Make ahead! – That’s my warning to you.

I’ve got my dander up on this one. Bully me with Thanksgiving dinner requirements and I push back with my Thanksgiving dinner mantra: make ahead!

Yes, heralds of the impending holiday season herald in my seasonal rant. Just because some Pilgrims happened to serve what was on hand, – turkey, squash, stuffing, corn, pies, etc. etc., is no reason that sane, 21st-century women have to scramble in the kitchen stuffing turkeys and side dishes into their cramped ovens in order for those Pilgrim foods to appear simultaneously on the Thanksgiving dinner table. Remember – those pioneer ladies cooked outside. And we’re not about to do that in Wisconsin! At least not in November.

So, when my family wants traditional Thanksgiving foods, I find new Thanksgiving recipes that I can make ahead. As much of the meal as is edibly possible, I assemble in the days, weeks, and months preceding the big T-Day.

Keep reading for my newest find. It’s a pumpkin roll with an identity crisis. It thinks it’s a canolli but it’s really pumpkin cake rolled around a sweet, cream cheese filling. It’s decadent, looks elegant, and tastes great. Plus, it’s pumpkin. So it fits all the requirements for a Thanksgiving dessert.

And the best part? It’s a make-ahead dessert. In fact you have to make it ahead of time. So sometime this fall, make it and keep it in the freezer until serving. How easy is that?! Keep reading for the recipe.

This pumpkin roll recipe comes from the cookbook Grandma’s Home Kitchen: Where lessons and life were mixed with love, by Wanda Peterson Mango. Wanda, her sisters, their mother and grandmother all worked in Wanda’s mother’s Swedish Bakery in Door County, Wisconsin. Wanda collected the best of the family recipes into this cookbook. And she spices them with vignettes about her childhood growing up in a large, rural Wisconsin family in the mid-20th-century. The book is a glimpse on a era that is somewhat past and somewhat present. 

In our holiday-season baking I think we often try to re-create the warmth of hearth, family and home of our grandmothers’ time. Our illusions of the perfect Thanksgiving Day can be a rose-colored fantasy of what family life used to be like. But in Wanda’s stories, it’s clear that the Peterson family’s love was no illusion.

In large families are many hands in the kitchen. All those Thanksgiving side-dishes are not overwhelming with so many people to help prepare them. But we typically have much smaller families now. So, how do we keep sane in the kitchen on Thanksgiving?

We either make fewer Thanksgiving side-dishes, or we make Thanksgiving a pot-luck party, or we choose recipes we can make ahead. And there’s one more option too, – Order In!

So for a stress-free Thanksgiving do all of the above. Order in the turkey, make the pumpkin roll dessert ahead of time, and invite enough guests so that all the other required Thanksgiving foods appear magically on your Thanksgiving dinner table. Yes, Thanksgiving can be just that easy!

 Here’s the Pumpkin Roll recipe from Grandma’s Home KitchenGrandmas Home Kitchen

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 3-oz packages softened cream cheese
  • 4 Tablespoons softened butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

“Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a jelly roll pan.

“Beat eggs well on high speed, then beat in sugar. Add pumpkin and lemon juice; beat well. Sift flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt into batter. Beat slowly until blended. Spread on jelly roll pan and sprinkle with nuts. Bake for 15 minutes.

“When baked, remove from oven and turn onto a large, clean dish towel. Gently roll pumpkin sheet up in towel. Set aside to cool completely.

“Meanwhile, mix powdered sugar, cream cheese, butter, and vanilla together. When cake is cooled, unroll and spread filling over whole cake, then gently re-roll. Don’t worry if it tears a little — just patch it up and continue rolling. Wrap roll with plastic wrap and put it in freezer for 2 or more hours. Cut and serve directly from freezer.

“This dessert is great to “make-ahead” and also to have on hand for unexpected company.”


(And did you notice that part, “Cut and serve directly from freezer”? Wanda is my kind of cook!)