holes in the tiny silver shakers? What does it matter that the gravy boat drips on the white tablecloth – or that the coffee cups that go with the “good” china are the size of thimbles?

At the holiday table, tradition wins.

At our house, there are several things I wouldn’t dream of not using at Thanksgiving. For instance:

• The white ceramic turkey platter. This landed in my arms the year I started hosting Thanksgiving. Why do I need a platter embossed with a turkey I’ll use just once a year? I wondered back then. Where will I store it? Now, years later, I totally get it. The turkey platter stays.

• Cloth napkins. A must. Let’s move on.

• The cranberry bowl. This was my mother’s and, through its many years, it went by one name and one name only. The cranberry bowl. As in, “Susan, can you get out the cranberry bowl?” or, “Susan, the cranberry bowl doesn’t go in the dishwasher.” It got its name not from its color – it’s clear, not cranberry-colored glass – but by the contents it holds once a year.

• The turkey-shaped salt and pepper shakers. I’m not sure when these arrived on the scene, but they do function better than the tiny silver ones I remember from my youth. Since each shaker is small enough to fit in the palm of the hand, storing them the rest of the year has never been an issue. They just hang out with the Santa and Mrs. Claus shakers in the corner cabinet in the dining room.

• The relish bowl. Sure, plenty of delicious olives are readily available these days. But, in my mind, Thanksgiving wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a can of pitted California ripe olives to drain and drop in one of the divided sections of this decades-old bowl. The question is not whether I’ll buy them. The question is what size olive. Medium? Large? Extra large?

• The gravy boat. I have several options I use for sauces from time to time, but the white one that comes out at Thanksgiving is  a longtime family favorite. It’s oval with a basket-like handle that reminds me of curved arms that meet at the top. It’s from the Hallcraft by Eva Zeisel collection by Hall China Co. I also have the matching ladle.

Zeisel, the Hungarian-born ceramist and designer, died in 2011 at the age of 105. In an obituary, the New York Times wrote that her “elegant, eccentric designs for dinnerware in the 1940s and ’50s helped to revolutionize the way Americans set their tables.” The Times noted that her work “ultimately spanned nine decades.”

The gravy boat is a keeper. Please handle with care.


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