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updated 11/23/1992 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/23/1992 01:00AM

>HOW TO COOK A TURKEY, NOT FEEL LIKE ONE

SPURRED BY MEMORIES OF THE CONVIVIAL Thanksgivings she enjoyed as a child at her grandmother's house in Natchez, Miss., the novelist Robb For-man Dew, in newly wedded naïveté 24 years ago, invited 12 people to Thanksgiving dinner. In A SOUTHERN THANKSGIVING (Addison-Wesley, $10), she confesses that she "began shopping Wednesday morning, stayed up all night with my husband of one year cooking 12 Cornish hens, two at a time because our oven was too small to hold a turkey, and was collapsed and weeping, trying to unclog our vacuum cleaner with an unbent coat hanger the following day when the doorbell rang."

There had to be a better way. In this slender, absorbing memoir and cookbook, she tells you what it is: Plan ahead. In conversational style and nearly novelistic detail, Dew presents her simple, step-by-step stratagems. . Each dish is given a timetable (up to 12 weeks in the case of her turkey gravy) by which it may be prepared ahead. Her beautifully balanced Southern menu includes blanched vegetables vinaigrette as well as corn-bread dressing with sausage and apples, yams mousseline and cousin Lalie's pumpkin chiffon pie with gingersnap crust. But if, as the day approaches, you're still running behind, buy dessert. She often does.

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