Bless Your Spoon — Family traditions – a Thanksgiving menu

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 24, 2022

By Stephanie Williams Dean

Recently I returned home to Nashville to attend my second cousin Wesley’s wedding. My first cousin, Bobbie Jeanne, sent home with me two boxes of her mother’s, my Aunt Doodie’s cookbooks. Doodie’s given name was Juanita, but apparently, my father imparted his younger sister with the name after she was born and it stuck.

My aunt’s books were stuffed full of sacred handwritten family recipes, newsprint clippings and kitchen anecdotes. Many recipes were those of my paternal grandmother. I was elated to receive the culinary testimonies of days gone by. I’ve become the historian regarding our family’s history, including food favorites.

After returning home, I traveled to the mountains for vacation and the recipe boxes went along for the trip. In my downtime, I spent hours relishing my favorite childhood meal memories. For hours each day, I sorted, separated, and filed vintage newspaper food columns, old recipes torn from magazines, and scripted family recipe cards that belonged to Doodie and my paternal grandmother, Mommee. It was here where I found my grandmother’s recipe for Pumpkin Chiffon Pie, the only pumpkin pie I’d ever eaten as a kid — due to such creamy goodness.

The artifacts were a treasure trove of occasions — a brief but sweet glimpse into our holidays and many priceless moments my family and I had spent together. Bonus discoveries included preparation memos and pre-holiday planning notes. There were guest lists and table placement diagrams, all with my name on them, and in Doodie’s handwriting. I discovered organized menus for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve dinner, and Christmas Day breakfast — her food selections were perfectly coordinated according to flavor blends.   

Have you ever introduced a new dish to your family at a holiday meal? Yeah. They didn’t want any part of that, did they? My family always requests the childhood favorites they grew up on and so did I. That’s because there’s nothing we like better.

There’s an art to food flavor combinations — the meat and three complementary sides — kind of menu. One reason we love our traditional menus is related to sentiment and another is how each dish’s flavor perfectly blends with another.

You know, the way that canned, sweet, whole-berry cranberry congealed salad perfectly complements savory turkey and dressing. But everyone still loves it because we relish our family’s favorites.

Today’s recipes come from my aunt’s recipe collection. Nothing fancy, just our traditional offerings. Printed at the top of Doodie’s scripted Thanksgiving menu is an anecdote that’s beneficial for each of us — it reads, “Learn from yesterday, Live for today, Hope for tomorrow….”

In Philippians, Paul speaks of how happiness and joy differ. Joy is only found in a relationship with Christ. Paul encourages us to press on to know Christ, to be like Christ, and be all Christ had in mind for us. One thing Paul did to press on was “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14.

So friends, let’s not spend time being anxious about yesterday but learn any lesson and press forward. Focus on today with contentment and thanksgiving in your hearts. We can forget what’s behind us and move on to what Christ has in store for us — He has a plan for each of us. Press on in your relationship with Christ and find true joy in your future.

There is hope and something greater awaits.

Roasted Turkey

• 12 – 14 lb. unstuffed turkey – 3 to 3.75 hours

• 12-14 lb. stuffed turkey – 3 to 4 hours

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place bird on rack in open roasting pan with breast side up. Fold, tuck, or tie, wings and legs during cooking. Rub upper surfaces of the breast, wings, and legs with a mild flavored oil before cooking. For a tender turkey, cook a young turkey at low temperature while basting occasionally. If skin appears to be browning too early, place a sheet of foil over the area. When turkey is done, remove from oven and allow to rest for 30 minutes before carving. Times are approximate and should always be used with a properly placed meat thermometer. Internal temperature must reach a minimum of 180 degrees in the thigh before removing from oven. Meat juices should run clear.

To filet a turkey, remove leg, thigh and wing with an extremely sharp knife. Place turkey on cutting board. Begin by removing drumstick and thigh in one piece by pulling leg away from bird and slicing through the joint. Separate leg and thigh by cutting through the connecting joint. Remove bones and slice meat. Remove wings by pulling them away from the body and cutting through the joint closest to the breast. Separate the wing into sections at the joints for serving, discarding the tip. Remove the breast in two sections. Make a vertical cut along the entire length of the breastbone about 1-inch deep until you hit the bone. Place your fingers in the opening and peel the meat away with your hand while slicing with the knife. To slice the breast, place breast sections on a cutting board. Begin at small end by making thin diagonal slices at a 45-degree angle. Arrange light and dark meat on a platter and garnish with parsley and fruits if desired.

