Recreating Thanksgiving in the Time of Coronavirus

How will we gather? What will fill our tables? We ask chefs, writers, business owners, and our community what the holiday will look—and feel—like for them.

October 26, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten

Thanksgiving this year will be different. A lot different. It’s something we’ve anticipated all summer long, secretly hoping we’d be wrong. Some of us haven’t fully wrapped our heads around what the day will look like—or are avoiding thinking about it. “The entire holiday season feels as upended as a tarte tatin,” says Ellen Gray, chief baker at The Able Baker in Maplewood, N.J.

For an occasion that’s rich with the ideal of togetherness, the irony is that many of us will be cut off from family and friends. So, how will we gather? Safely, for one, with each family evaluating their own risk-benefit of gathering. Our tables will likely look a lot more snug. They might be outdoors. (Friendsgiving picnic with deconstructed stuffing, anyone?) And with fewer seats taken, we might even skip the emotional tumult that is political chatter and focus on the cranberry sauce—and that’s the silver lining.

What’s on the table might look different, too. Some of us will hold on to what’s familiar a little tighter, determined to make of it a delicious, cozy holiday. Others will break with tradition (prime rib? A turkey…salad?). Meals could look lighter—for some, that translates to anything that does not involve cooking all day. Anita's Yogurt founder Anita Shepherd said in a recent taping of The Genius Recipe Tapes, that she'll likely “make a bowl of popcorn, add poultry seasoning, make a cocktail...and be done."

There's also a concerted effort to want to break bread with others—not just family and friends, but neighbors and community members that are alone, or cannot cook.

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Top Comment:
“Well, and a pie, which this year will be Erin Jeanne McDowell's black bottom pecan pie (I did a test bake last week - YUM!) re must haves... in TDay's past I have had everything from grilled cheese to meatloaf to turkey breast to full turkey. I have enjoyed them all. So to each, their own. We are fortunate to live in a time when we can connect virtually for so many things. I focus on what I can do (vs what I cannot) and celebrating today. Happy Thanksgiving to all and thank you Food52 for all of your inspiration.”
— Liz S.

So yes, Thanksgiving this year will look different. But how will it feel? Nostalgic? Lonesome? Grateful? Hopeful? We asked a cross-section of people—from our staff and community to chefs, farmers, and business owners—for their sentiments about the holiday in a year like no other, and how they’re making the most of things.

"Making it to the other side of 2020 has been a titanic undertaking for people in the restaurant industry, and when the pandemic hit, our mantra was: "The only way out is through." Now that the holidays are in sight, we are looking at not only how to make it through, but how to make it better. The holidays will be our chance to express how grateful we are to our community for helping to keep us in business. We won't travel this year, but we will be making food at the restaurant to donate to a local soup kitchen." —Unmi Abkin and Roger Taylor, chef-owners, Coco & The Cellar Bar

"What I’m looking forward to most this Thanksgiving is being able to celebrate the holiday with family, friends, and our restaurant staff. As a person who is now six months in recovery from COVID-19 with unrelenting symptoms, opening two restaurants at this time has tested every part of my being. Neither restaurant could have been opened without the support of all; so giving back to them well beyond thank yous, love, and paychecks will be my testament to their loving, kind souls." Todd Richards, chef-owner, Lake and Oak BBQ and author, Soul: A Chef's Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes

"We don’t usually see family for Thanksgiving, but this year, because we’ve been so deprived of family, we’re planning to create a 'pod' with my mom so that we can see her for the holiday—the first time in more than a year. It will probably involve us getting tested and figuring out the best way to travel to her in Florida. I’ve never had Thanksgiving in a warm climate before, so I’m curious how I’ll feel about all the hefty comfort foods that the holiday brings. When we’re home in Brooklyn, we don’t always have turkey for Thanksgiving so we might have to dare my mom to consider Gulf shrimp!"Amanda Hesser, co-founder and CEO, Food52 and devoted fan of Meta Given's pumpkin pie

"I've hosted Friendsgiving nearly every year for the past 16 years and my philosophy has always been 'the more, the merrier.' This year, that's the opposite of what we want! But, I'm trying to be flexible and focus on the other aspects of the holiday—besides the company—that makes it feel like Thanksgiving. For me they're: spending all day cooking, eating pie, and taking it extremely easy for the long weekend after. I'm trying to get excited about doing those things—and if a handful of friends decide we're comfortable eating outside (being in Southern California will make that a lot more likely), or get tested and quarantine, then great!" —Emily Stephenson, recipe developer and author, The Friendsgiving Handbook

"My family is vegetarian, so Thanksgiving is usually all about the sides—we’ll make a big pot of koftas, or a pan of lasagna, or even a tofurkey (that happened just once and was an epic failure) for posterity's sake, but too many leftovers inevitably remain. This year, like many others, I won’t be traveling anywhere, so I plan to invite a couple friends over for an all-sides meal in smaller portions than normal.

