What's your idea of the perfect Thanksgiving meal? A big family buffet, or perhaps an intimate evening with a few close friends? Thanksgiving brings us together from near and far for all sorts of fun-filled traditions that are uniquely our own. And while those traditions may vary somewhat as families grow and our lives change over time, there's one constant at the heart of Thanksgiving entertaining - the beloved turkey platter.
"Turkey platters really are the Christmas tree of Thanksgiving," says Keith Winkler, product marketing manager at dinnerware giant Replacements, Ltd. "When you talk about Thanksgiving, I think most Americans picture that iconic Norman Rockwell painting with the mother serving the perfect turkey on a huge platter. Even though that image has been reinterpreted in so many ways as times have changed, the platter has always remained the centerpiece of the gathering, even for those who by-pass the bird to serve another main course for their Thanksgiving meal."
Winkler notes there's also a strong sentimental attachment to this seasonal favorite. Turkey platters often become heirloom pieces, handed down in many families, making the platter even more special.
Turkey dinnerware history 101
The history behind Turkey patterns and ultimately the iconic platter is literally as old as the holiday itself.
When Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving official back in 1863, English potters seized the opportunity to target the growing American market by producing turkey-themed dinner plates and platters. These ingenious designers generally took an existing design and replaced the center with a turkey motif to create those first Thanksgiving patterns. Manufacturers such as Spode, Mason's and Wood & Sons used their colorful transferware patterns to start a new holiday tradition, which became an instant hit.
In fact, Replacements' most popular Thanksgiving pattern, His Majesty by Johnson Brothers, started as an accent plate in the company's Friendly Village pattern. The English manufacturer received so much demand for this particular motif that the company turned the proud Tom Turkey-adorned plate into its own pattern.
The great platter hunt
Designers say you don't have to buy entire set of turkey-themed dinnerware to find the perfect platter. Replacements' Julie Robbins notes you can find platters that blend well with any pattern, from the very old to the very new.
"Turkey platters aren't necessarily bird-themed; you'll find them in designs ranging from florals to even scenic vistas," Robbins says. "Think who is going to be at your table, what you're serving and find a platter that speaks to you. If you're serving turkey, it doesn't matter whether you're carving your bird in the kitchen or on the table, just make sure it's large enough to accommodate your guests. So many people make the mistake of trying to put a large turkey on a 12-inch platter and quite frankly, that is just too small and it's not going to work. This is a special piece, not an everyday platter."
Robbins adds she's seen people do wonderful things with a small turkey, such as placing vegetables around the bird to fill out the larger platter and complete the look. Turkey platters aren't only fun, many are also functional. Lenox and several other manufacturers produce turkey-shaped platters and other autumn themed serving pieces in alternative metal serveware. This is a special alloy that when heated or chilled maintains temperature to keep foods warm or cold.
Gobble up this season's table top trends
Many dinnerware companies are producing Thanksgiving or turkey-themed accent plates and platters to mix and match with everyday dinnerware in colors and motifs to fit all tastes and lifestyles, from the very traditional to a more modern aesthetic. And if Tom Turkey isn't the right design element for your table, Robbins says you can still create a seasonal feel, minus the bird.
"You can use fall leaf or even woodland patterns to create a classic Thanksgiving table without going with a turkey motif. Even beautiful classic fruit patterns give your table that cornucopia or horn of plenty flair."
Not sure where to start? Find a list of Replacements' most popular fall and Thanksgiving patterns on the company's website, replacements.com.