Cornbread Dressing

• ¼ cup finely chopped onion

• 1 cup finely chopped celery

• ½ cup melted, salted butter

• 3 cups toasted dry bread cubes

• 3 cups baked crumbled cornbread

• 2 beaten eggs

• 1 tsp. salt

• ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

• 1 tsp. poultry seasoning

• ½ tsp. sage

• 2-3 cup cups turkey broth from cooked giblets

In a mixer bowl, combine onion and celery, butter, bread crumbs, cornbread, beaten eggs and seasonings. Add the broth slowly and lightly stir to blend. Add enough to hold ingredients together or whatever texture you desire for baking. Stuff the bird and roast according to weight. Or you can bake dressing in a separate butter-greased pan. If additional broth is necessary, use bouillon cubes or canned broth. You can also cook bones of fryers for bone broth.

Giblet Gravy

• Liver, heart, and gizzard of turkey

• ½ tsp. salt

• 1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

• 3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

• 1 Tbsp. yellow cornmeal

• 4 tbsp. fat from top of drippings

• 2 cups giblet broth or drippings

Wash the liver, heart and cleaned gizzard. Cover gizzard and heart with cold water. Add salt and pepper, and simmer 30 minutes. Add liver and cook additional 30 minutes or until tender. Drain and save stock. Chop giblets fine. In a skillet, brown flour and meal in fat while constantly stirring. Add giblet stock, and cook while stirring for 5 minutes. Add chopped giblets. You can use cream for part of stock if needed. Flavor and richness of this gravy depends upon the stock and drippings. For gravy thickness, use 2 Tbsp. flour and 2 Tbsp. fat to each 1 cup of liquid for moderate thickness.

Grilled Ham Steaks

• 2 1-inch uncooked smoked ham steaks

• 1 cup cider

• 3 Tbsp. brown sugar

• 1 Tbsp. dry mustard

• 3 crushed whole cloves

Trim excess fat from ham. Score edges at 1-inch intervals. In a skillet, cover with boiling water and boil for 5 minutes. Drain. In a bowl, combine cider, brown sugar, dry mustard, and crushed cloves and blend well. Pour over steaks, marinate 15 minutes and drain. Grease a skillet with fat trimmings. Cook over medium heat until browned on both sides while basting often with marinade until done.

Fresh Cranberry Mold

• 2 small pkg. cherry gelatin

• 2 cups boiling water

• 1 cup pineapple juice

• 1 lb. fresh cranberries

• 1 orange

• 1 cup sugar

• 7 oz. drained, crushed pineapple

• ¼ cup chopped pecans

In a saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add cherry gelatin and stir until dissolved. Add pineapple juice to the cherry gelatin mixture. Stir and chill until a jelly-like consistency. In a processor, coarsely grind cranberries and an orange. Drain and discard all liquid. Add sugar to the cranberry mixture and allow to stand for 10 minutes. Stir in crushed pineapple and chopped pecans. Mix well. Add the pineapple mixture to the partially set gelatin. Mix well. Spoon mixture into a lightly greased glass dish or a 6-cup mold. Refrigerate until firm. You may substitute 16 oz. of whole-berry cranberry sauce for the fresh berries.

Squash Casserole

• 3 cups cooked yellow squash

• Salted water

• ½ cup chopped onion

• ½ cup chopped celery

• ½ cup chopped green pepper

• 3 beaten eggs

• 1 cup evaporated milk

• 4 oz. grated sharp cheddar cheese

• Small amount sugar, to taste

• 1/3 cup cracker crumbs

• ½ stick salted butter

In a pan, boil sliced squash in lightly salted water until barely tender. Drain well. In a bowl, combine squash with chopped onions, celery and green pepper. In a bowl, beat eggs. Add eggs to the squash mixture along with the milk and grated cheese. Mix well. Pour into a butter-greased casserole. Top with a mixture of bread crumbs and butter. Bake in a 350-degree for 30 minutes or until bread crumbs are toasted.

