It is not unusual to hear someone say that Thanksgiving is their favorite holiday – and I agree. There is nothing better than a day that’s about gathering family and friends around the table to eat a delicious meal and give thanks.
What are you thankful for this year? I’m thankful for…
• My family who had roots in the Southern soil, appreciated the land and used the bounty conscientiously.
• For my mother who passed down to me the love of Southern food and cooking and so much more.
• For my father, a great story teller, who kept us entertained and laughing. And for those who continue the tradition.
• For the lessons about love and respect for others that were nurtured around the dinner table.
• For my brothers and sisters who welcomed me – a late comer – into the family.
• For a new generation – my sister’s great grandchild – to carry on family traditions.
• For good friends who are there to share in joys and sorrows.
• And I am very thankful for my wonderful husband Phil who grew up in a small West Tennessee town with a mother and grandmother who were great Southern cooks. My most enthusiastic supporter who has his own Southern stories to tell.
I would love to hear what you are thankful for this year; tell me about it in the comments section below. Happy Thanksgiving!
I remember being fascinated as I watched Mother cut both ends off a can of cranberry sauce and seeing it slide gracefully into her oval glass dish. It just amazed me that it always emerged perfectly, slightly quivering and with the concentric indentations from the can. Then, she cut it into slices that overlapped to just fit the bowl. Isn’t it amazing that a small experience can create such a clear memory? And how remembering brings pleasure so many years later?
Although it was always on the table, I don’t remember cranberry sauce evoking much passion in my family. Fresh cranberries were rare in those days and we liked the jellied stuff just fine. Later, my mother switched to whole berry sauce and I seem to remember some mild discussion surrounding that.
Several years ago, my niece Ann made the most dramatic change in our cranberry accompaniment. She started making a congealed salad with fresh cranberries, oranges and pecans. Now as veteran congealed salad aficionados, this was something we could really get into.
Today, the trend is for everyone to have their personal fresh cranberry sauce or relish recipe, which I think is wonderful. But you know, this year I may just get a can of jellied cranberry sauce, cut both ends off the can and see if it still slides out perfectly like it did when I was a kid. I might even eat some with my turkey and dressing. What will you have?
Do you have memories of being relegated to the kids’ table while the grown-ups had Thanksgiving dinner in the dining room? Do you remember it as a time for telling secrets, silly jokes and mounding your sweet potato casserole into a mountain? Or were you yearning to sit at the big table?
I would love to hear your ‘kids’ table’ stories because I somehow missed that rite of passage. As the youngest of five, by the time I came along my brothers and sisters were already old enough to sit at the adult table, so I was there too. As they married and the family grew my mother just kept adding leaves to the table. And when she ran out of those, she set up a card table at one end. We’d round up chairs from all over the house and sometimes even put the piano bench at one end of the table so two could sit there.
There was a time when we finally outgrew the dining room and my nieces and nephews sat at a kids’ table in the kitchen. And even after they had graduated to the adult table, when they started showing up with friends and eventually husbands and wives of their own they would sometimes choose to sit together in the kitchen. Maybe they were reliving old memories of their time at the kids’ table. Or maybe, they’re just creating memories at their own adult table.
Pumpkin is so quintessentially American, I think just about everyone in this country has adopted some form of pumpkin dessert for Thanksgiving. If it’s not pumpkin pie, then there’s pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin roll or pumpkin cake – shaped like a pumpkin or not! But is pumpkin pie traditionally served at Southern holiday tables?
I’m wondering about this because we never had pumpkin pie when I was growing up. Our holiday pumpkin pie stand-in was sweet potato pie – and we loved it! In a less than comprehensive look at old and new Southern cookbooks that explore the history of Southern cooking, pumpkin pie – or any reference to pumpkin – is completely missing from several.
We know that pumpkins are native to America and that they will grow in the South, so why aren’t there more pumpkin recipe traditions? Could the fact that Jack-o-Lantern pumpkins are not the best for cooking have something to do with it? Or were sweet potatoes just easier to grow and more appealing to the Southern taste? It’s an interesting subject and the answers may vary across the region and by family history, which is even more interesting.
What about you? Did you grow up eating pumpkin pie? Did your parents? If you did not have pumpkin, what was your favorite Thanksgiving pie?
If you like the idea of a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, but prefer something with a little milder pumpkin flavor than a traditional version, you might like this recipe for a twist on a Southern favorite – Pumpkin Chess Pie. Delicious!
Pumpkin Chess Pie
Press´N Bake Cream Cheese Crust
1 1/3 cups sugar
6 tablespoons butter, softened
4 teaspoons Martha White® Self-Rising Enriched White Corn Meal Mix
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/4 cup half-and-half, plus 2 tbsp.
