At Thanksgiving, let us be grateful for beautiful tables, a feast for both the eye and the spirit.
The ways in which we decorate our tables are as different as the families and friends that gather around them. Like recipes for stuffing, there’s a style to suit any taste.
At Michele’s, the romantic restaurant at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino, Chef Ludovic Bezy serves a generous helping of glamour. Tall tapers flicker in crystal candlesticks. An extravagant centerpiece of fall flowers might have been plucked from a bridal bouquet. There’s a sparkling trio of goblets at each place, for red wine, white wine and water.
“It’s a holiday, so if you are entertaining at home, polish your good silver,” he says. “Don’t use what is in the drawer in the kitchen.”
Bezy hails from France, where there is no Thanksgiving. This uniquely American celebration quickly became his culinary favorite.
“Food is a beautiful decoration,” he says. “So when you are setting the table, you need to make room for the food.”
To demonstrate, Bezy prepares an intimate table for 12 in the wine room at Michele’s. If you don’t have a wine room or a dining room at home that can accommodate a large gathering, the chef suggests repurposing a seldom-used living room as a gathering space, setting up a long table or several smaller tables.
“If there is a fireplace in the room, your guests will feel even more special,” he says.
At Michele’s, Bezy doesn’t cover his holiday table with a cloth because the warm, golden tones of the wood enhance the ambience of autumn. He chooses large white linen napkins and snowy white china.
“The napkins are simple and elegant and the white china allows diners to focus on the food,” he says.
Remember, the food is as much a part of the show as the crystal and flatware.
“You must bring the whole turkey to the table for everyone to admire before you carve it,” Bezy says. “You also must have all the side dishes and the wine bottles on the table because passing food and drink from one person to another is such an important part of the meal.”
When he entertains at home, Bezy often creates 3-by-5 place cards, which are large enough to print the menu on, as well as the guest’s name.
“I always like to include a twist, a little surprise for my guests,” he says. “Instead of mashed potatoes, I might make individual gratins because people love the little dishes.”
At Tracy Skrobot’s home in Middletown’s historic district, the Thanksgiving table is decorated to conjure a vintage vibe in keeping with the aura of the house, a Victorian built in the 1860s.
“I like the primitive, the feeling of being back in the 1800s, together with your family,” she says.
Skrobot, program manager of the Middletown Main Street initiative, builds a relaxed, rustic centerpiece for the table. A florist friend showed her how to combine hydrangeas and rosemary from the mature gardens surrounding the house with blooms in fall hues, anchoring the stems in the sides and top of a block of Oasis.
“There’s no bowl, no vase, no basket,” she says. “It’s just a beautiful mound of flowers.”
Skrobot grew up in Utah. Her family wasn’t wealthy but their home always looked lovely, thanks to her mother, who enjoyed sewing and decorating.
She thinks about her mom as she spreads a homespun tablecloth woven in a check of mustard yellow and white. The china, embellished with fruits in rusty oranges and golds, was handed down from her mother.
“It’s been in my family for many, many years,” she says.
The silver place settings in the classic Baroque Rose pattern were a gift when the Skrobots were married 30 years ago. So were the Lenox crystal glasses banded with silver.
“I like to run my finger around the rim and listen to the glass singing as I wash it,” she says. “Even cleaning up is pleasant when you are taking care of things that are meaningful to your family.”
To create a casual contrast to the formality of the crystal and silver, Skrobot serves side dishes in wooden bowls. Bread is passed in a basket, lined with homespun cloth.
“Mixing things up makes the table look and feel very comfortable,” she says. “Pieces don’t have to match just because it’s a special occasion.”
The elaborate Victorian chandelier above the table casts an amber glow. If Skrobot needs to free a bit of
extra space on the table, she will remove the candles and light the tapers in sconces on the walls.
“I like to place dishes on the table that really get people excited, like big, fresh-baked pies,” she says.
After the last crumbs of pumpkin pie have been whisked away, and the cranberry sauce and succotash stowed, Skrobot will set the table all over again. After all the time and effort, why put away your favorite things after just one day?
“It is the time of year I love the most,” she says. “Walking into the dining room and seeing how beautiful it looks gives me a happy feeling every time.”
Here are a few tips for setting a holiday table:
Bring out your best: the silver, grandmother’s dishes, the crystal tucked away in the china closet.
Set the table the day before the big event. You will feel much less rushed on the holiday.
Don’t worry about everything matching. If you want a streamlined look, choose related pieces, such as a variety of cut-glass serving bowls. Or create a contrast with wood, silver or ceramic bowls.
Make food part of the show. Bring the bird to the table. Ditto for the pies.
Keep the holiday spirit flowing. Enjoy your table for a week or so after Thanksgiving.
For her fall table, Emily Smith will fashion a modern cornucopia.
The education coordinator at The Delaware Center for Horticulture, Smith offers ideas for show-stopping tables at monthly workshops.
Here’s her recipe for a Thanksgiving cornucopia. Do try this at home.