Planning For Party Cooking

Many of you are planning your Thanksgiving dinners. Perhaps your family assigns one dish per guest. Perhaps an uncle brings a smoked turkey. Maybe you are taking over the apron strings from your mother and are going to do it all. Putting together a family feast is complicated.

I’m not cooking a classic turkey dinner, but I have invited more than forty people to my home for pie. It would be impossible to pull this off without applying the organizational skills that I learned when working in professional kitchens. Good planning reduces the stress and increases the enjoyment. It means there will be fewer cooking disasters. It means that at the last minute you won’t be saying, Oh, no I forgot to buy the sage! I’ll share what I do here, and perhaps it will help your holiday festivities to go more smoothly.

1. Plan your menu and write it down. I keep a file of all past Pie Parties, with notations on which pies were the biggest hits, how much people ate and drank (this is how I know that year after year, each person consumes half a pie!) and ideas for the next year’s event.

2. Collect the recipes. Even if you know a recipe by heart, write it down. You’ll be creating a shopping list from the recipes, and you don’t want to forget a thing. If a recipe that I’m using is in a book, I copy it, as it is unwieldy to have a half-dozen books open on the kitchen counter. Clippings get slipped into a protective sheet. As I cook, I write notes on the recipes – everything from whether the baking time was accurate to what dish I used. You think that you’re going to remember these things from year to year, but you don’t. The recipes can them be filed away and referred to the next year.

3. Write up a complete shopping list. Put down exact quantities. Not “milk” but “2 cups whole milk.” I count eggs. This year I need 61 eggs for the 20 pies that I’ll be baking. I’ll be buying 5 dozen – my molting girls aren’t going to provide them!

4. Create a cooking schedule, with what you need to do ahead of time, and what gets cooked at the last minute. List every item, and the order that you will do it. My schedule starts two weeks out with pie crusts that I roll out and freeze (16 this year). Next are the pies that can be assembled, baked and frozen. Some pies are assembled and frozen, but then  baked off the day of the party, other pies are baked one day ahead and set, and others need finishing right before the guest come (such as Banana Cream Pie with a Meringue Topping.) Sometimes there are parts of recipes that can be done ahead of time. This year I’ll be baking off butternut squash and slow-cooking onions the day before I assemble the pies. My baking schedule details all of this! Have your cooking schedule broken down into time slots and don’t think that you can do this in your head. Work off the master plan, and you’ll be much calmer. Interruptions? Phone call from crazy Aunt Mary? No matter! You’ll be able to pick up where you left off.

5. Write out another schedule for the other things that need to be done, such as the decor, the dishes, the coffee, and the lighting of candles. This keeps you from scrambling at the last minute. On the day of my Pie Party, I have built into the schedule a relaxing shower an hour before the guests arrive. So, by the time the doorbell rings for the first time, I’m in my party attire (with an apron on, of course!)

6. Always check things off the list after you’ve done them. You’ll need that on-going sense of accomplishment.

I’m halfway through writing up my lists. They will be finished this morning after I’ve posted this blog. Check!



  1. I do the cooking for my son, DIL, grandson and a good friend and partner. I do the classic turkey (raised on grass) dinner. One of my biggest challenges/frustrations was getting ever thing to table (I actual do buffet style not enough room on the table) warm without over cooking things.
    Well I discovered a little trick several years ago those things that get smothered in gravy typically the turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing cooked in advance are set aside ahead time then place a couple gravy boats of hot gravy on the table. This way if they have cooled a bit the hot gravy brings them back to life.

    Happy Thanksgiving all. I have A LOT to be thankful for.

    • Wondered the same thing. It’s been so long since I’ve had to buy from the store, but I may have to, since my source has been inundated with new clients whose suppliers have dried up.

        • I happened to drive by a “fresh eggs” roadside stand, saw chickens milling about an old barn, stopped and bought 3 dozen! That’s what I prefer. I never buy the commercial eggs. There is a small chicken farm near me, that houses their hens in an old 1930s chicken coop. It’s a nice family farm, and I’ll buy from there, rather than a national “organic” brand.

  2. I have a Broil King elec. Buffet server that I use almost every night and it was worth every penny. We like our food hot. I can set out the soup and mashed and a veggie and know they are hot when served. This year I had to replant my garden twice but I did manage to fill the freezer with veggies and herbs and I also got a lot of potatoes and onions so my shopping list is pretty light. Just cranberries and pears mostly. Today I’m baking bread that will be used in the stuffing…I hope, unless it’s all eaten up tonight with the stew! Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

  3. Watching something flying round the run on Hencam – is it a bat? Would have thought it was a bit cold

  4. I know I could eat at least half a pie. I would have to sample several. Great tips! A pie party sounds fabulous. I have never hear of one…hmmm. Might have to get one going. Do you do all the pies? And do you serve anything else?

    • Yes, I bake all of the pies. There is no other food, but I do make savory as well as sweet pies. There’s coffee, tea, cider, and wine.

  5. I am always fascinated to read about Thanksgiving as we don’t celebrate it here in Australia.
    I am sending Phoebe a banana chip for her Thanksgiving. Hope she enjoys it.
    Hope you and your family have a great Thanksgiving Terry!

    • Thank you Jane! I honestly couldn’t blog daily or keep the cams up without the support of my readers. Your contribution is very appreciated.

  6. I remember reading about your pie party last year and thought it was such a great idea–it still is!!