In September of 1789, Congress passed a resolution declaring a “public day of thanksgiving and prayer,” but, in the rush of last-minute business before an autumn recess, left it up to the president to actually pick a date for the holiday. A few days later, George Washington, following a loose precedent set by the Continental Congress, announced he had picked a Thursday—the 26th of November, as it happened—for the observance, thereby creating a problem that has vexed Jews over the two centuries since: how to handle making, and eating, an equally festive Shabbat meal the very next day.
The last thing most Americans will be thinking about on Friday morning is more food, but in households where a bountiful Shabbat dinner is a weekly ritual, cooks who also celebrate Thanksgiving will be busily devising ways to re-purpose the turkey leftovers, or at least move them around to make space in the refrigerator for the usual weekend menu of soup, chicken, or cholent. “We tend to eat a lot on Thanksgiving—it’s like a yontif,” said Ahava Leibtag, who expects nine people for dinner on Thursday and as many as 18 the next night. “So, on Friday, I don’t feel like I need to make it so elaborate, but you still can’t take away from celebrating Shabbat.”
Leibtag, a 34-year-old mother of three who lives in Silver Spring, Md., said she didn’t like the idea of putting leftovers right back on the table—as much because it felt tacky as because she couldn’t imagine people wanting to eat the same meal two days in a row—but planned to use the remains of her 17-pound turkey as the base for her Friday night soup, instead of chicken stock, and serve it with meatballs and couscous. Like many cooks used to putting on large-scale weekly Shabbat meals—without being able to adjust their ovens or use burners, of course—she seemed unfazed at the idea of feeding so many people, so many times in a row.
“There’s just none of the same frenzy that non-observant people have about pulling off a big dinner,” said Susie Fishbein, author of the Kosher by Design cookbook series. She said she planned a dairy brunch—quiche, bagels, lox—for Friday, along with turkey sandwiches or a turkey salad for Friday night, along with pumpkin muffins made from the same base as the pumpkin bread she’ll serve on Thursday. “I wouldn’t put the carcass of the turkey on my Shabbes table,” she said. “My family is not going to see leftovers, but they’ll see parts of recipes reincarnated.”
Others said they planned to make use of the fact that everyone would have leftovers they didn’t plan to eat on Friday. “I’ll make a fresh chicken on Friday night, because I think Shabbat dinner should be special,” said Rachel Herlands, a Modern-Orthodox Jew who lives in Manhattan. “But I’m having 25 people for Shabbat lunch this week, so I’m encouraging people to bring their leftovers and make it a Thanksgiving leftover Shabbat lunch.”
Observant Jewish cooks, of course, frequently have to plan for multiday festival holidays, like Sukkot or Passover, which revolve around the ritual consumption of traditional dishes. “When you have a three-dayer like this, it’s not the time to be using your Martha Stewart influence—you have to make what you know,” said Lisa Baratz, an attorney in Hollywood, Fla., who has four teenage boys and expects to have 18 people on Thursday and Friday. She plans to make her standard brisket and matzoh-ball soup on Wednesday and keep it until Friday in one of her two refrigerators; Thanksgiving leftovers won’t reappear until after Shabbat is over. “Cranberry sauce will last, yam pie lasts,” she said. “Who wants to eat it Thursday and again on Friday?”
Of course, some families decide to square the circle and make do with a “Shabbat turkey.” Bronya Shaffer, a Canadian-born Lubavitch who now lives in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood, said she prepared a traditional Thanksgiving meal on Thursday for years, until her in-laws passed away. “I would just have salads and a light soup on Friday night, instead of something more substantial,” said Shaffer, now 61, who has 10 grown children. “But in the last few years, what we’ve done is defer it all to Friday night—it’s just simply more convenient.”
This article originally appeared on November 25, 2009.
Allison Hoffman is a senior editor at Tablet Magazine. Her Twitter feed is @allisont_dc.