Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s a respite of good food, family fellowship, rest, relaxation and prayerful gratitude before the madness of Christmas commercialization hits us.

And while the “first Thanksgiving dinner,” complete with Native Americans and Pilgrims uniting for a feast, is pure fabrication (largely stemming from Sarah Josepha Hale’s portrayal of the idea in an editorial in “Godey’s Lady’s Book” in 1865—Hale was a huge proponent of Thanksgiving and contributed significantly to its adoption as a national holiday), the idea endures. The concept of a first Thanksgiving in Plymouth of 1621 provided a neat and tidy historical talking point for schoolchildren and new immigrants arriving to America. (Reference: “The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink,” pp. 586-587)

Of course, the meal is central to Thanksgiving. Hale’s 1827 novel, “Northwood: A Tale of New England,” included a chapter dedicated to details surrounding Thanksgiving dinner, and this is where we take much inspiration for the traditional meal—roasted turkey, stuffing, gravy and pumpkin pie, which she called “indispensable” for a “true Yankee Thanksgiving.”

George Washington created the original impetus for an annual Thanksgiving holiday, and Abraham Lincoln helped formalize it. But it wasn’t a federal holiday until 1941, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed it into law.

Like much of my life, my Thanksgiving table is always one part tried-and-true tradition and one part experimental. The meal always includes ultra-traditional roasted turkey, stuffing and gravy, but the experimental baker in me often feels compelled to play with the desserts a bit. This year, I’m doing all desserts in bar or cookie form, via recipes I’ve developed for:

  • Black-Bottomed Bourbon Pecan Pie Cookies
  • Brûléed Maple-Pumpkin Bars
  • Salted-Caramel Apple Pie Bars

I like the idea of sampling every dessert, and this miniature approach will help me fulfill that goal. Thankfully, these deviations from the traditional are largely tolerated by my family.

Here’s wishing you and yours a peaceful, relaxing and delicious Thanksgiving! And always save room for dessert.