Archive for Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Food writers weigh in

Family, nostalgia important part of Thanksgiving

November 26, 2003


The best part of Thanksgiving, past or present?

Everyone has something to say on this.

Food writers from around the nation quizzed by The Associated Press naturally focused on the food, even offering favorite recipes, but also dwelling on the ambiance of warmth the occasion evokes.

The flavors of the day are family and nostalgia.

"It's not Thanksgiving for me without Mama's chicken and dressing," says Debra Hale-Shelton, from Conway, Ark., who grew up in Marked Tree, in the Delta region of Arkansas. "Not stuffing, mind you. Many Southerners don't stuff the bird.

"Rather, the dressing is the main course with strips of turkey or chicken meat cooked inside the dressing. I've tried to get Mama's recipe, to no avail: She doesn't have one.

"She just starts pouring in the broth, adding the crumbled cornbread and biscuits, and tossing in the salt, pepper and, of course, the sage, until experience tells her it's just right.

"We always top off the dressing with Mama's giblet gravy, packed with bits of liver as well as giblets. And on the side, we invariably have green beans, Southern-style. That means they've been boiled for several hours with a chunk of salt pork until they're downright mushy -- but ever so good."

Something for everyone

Roasted turkey is the traditional centerpiece of the Thanksgiving
dinner table around which the family gathers for the much-loved
annual celebration. Food writers around the nation say the holiday
is about family and nostalgia.

Roasted turkey is the traditional centerpiece of the Thanksgiving dinner table around which the family gathers for the much-loved annual celebration. Food writers around the nation say the holiday is about family and nostalgia.

Barbara Albright, who lives with her husband and two young children in Wilton, Conn., says "What really makes Thanksgiving special for me is to have my family all together, as we live all over the United States.

"If I am the host, I try to ask each person what dish they are looking for at their Thanksgiving feast -- what is the dish that says 'Thanksgiving' to them.

"For my sister, it is creamed onions. For our friend Jay it is the green-bean casserole with the fried onions. He calls it Prairie Woman Green Bean Casserole -- his wife, Amy, and I are both from Nebraska.

"My father does not like gravy so the only time my mom makes gravy is on the holidays. I love stuffing and I developed a recipe for a sausage mushroom stuffing a few years ago and now it has become my standard."

Joe Mure, assistant professor in culinary arts at The Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, N.Y., loves to cook at home, says his wife, Ginny, the C.I.A.'s media relations coordinator.

Toll-free telephone services offer a variety of specialist answers to cooking and food-safety questions during holiday preparation times. Here are some of them:¢ U.S. Department of Agriculture Meat and Poultry Hotline: (888) 674-6854.¢ Butterball Turkey Talk-Line: (800) 288-8372.¢ Foster Farms Turkey Helpline: (800) 255-7227.¢ Empire Kosher poultry customer hotline: (800) 367-4734.¢ Reynolds Turkey Tips Line: (800) 745-4000.

"Joe has been teaching cooking for over 20 years," she says. "Over the course of time we have celebrated Thanksgiving with many family and friends. The most requested recipe from his Thanksgiving feasts is his fresh cranberry sauce. The best part next to the flavor is that the recipe is so simple and easy!"

Kansas menu

From another region of the country comes a firmly local menu. "This year our Thanksgiving is going to be 'Totally Kansas,"' says Judith Fertig, acclaimed author of "Prairie Home Cooking" and several other cookbooks.

"Everything from soup to nuts, beef tenderloin to wine, yeast rolls to pumpkin will have been grown or produced in Kansas."

She says she'd recently done a story on local wines, and had met a local woman rancher -- "and that's how I had this brainstorm."

No turkey. Local free-range turkeys are prohibitive in price -- and "We don't really like turkey anyway."

Dressing debate

Tommy Simmons, food editor of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La., has a family story. "He says, she says -- My first Thanksgiving with my husband turned out to be a taste-test of Thanksgiving turkey dressings.

"He wanted cornbread dressing. I wanted bread stuffing. He favored his mother's recipe. I preferred my dad's. Anxious to please the love of my life, I made both dressings.

"He was right. The cornbread dressing was tastier. If my dad joins us for Thanksgiving, I'll make a pan of bread stuffing for him, but cornbread dressing is now my favorite, too.

The Associated PressWeb sites can offer recipes to help liven up the traditional Thanksgiving meal or provide some food safety guidelines. Here are some of them:¢ Cook's Illustrated magazine's site features detailed guidance and recipes for preparing turkey and all the trimmings.¢ The National Turkey Federation Web site has Thanksgiving recipes and cooking tips.¢ It includes a holiday entertaining guide.¢ The site offers Thanksgiving and holiday recipes, with tips from professional chefs and cookbook writers.¢ It offers a Thanksgiving survival guide.

"One other side dish that I make every Thanksgiving even though I'm the only person who enjoys it, is cranberry and orange gelatin salad. The cranberry and orange gelatin, which is really more like a relish because it doesn't firm up, is served in place of cranberry sauce.

"I love it and usually eat a spoon of it the day after Thanksgiving on top of my breakfast cereal."

Food writer Joanna Pruess, of Katonah, N.Y., shares a similar fondness. Each year, she and her family have the great debate about the best stuffing or side dishes, she says, but "there are two things that are traditional in our house.

"One is so hokey: it's the cranberry Jell-O mold my mom has made since as long as I can remember. You use cherry Jell-O prepared with half the amount of water then cooled, one can jellied cranberry sauce, a small can of crushed pineapple that's very well drained, and a half-pint sour cream.

"Mix them with a hand mixer until smooth, then chill in a ring mold."

With Pruess, too, the delicious "day after" drifts into the conversation.

Her family's other tradition, she goes on to explain, is Friday leftovers "because we always make a big bird."

Their leftover dishes range from curried turkey hash and winter vegetable and turkey soup (using the carcass and even left over veggies) to a giant turkey-zucchini-mushroom lasagna to serve 12.

Chutney and leftovers

Joan Cirillo, Portland, Ore., knows exactly what stands out in her mind on Thanksgiving. "That's easy, since my big side is always chutney.

"I look for new chutneys every year but the two I like to make are a plum chutney, and a ginger cranberry chutney from Rick Rodger's 'Thanksgiving 101' cookbook. I've altered it and cut down on the sugar."

Cirillo says she fell in love with chutneys when she started making them for an annual day-school country-market sale just before Thanksgiving. Parents would gather in someone's apartment, once a week from September until the fair, and cook and can apple chutney, tomato chutney and chow chow to sell at the fair, she recalls.

One writer just goes straight to the leftovers.

"My favorite thing about Turkey Day is the Day After Turkey Day," says Marian Betancourt, based in Brooklyn, N.Y. "I dream of that first sandwich of turkey breast meat on thick slices of whole wheat bread.

"Some stuffing and cranberry sauce go on one side of the turkey and mayo and lettuce on the other. Plenty of fresh ground pepper and salt. I get hungry just thinking about it."

Start planning now for that day after, she adds helpfully. "It's important to roast a big enough turkey so there are leftovers!"

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