The first Thanksgiving dinner I ever prepared myself was a disaster. I was living in London then. It seemed like a great idea when a group of English friends said something like, "Oh, what fun. A pagan holiday. Make us a typical meal."

They don't have turkeys in England. I had to use a duck. For the pie I had to buy imported canned pumpkin at Harrod's and it cost a fortune. Then there wasn't any sugar for the pie -- no sugar in the whole country because somebody or something was on strike. So I had a friend mail some from France (pre-Common Markert days). All she could find was a two-kilo box of sugar cubes, which I broke up with a hammer. The pie was very lumpy and the duck didn't look like a turkey at all.

The second Thanksgiving dinner was more successful. I cooked it in America and it goes like this:

After the turkey has been thawed, or brought to room temperature if fresh, rub it inside and out with salt and pepper, and pack the cavity loosely with stuffing. Any remaining stuffing can be cooked separately by putting it into a buttered shallow baking dish and baking it during the last hour of cooking time.

Sew up the cavity opening or close it with skewers. Truss the bird if you want to, and rub it with melted butter, shortening or oil. A good trick to insure a golden, smooth skin is to soak a piece of cheese cloth in 1/2 cup melted butter and place it over the turkey's breast.

Then place the turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a shallow pan and roast uncovered, following the accompanying timetable.Baste every 20 minutes. Do not add water to the pan. A tent of aluminum foil may be placed over the bird, or just covering the breast and the drumsticks, to prevent scorched skin. A meat thermometer, placed in the thigh but not touching the bone, is recommended for larger birds.

When the turkey is done, remove and discard the cheesecloth. Untruss the turkey and transfer it to a heated platter. Let it stand in a warm place for 20 minutes before carving, to allow the juices to set. Cover loosely with the foil tent to keep the surface warm.

Strain the juices from the roasting pan. Pour off and reserve the fat. Heat in a saucepan 1/4 cup of the fat. Add 1/4 cup flour and stir until blended. Then slowly stir in enough pan juices and turkey stock (made from neck and giblets), sherry or wine to equal 2 cups. Cook and stir the gravy until smooth and simmer 5 minutes. Add chopped cooked giblets. Simmer until thickened, scraping the bits from the bottom and sides of the pan. If you prefer, omit flour and thicken at this point with arrowroot or corn- starch softened in cold water. There will be about 2 cups of gravy.

To carve a turkey, remove the drumstick and thigh to be cut separately. Thigh meat should be sliced parallel to the bone. To carve the breast, place knife as close to the wing as possible, keeping it parallel. Make a deep cut into the breast to the bone. This is called "the base cut." Begin to slice, carving downward, and ending at the base cut. Each new cut should begin higher up than the last.

This timetable gives approximate total cooking times for roast turkey. Place a tent of aluminum foil loosely over the bird when it starts to gurn golden. TIMETABLE FOR ROASTING TURKEY Internal Temperature 185 Degrees (TABLE) Ready-to-Cook-Weight(COLUMN)Approxiamte Cooking Time 6 to 8 pounds(COLUMN)3 to 3 1/2 hours 8 to 12 pounds(COLUMN)3 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours 12 to 16 pounds(COLUMN)4 1/2 to 5 1/2 hours 20 to 26 pounds(COLUMN)6 1/2 to 7 hours(END TABLE)

This timetable is based on chilled or completely thawed turkeys at a temperataure of about 40 degrees and placed in a preheated 325-degree oven. For unstuffed turkeys, reduce roasting time by 5 minutes per pound.

If a thermometer is not used, test for doneness about 30 nminutes before timetable indicates. Move drumstick up and down. When done, the joint should give readily -- or break. Another way is to press the drumstick meat between your fingers. The meat should be very soft.

When the turkey is done, remove from oven and allow to stand about 20 minutes for easiest carving. COOKING TURKEY IN FOIL

Prepare as directed for roast turkey. To wrap, place turkey breast side up in the middle of a large sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil. For larger birds, join two widths of foil.

Brush with melted butter, shortening or oil and place small pieces of foil over the edges of legs, tail and wing tips to prevent puncture. Bring long ends of foil up over the breast of turkey and overlap three inches. Close ends by folding up foil so drippings will not run out. Wrap loosely. Do not seal airtight.

Place turkey, breast up, in open shallow roasting pan in oven preheated to 450 degrees. Follow timetable below. Open foil once or twice during cooking to judge doneness. When thigh joint and breast meat begin to soften, fold back foil completely to brown turkey and crisp skin. TIMETABLE FOR TURKEY IN FOIL Internal Temperature 185 Degrees (TABLE) Ready-to-Cook Weight(COLUMN)Approximate Cooking Time 7 to 9 pounds(COLUMN)2 1/4 to 2 1/2 hours 10 to 13 pounds(COLUMN)2 3/4 to 3 hours 14 to 17 pounds(COLUMN)3 1/2 to 4 hours 18 to 21 pounds(COLUMN)4 1/2 to 5 1/2 hours(END TABLE)