"We’re talking mac & cheese, stuffing, greens gratin, mushroom gravy, cranberry sauce, and at least two types of pie. These can all be made in advance, so I can spend actual Thanksgiving day drinking mulled cider and watching scary movies with my small-but-mighty invite list." —Brinda Ayer, editorial lead, Food52

"This Thanksgiving is decidedly different, and this certainly shows at my butcher counter. With such uncertainty, this holiday season we will be stocking birds for the smaller occasions we are anticipating. If you were ever curious as to what a cornish hen, guinea fowl, or squab tastes like...this is your year! My own family of three will be indulging in a roast duck with roasted grapes and definitely a persimmon salad. I haven't figured out the rest, though I'm excited for us to have this opportunity, as I have long advocated something other than turkey to my extended family." —Lena Diaz, head butcher at Greene Grape Provisions (aka, the "meat mayor" of Brooklyn)

"This year, it'll likely just be my immediate family of four at our table. Thanksgiving is my husband's and my favorite holiday, so we're planning to cook a traditional dinner with turkey (albeit a smaller bird!) and our favorite trimmings (like these Sour Cream & Chive Mashed Potatoes). We'll likely do Zoom calls with family and friends, play lots of board games, and spend the day in the kitchen with the kids. It won't be the same as our gatherings with loved ones from past years, but we're determined to make the day feel special."—Emily Connor, Food52 community member (and mastermind of this delicious autumnal sweet potato stew)

"Most years, there are at least a dozen guests at my home for Thanksgiving, but this year will be different. Instead of having family over, I am making Thanksgiving dinner and delivering it to neighbors and friends who are alone and do not—or cannot—cook. It is all about happy memories and food prepared with love and shared with friends and family."—Suzanne DeBrango, Food52 community member and recipe blogger

"As a professional pie baker who discreetly waves good-bye to each pie that leaves the bakery, I take my job seriously. Most years, more than 600 pies cross the baker’s bench on the day before Thanksgiving. My guess is that pie sales will be brisk despite the uncertainty of gathering, because one thing remains constant: Pie always makes us feel better." —Ellen Gray, chief pie baker at The Able Baker

"This Thanksgiving will be a tough one for so many of us who aren't able to travel to see family, so I'm trying to keep in mind positive ways to connect—both for myself and in the Genius Recipes I'm sharing with Food52's readers who might be in the same boat. It's a good year for all of us to try a new recipe or four (for me: a kooky, high-maintenance turkey technique, and maybe for once no green bean casserole), hop on Zoom with our families to compare notes, and text our neighbors to see if they're hungry for leftover pie." —Kristen Miglore, founding editor & creative director, Genius

"In previous years, my favorite part of Thanksgiving has been to cook alongside friends and family—the making of a meal by everyone contributing a little something. We haven’t wrapped our heads around what the day will look like for just the four of us this time, but part of the day will include video conferencing with friends and family while they are also preparing their meals. I hope this will give us a sense of being connected even if we are not in the same physical space. My hope is that the simplicity of the day will give us a chance to really be together—now more than ever I crave togetherness." —Aran Goyoaga, food blogger and author, Cannelle et Vanille

"We are definitely cooking the same size turkey (leftovers!) and lineup as in the past: gravy, mashed potatoes, two stuffings (one GF cornbread), sweet potato soufflé, and potato rolls are always on the table, no matter the year.

"Work-wise, this is always a busy time of year for building tables, and this year especially so as people are spending much more time at home. Whether gathering around the family table that’s been there for decades, or a brand new table, the focus for all of us is most definitely on the family and food around it." —Jessica Glasscoe, founder at Vermont Farm Table

What is Thanksgiving looking like for you this year? Tell us in the comments below!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Written by: Arati Menon

Arati grew up hanging off the petticoat-tails of three generations of Indian matriarchs who used food to speak their language of love—and she finds herself instinctually following suit. Life has taken her all across the world, but she carries with her a menagerie of inherited home and kitchen objects that serve as her anchor. Formerly at GQ and Architectural Digest, she's now based in Brooklyn.


