My first Thanksgiving dinner in New Orleans was eaten at Kolb’s restaurant with three other reporters on the staff of the old States-Item. We’d been told by the editor that we’d have to work either on that holiday or Christmas, and all of us made our choices. (Those with their own families in town agreed to come in for a short day on December 25.)
Kolb’s, at 125 St. Charles Avenue, was a popular and rather elegant German restaurant that also served the local creole food. It was only a short walk from the Times-Picayune building on Lafayette Square, but for a reason I can’t remember, Georgia Burroughs, Iris Turner (later Kelso) and I wedged ourselves into Sally Samuels’ tiny sports car and made the trip by motor.
The Thanksgiving repast was delicious at a place that had been founded in 1899, survived anti-German sentiment through two world wars, and the competition with French Quarter restaurants during the revival of that area. But in the ‘70s, wrote foodie Tom Fitzmorris on the website The New Orleans Menu, Kolb’s custom declined after a change in ownership and it closed.
By the next Thanksgiving or two I’d gotten married, had a baby on the way, and had “retired” from the paper to get on the Mommy Track. My husband and I did holiday dinners with my family in Mississippi — where my grandmother expertly cooked the meal, and sometimes with his dad here in New Orleans, a setting in which I turned out my own first Thanksgiving meal.
My husband, a very good cook who’d learned the basics in the U.S. Army, was the main chef at our house. But that year he’d gone to his father’s florist’s shop to help out with the avalanche of orders that had to be delivered before noon. It seemed that everybody Uptown wanted floral centerpieces on their tables for Thanksgiving dinner.
Bobby had gotten the bird ready for baking. It was stuffed — probably not with cornbread in those days in New Orleans — positioned on the oven rack over a pan to catch the drippings, and awaited only the heat, which I would turn on at the proper time as instructed.
The side dishes, salads and dessert were my responsibility — which would become the habit during 56 years of marriage. And, oh yes, the cleanup was mine, too.
You’re probably going to think I ruined the turkey in my husband’s absence, but I didn’t. If I do say so myself, it was perfect. I took it out of the oven at just the right time. Even his dad said it was delicious, adding only that “maaybee” it could have been cooked a tiny bit longer. Bobby and I just smiled; George had a habit of drying out almost everything he served at his house.
George sold his florist’s business not too long after and then Bobby was home to supervise the baking of the big bird from start to finish at every Thanksgiving dinner we ever hosted. But of course over the years a lot has changed about the celebration. His dad and my parents and grandmother haven’t been with me for many Thanksgivings, and last December my husband joined them.
But I’m so thankful for the memories. Thanksgiving is truly a day to rejoice.