When I started Thanksgiving at Prune 20 years ago, I put a version of the plate on the menu, and it had become a tradition of my own. When guests arrived, we would set one down on the table as we hung up their coats, and they read the wine list, had a cocktail, visited with their families. It was on a china plate, with a very good sharp Cheddar, and a milder, more vinegary yellow mustard that I prefer. However, the white onion was still white onion, raw and thinly sliced, and the store-bought saltine crackers I had never “updated.”
I’ve been cooking Thanksgiving dinner at Prune for two decades, and some families have been coming every year for nearly as long. I’ve seen some of their little ones who used to show up in diminutive velvet blazers, their legs dangling from the banquette as they sipped Shirley Temples, arrive in later years with full beards and casually order their own I.P.A.s. But all of us will need to update our plans again this year, as. My own children have come to be excited about our own particular routine — the only one they have ever known — when we all just very happily sit at the wooden kitchen counter the following Friday, in T-shirts, having a massive spread of Next-Day Leftovers that I bring home from work.
This year my boyos, now teenagers, have requested the same tradition — they still want leftovers, and they still want it the day after. They want to know if they can invite their friends, and their friends now have even started asking if they can come over for Next-Day Leftovers. Which is a charm of its own I completely fall for.
I usually cooked for roughly 130 people. I made my 18 pies, my 32 capons, 50 pounds of mashed potatoes, the chestnuts, the oyster pan roast, the cornbread stuffing, the braised kale, the mixed mushrooms, the sweet-and-sour pearl onions, the celery-root rémoulade — all without even looking at a recipe, by muscle memory alone. Leftovers had never required any forethought or planning. I’m sure we’ll figure it out, how to downscale and downsize and downshift our mighty machinery to accomplish this funny thing that domestic cooks have been struggling with for decades: dinner for a small group. But I notice I’m stumbling a little already. Change is always an unsettling mix of exhilaration and worry.
But the traditional annual snack that starts us off while we have a martini and finish whisking the gravy will not be hard to adapt. It’s the perfect thing to set out first, while you do whatever it is you do to get ready in your house, whatever size group you’re having. Sharp Cheddar, cut into neat tablets, sliced white onion, mustard and saltines.