Liz S. November 23, 2020
I know ... I have already commented twice, but .... 2 things: Kristen Miglore's Genius recipe for Nik S. sweet potatoes ... watch the video :) ... but basically, a sheet pan/covered oven pan steam, then roast. I have since tried the method with russet, brussels sprouts and carrots .... so my plan is 1/2 a sweet potato, 1/2 a russet, some sprouts on a sheet pan. I will mash potato and sweet as that is what I like, but the steam/roast method really improves taste and texture. Bonus for sprouts alongside and less pans.

re less pans: I recently saw NYT Cooking M.Clark's TDay dinner with 1 sheet pan, 1 pot. I already bought a bone in turkey breast or else I would try her bacon wrapped boneless breast!!! BUT, the idea/inspiration [to me] of her video AND Kristen's Genius video is ... make the dinner that you like with less pots and pans and still have what you want. My own personal must haves are turkey, gravy, mashed potato, mashed sweet potato, something green and roll or pan dressing. Well, and a pie, which this year will be Erin Jeanne McDowell's black bottom pecan pie (I did a test bake last week - YUM!)

re must haves... in TDay's past I have had everything from grilled cheese to meatloaf to turkey breast to full turkey. I have enjoyed them all. So to each, their own. We are fortunate to live in a time when we can connect virtually for so many things. I focus on what I can do (vs what I cannot) and celebrating today.

Happy Thanksgiving to all and thank you Food52 for all of your inspiration.
luvcookbooks October 28, 2020
Hi, I am planning to cook for our team working in the hospital. I can cook a big dinner and they will have a home cooked meal. Also making pie for one of our doormen. He knows that I bake and asked me last year.
Interested if any thoughts about a transportable menu.
Thinking about Queen Sashy’s Turkey Oslo Bucco.
Arati M. October 29, 2020
What a truly lovely gesture—to cook a dinner for your hospital team! If that's not the most heartwarming sentiment for our times, I don't know what is. Here are some ideas from our team:


And here are all the pies to choose from, for your doorman, and YOU, who also deserve nothing but the best:

Nancy October 30, 2020
Lovely plan. Two transportable ideas for you.
First, Ina Garten's turkey. She roasts and carves it day before serving, and puts the pieces in gravy to warm up and serve. You could do a large container or, for more safety, individual servings in take-out or soup containers.
Second idea, bake stuffing in muffin tins for individual servings. Many people suggest this; think I first heard of it from Rachael Ray.
luvcookbooks October 30, 2020
Some great suggestions here. I made the green bean casserole last year- the only problem was there was none left for us! Planning to repeat this year.
The pies are so lovely- such a shame that I can only make a few. Considering hand pies v tarts v just packing up slices in separate containers.
luvcookbooks December 4, 2020
Hi, just wanted to let you know what the menu was:
Slow cooked Turkey, slathered w butter and herbs, stuffed with lemons
Roasted Delucata Squash with Wild Rice Dressing
Union Square Cafe Brussels Sprout Hash
Sweet Potato Salad from Jubilee
Raspberry Rhubarb Pie
Would add pics but not sure how.:). The sweet potato salad was pretty, with orange, white, and purple sweet potatoes.
Served in individually packed clamshells because Covid.
Thanks for the support!
Marion B. October 28, 2020
We have decided to stay home instead of visiting our parents this year. The challenge will be cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for 2. I like white meat, and my fiance prefers dark meat. So a turkey breast won't do. I'm considering making Mark Bittman’s Braised Turkey recipe.
Maria N. October 28, 2020
You could try roasting half a small turkey on top of stuffing. We did that one year and it was great. We froze the other half.
Arati M. October 29, 2020
You know, I just read someone write: The secret to a happy relationship is finding someone who likes a different part of a roasted chicken (or turkey, in this case). Happy Thanksgiving to you both, and I agree with Maria—great idea to just freeze the other half.
Liz S. October 31, 2020
I have enjoyed Thanksgiving on my own (1 person) for many years. Most years I have cooked a smallish Turkey (12-14 pounds) and made the usual trimmings: mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, some green veg, cranberry sauce, GRAVY ... my own personal must haves. The sides are easy to make smallish. The turkey ... I make broth from the carcass and then freeze leftover meat with some broth in single serving (LOVE Souper Cubes for this) portions. I freeze extra broth same way (Souper cubes). If you have freezer room, there is no penalty/loss for a single/couple. FWIW, I roast the bird.
Liz S. October 31, 2020
Part of the reason(s) that I celebrate and ENJOY on my own: I am miles from family and after some early years of holiday travelling ... YIKES ... prefer staying at home and visiting other times. While I have received invites locally, I found that I just did not enjoy being part of other family's celebrations and preferred staying in my own home with my pets and preparing a meal that I love ... AND enjoying memories of family gatherings.