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1. PREPARE cream cheese crust as directed in recipe.
2. HEAT oven to 350°F. Combine sugar and butter in medium bowl; beat with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add all remaining filling ingredients; beat until well blended. Pour filling into unbaked pie shell.
3. BAKE 45 to 50 minutes or until knife inserted 1 inch from center comes out clean. Pie will continue to set as it cools. Cool on wire rack 1 hour or until completely cooled. Refrigerate until well chilled before serving. Serve topped with whipped cream, if desired.
To tell you the truth, Thanksgiving morning at our house started the way most mornings did. By the time we came down from bed, my early rising mother had been up for hours. Pots were gently simmering on the stove. Her special cornbread for dressing was crumbled in a big bowl awaiting the finishing touches. The dining room table with her linen table cloth and china was already set and biscuits were in the oven for breakfast.
Soon after the breakfast dishes were done, my married brothers and sisters started arriving with casseroles and families in tow. The girls gathered in the kitchen while the men visited on the porch in the still mild Alabama fall. Those of us who were used to working in the kitchen with mother, helped finish the cooking or started washing up the pots and pans. Others were observers who watched until given a last minute job like pouring the iced tea or cutting up lemons.
Then, there were the ones who brought it all to life. We all know who they are – the entertainers who regaled us with the stories, bringing joy and laughter to the day. There would be more of that as we gathered around the dinner table leaving us feeling warm, loved and a part of a special family. That feeling is just one more reminder that no matter how passionate we are about the food and recipes, the real beauty is the role food plays in bringing us together and creating memories that last a lifetime.
When I was young, I remember my sister saying that cornbread dressing was her favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner. Back then, I thought it was an unusual dish to pick as a favorite, but now I have a much greater appreciation for this beloved side dish and tend to agree that it is one of the best parts of the meal. Like many traditional recipes, cornbread dressing is a tribute to resourceful Southern cooks who created wonderful recipes with only the ingredients they had on hand. We love cornbread down here, so I guess it’s not surprising that we would add it to our dressing.
What does your family call this traditional dish – dressing or stuffing? They are basically the same thing, but in the South we usually bake it in a separate dish rather than stuffing the bread mixture in the bird – and call it dressing. I do not know exactly why we bake it in a pan, but my theory is that the bird just doesn’t hold enough to go around and we love that crisp buttery crust.
Dressing is a pretty simple dish. It is basically a seasoned mixture of crumbled cornbread and biscuits or white bread moistened with broth and baked. As easy as that seems, there are countless variations for such a simple dish.
Do you use white bread or biscuits with the cornbread? What about texture, seasonings and extra ingredients? Are onions, celery and sage your seasonings of choice? Do you ever add meat, fruit or nuts? If you want to add a special twist to your Thanksgiving dressing, try this recipe that I love.
Martha White “Hot Rize” Biscuits
Crisco® Original No-Stick Cooking Spray
1 pound bulk pork sausage
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
2 cups chopped unpeeled Granny Smith apples
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons dried sage leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon pepper
4 cups chicken broth
1. PREPARED cornbread and biscuits as directed. Cool 15 minutes. Crumble enough cornbread to make 5 cups; crumble enough biscuits to make 5 cups. Set aside.
2. HEAT oven to 375°F. Spray a 13 x 9-inch (3-quart) glass baking dish or pan with no-stick cooking spray. Cook sausage, onions and celery in large skillet over medium-high heat until sausage is browned and vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally.
3. COMBINE sausage and vegetable mixture with crumbled cornbread and biscuits in large bowl; add all remaining ingredients; mix well. Spoon into prepared baking dish.
4. BAKE 45 to 50 minutes or until golden brown.
For generations, the pecan groves that sweep across the South have provided cooks with a wonderful ingredient to use in their holiday baking. If you are lucky enough to have a tree (or a generous friend with one), all you need is a nutcracker to reveal the treasure within.
Of course, pecan pie is one of the most beloved holiday dessert recipes. Some bakers enjoy the whole creative process of making a pie from scratch. Others like to take a few shortcuts to get an equally delicious finished product.
For purists, a homemade pecan pie is a testament to the way simple ingredients come together to create a classic. The filling is easy to stir up, but depends on good pecans to give it distinction. I personally think it’s the slightly salty flaky homemade crust that perfectly complements the sweet filling and makes the whole pie delicious.
A unique alternative to a homemade pie, is a bar that reflects the attributes of the pie, but is simple to make and easy to serve or share. You will be amazed at the crust a chocolate chip muffin mix makes for these Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie Bars
Whether you love to bake from scratch or prefer to take shortcuts, the recipients of your efforts will always appreciate the time and care you took to bake something special for them.