Family Time Around the Harvest Table

Writer / Carrie Petty

Gathering. Community. Something we all need more of during the holiday, and the family table is the best place to do such a thing. This is where the ancestry storytelling happens. When grandpa shares about growing up in his family home, or how he met grandma. It is like connecting the dots for the younger generations. It is when family recipes are served in great grandmother’s china, and the announcement of a new baby is often made.

Gathering. It is an intuitive thing we do to share stories and break bread, and I for one think it should be celebrated with a great table setting to match the sumptuous meal and special memories.

Setting a beautiful table for a meal is something of an art. Emily Post’s 14th Edition of Etiquette, devotes more than 17 pages to the art of table settings. Clearly, I am old fashioned, but I just can’t help it. I love traditions. Traditions keep us grounded in these hectic times. They are something you can count on, and long-standing traditions bring rhythm and comfort to life. Don’t you think? I remember our youngest son saying when he was little, “Mom, we can’t go on vacation over Thanksgiving. We have to wake up to the smell of turkey in the morning!” I could not agree more.

Work ahead! Preparing for such special gatherings does not have to make us fret. Do a little at a time and keeping great lists and notes helps. I have a special journal where I keep notes from the previous Thanksgivings. They help direct me away from the terrible Yam recipe of 2004 and note never to put walnuts in the stuffing again, particularly when Uncle Bill is in the house. He’s allergic!

Use the heirlooms. They always help tell a story. Start with your dishes. The color and type will set the theme. I have a white bone china with a gold edge that was our wedding pattern. The gold helps me select the centerpiece colors. Stickily harvest tones. Pine cones, gourds and fragrant oranges pierced with fresh clove arranged in an antique wooden bowl, placed in the center of the table on a bed of fresh, green lemon leaves. I always use something botanical and from the garden. The candle sticks are placed on each side, but never use fragrant candles, it will interfere with the food aromas. Make sure you leave some negative space on the table to avoid a ‘junkie’ look. I always set the table on Monday, after I have cleaned the house and dusted the chandelier. I then cover the entire setting with a clean sheet until Thursday morning. It helps keep the crystal goblets sparkling.

Post-it note the platters. I serve everything from the long hutch in the kitchen, buffet style. I select all my serving pieces and platters ahead of time and place a sticky note to label each. Also, build a menu timeline for what goes into the oven and when. It helps organize oven and refrigerator space so that everything is served piping hot.

Emily Post suggests that the key to a formal table is geometry and that everything is equally spaced and placed. She always suggests place cards. I love place cards. It keeps my left-handed brother from bumping into my right-handed son. And you can help direct good conversation by where you place your guests.

Placing a small gift for your guests to the left of the place card adds repetition and height to the table. I usually select a new, small Christmas ornament to give each member of the family. Something my Aunt Winnie use to do, however, she made hers. I still have all of mine today.

Each of us have a family story to tell when we gather together around the table. Start building your traditions and stories this Thanksgiving. All a part of knowing how to “Grow a Beautiful Life!”

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