Doodie’s Sweet Potato Casserole

• 2 cups mashed sweet potatoes

• ¾ cup sugar

• 1 cup whole milk

• 1 tsp. vanilla extract

• ½ tsp. ground nutmeg

• ½ tsp. ground cinnamon

• ¼ cup raisins

• Mini marshmallows

In a saucepan, mash potatoes. Add sugar, milk, vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon. Heat and beat until smooth and creamy. Stir in raisins. Pour into a butter-greased casserole dish. Cover the top with marshmallows. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 20-30 minutes or until heated through and marshmallows are toasted. Make sure not to burn.

Macaroni and Cheese

• 3 cups cooked macaroni pasta

• 1 jar Cheez Whiz

• ½ cup premium mayonnaise

• 1 cup sour cream

• 1 can cream of mushroom soup

• ½ chopped onion

• 1 ½ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Cook and drain the pasta well according to the package directions. Put the hot pasta back in the pan and stir in the Cheez-Whiz until it melts. Mix well. Pour into a butter-greased 9 x 13 glass baking dish and set aside. In a mixer bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream and cream of mushroom soup. Stir in only enough chopped onions to your taste. Evenly spread the mayo mixture over the entire top of the pasta in the dish, sealing the edges. Evenly sprinkle top with shredded cheddar cheese. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 30-35 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Southern Corn Casserole

• 2 beaten eggs

• 8 oz. sour cream

• 1 stick softened, salted butter

• 15 oz. whole kernel corn

• 15 oz. cream-style corn

• 8 oz. pkg. corn muffin mix

In a mixer bowl, beat eggs. Add sour cream and mix well. Stir in butter, whole-kernel corn, cream-style corn and muffin mix. Mix well. Pour into a well-greased casserole dish. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 40-50 minutes or until it begins to brown and center is set.

Mommee’s Chocolate Cream Pie

• 2 ½ cups whole milk

• 2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate

• ½ cup sugar

• ¼ cup cornstarch

• ½ tsp. salt

• 2 separated eggs

• 1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract

• 1 tbsp. salted butter

• 1 9-Inch prebaked pie shell

In a saucepan, scald milk with chocolate and beat well. In a bowl, combine sugar, cornstarch and salt. Add to the hot mile while constantly stirring. Cook while stirring until thickened. Cover and cook 10 minutes on low heat. Beat the egg yolks and gradually add them to the hot milk mixture while constantly stirring. Continue to heat 5 additional minutes while stirring. Remove from heat, and fold in vanilla and butter. Mix well. Pour into a baked pie shell. Make a meringue by beating the egg whites or chill pie, and when serving, top with whipped cream. Refrigerate.

Mommee’s Chiffon Pumpkin Pie

• 3 beaten egg yolks

• 1/2 cup granulated sugar

• 1 ¼ cup canned pumpkin (no more)

• ½ cup whole milk

• 1/2 tsp. ginger

• ½ tsp. cinnamon

• ½ tsp. nutmeg

• ½ tsp. salt

• 1 Tbsp. or envelope plain Knox gelatin

• ¼ cup cold water

• 3 beaten egg whites

• ½ cup granulated sugar

In a mixer bowl, beat egg yolks slightly. Add sugar, pumpkin (no more than recipe calls for), milk, spices and salt. Transfer mixture to a saucepan and cook on low heat until thickened. Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine gelatin with water and stir until gelatin dissolves. Add the gelatin mixture to the hot pumpkin mixture and mix well. Allow to completely cool. In a mixer bowl, beat egg whites until stiff. Add sugar and continue to beat until blended. Fold the sugared egg whites into the pie. Refrigerate for 4 hours or more. When serving, top with whipped cream.

French Minted Tea

• 2 quarts boiling water

• 1 family-sized tea bag

• 24 oz. frozen orange juice

• 8 juiced lemons plus peel

• 4 cups sugar

• Fresh mint

Steep tea bag in boiling water. Twist and squeeze mint as to extract flavor and drop into the tea. Allow to stand 10 minutes. To the tea, add orange juice, juice of lemons, plus pulp and peels. Add enough water to make 2 gallons. Strain tea, and pour over ice to serve.