Suzanne Roig
The Bulletin

Thanksgiving by the numbers

46 million turkeys eaten in the United States

1621 is the date of the first Thanksgiving, according to most accounts and was in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

1863 is the year President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday

$49.87 is the American Farm Bureau Federation’s estimate of the cost of classic items found on a Thanksgiving Day dinner table for 10 people

48.7 million Americans traveled at least 50 miles last year, according to the Automobile Club of America.

29 percent of Thanksgiving Day holiday celebrations include an item sourced ready-to-eat from food service

57 percent include items that were “completely homemade” from a restaurant or food service outlet

— Sources: National Turkey Federation, AAA, NPD group

When all 20 members of Gail Menasco’s family sit down for a Thanksgiving feast this year, each of them will bring a dish to complete the family’s meal.

Some will buy a prepared dish from a local deli and plate it on their own family china. Some will collect each ingredient and cook it all from scratch. Some will only cook with locally grown products. And still others will grab something from the store on their way to the dinner.

This is Thanksgiving 2017 style, a table filled with a mix of traditional handmade dishes and store-bought prepared food, said Menasco, a working mother of a 2-year-old.

Thanksgiving today means hosts don’t have to rise before dawn to start cooking the turkey and the trimmings, decorate the house ala Martha Stewart- or Pinterest-style and then serve up a family midafternoon meal.

Modern-day Thanksgiving dinner hosts are working to spread the load, but maintain the traditions that make this one of the most treasured family holidays of the year. Thanksgiving has always been and is still all about family, Menasco said.

“We come together with a big group of us,” said the 32-year-old Menasco of her Bend family.

Central Oregon Community College Cascade Culinary Institute Chef Thor Erickson said there’s nothing like cooking the meal yourself, but admits it takes a lot of time.

First, there’s recipe selection; then a shopping list needs making; then shopping, which usually includes several stores, and the meal preparation itself. That comes to 20 to 30 man hours, he said.

That’s a big time investment, Erickson said, one that everyone should do at least once in his or her life.

These days, however, not too many people feel they have that much time.

“Some people have recipes from their mom or dad, or grandmother,” Erickson said. “And they make them year after year. They know the drill.”

Thanksgiving is the one holiday that people want to gather around the table with family, according to the Pew Research Center. About 89 percent of the United States will have a Thanksgiving meal with members of their family, and not just one or two. The average table gathering is about 20, the Pew study showed. It’s such a serious family holiday that AAA tracks travel trends.

Last year, 48.7 million Americans traveled 50 miles or more to join their families, a 1.9 percent increase over 2015 and the most travelers over a Thanksgiving holiday since 2007, according to AAA’s 2016 figures, the most current data available.

And this year looks no different, said Marie Dodds, director of government and public affairs for AAA in Oregon and Idaho.

“AAA expects travel volume to increase again this Thanksgiving as millions of Americans head over the river and through the woods for that turkey dinner,” Dodds said. “This would be the ninth consecutive year of growth in the Thanksgiving travel volume and one of the busiest Thanksgiving travel periods in the last decade.”

With all that travel, some people don’t feel as inclined to spend hours trapped in the kitchen standing over a hot stove.

A lot of people see Thanksgiving not as just a time to break bread and pass the turkey leg, but a time to relax and go biking or hiking with friends, Erickson said. People increasingly prefer to order up a meal for pick up, he added.

But traditions are strong at Thanksgiving. People want traditional food items on their tables, and some will dig through old cookbooks to get that, while others will turn to their corner restaurant to find them.

“Young couples who want to have that do-it-yourself kind of feeling and trying to host a meal, a basic Thanksgiving meal,” he said.

Some cooks may want to create a meal that is all locally sourced. For those in Central Oregon it may be difficult to find all the ingredients of a traditional dinner. At Central Oregon Locavore on NE Third Street in Bend, however, they can find everything from locally produced wine to pair with humanely treated turkeys raised nearby, said Nicolle Timm-Branch, Locavore founder and president.

Serving up all locally grown and raised food certainly will impress those at the table, Timm-Branch said.

“It’s a good topic, dinner conversation,” Timm-Branch added. “Supporting local helps keep our food dollars here in the community. Local food has not traveled as far; it’s fresher and more nutrient dense. Especially if you’re talking about turkeys.”

If spending those hours toiling in the kitchen isn’t appealing, many cooks have turned to other options: meal prep kits delivered to your door, entire meals ordered from a restaurant, reservations at a restaurant or even at a local deli.

At Newport Avenue Market in Bend, Lauren Johnson, chief operating officer, said the store is open on Thanksgiving day and often sells precooked Diestel turkeys, which require just a reheat in an oven. The deli department offers traditional side dishes that can be picked up throughout the day she said.

“We ran out of a lot of products last year,” Johnson said as she walked around the store. “We have core customers who preorder from us; they know what we can do and what we offer. As an independent grocer, we can pretty much come up with stuff on the fly, so we roll with demand.”

With more than 200 vacation rental homes in the surrounding neighborhood, the market has to be flexible and offer prepared foods for those who want to snowshoe in the morning and gather with family in the afternoon. Then there are those purists who do everything from scratch and devote the 20 to 30 hours it takes to create a Thanksgiving feast.

“At the end of the day it’s all about sitting down with family and friends,” Johnson said. “So what if you got the food out of a service deli?”

It’s all about family for Menasco. She will be preparing creamy mashed potatoes — a staple at her family’s Thanksgiving table. She’ll pick up some ready-made rolls at the market and make some kind of salad to bring to her in-laws’ home in Bend.

“The potatoes are delicious,” said Menasco. “There always winds up being a lot of food, that’s for sure.”

Reporter: 541-633-2117, sroig@bendbulletin.com

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