Thanksgiving tastes like memories.
That’s what we discovered when we asked readers what dishes must be on their Thanksgiving tables each year, and why. For most of the 34 people who responded, those recipes have a place at the table because they evoke memories of families, friends and Thanksgivings past.
“Growing up, Mom always made deviled eggs for Thanksgiving,” Cathy Orfe wrote. “She would hide them the best she could, but my brothers and I would always find them and devour as many as we could before she caught us. She realized it was just easier to make extra and hide them better. Mom and Dad are gone now, and every year when I make my deviled eggs I’m reminded of a time we were together as a family, if only for a short time.”
“Our family’s ‘must-have’ for Thanksgiving is my Aunt Irene’s dressing,” Rose Peters wrote. “My aunt was an immigrant from Peru, and she was an excellent cook. She would prepare the Thanksgiving dinner every year and she created the dressing recipe. She did not write it down, and she did not use measuring cups or spoons. I got the recipe by watching her make it and writing it down as she did it, eyeballing the amount of ingredients. My Aunt Irene is gone now, but we continue the tradition of serving her dressing every year.”
“Making this (dressing) recipe always reminds me of helping my mother make this when I was young,” wrote Felina Pence, who also sent a dressing/stuffing recipe, this one a gluten-free adaptation of her mother’s. “She would call out what she needed, and I would bring it to her and watch her mix it up. I miss her. I have to make it every year or it just doesn’t seem like Thanksgiving.”
“A very good friend gave me this recipe in the ’70s,” Sheila Figarsky said of the clipping she enclosed with a recipe for candied sweet potatoes. “She is no longer with us, but it reminds me of her and her good cooking.”
Some readers’ memories were a little humorous.
“We are always so thankful for those of us that come together for Thanksgiving dinner,” Jackie Tieman wrote. “As we are filling up with all the turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy and cranberries … we talk about what we are so thankful for. One year, one of the little ones piped up and said, ‘And thank you for Gramma’s bread pudding.’ We have made sure that it is included every year since.’ ”
Some recipes became “must-haves” because of practical considerations.
“This recipe was a family answer to ending the canned cranberries as a necessary side dish at Thanksgiving,” Nancy Siebert wrote of her cranberry salad. “We also eliminated several old gelatin salads (with cottage cheese, fruit cocktail or canned pears) but kept this colorful dish, which covers the ‘fruit, salad or dessert’ category.”
“I believe the cool, refreshing taste is a change from all the other foods that are served hot,” wrote Cheryl Bechard of her cranberry relish. “Canned or store-bought relish has never been served, because this relish is so easy to prepare. After 65 years, I think there would be a revolt if this was not served.”
“Some members of my family don’t like plain cranberries as they feel they are too tart, even though there is sugar in them, or consider them too blah,” wrote Barbara McCarthy of her cranberry whipped cream salad. “Most of us eat this with the meal and others consider this as a dessert. The recipe was given to me by a neighbor and we have used it every Thanksgiving for the last 35 years or so.”
Other recipes make it to the table each year because they’re just so darned popular.
“The first time I made this recipe (1999), it was a Thanksgiving test,” wrote Laney Gutstein of her creamed spinach. “Before I had a chance to sit down at the table, it was gone! Since then I usually triple the recipe. My family is not really concerned about the turkey, the stuffing or other side dishes. The big question is, ‘Are you making your spinach?’ When we are not hosting Thanksgiving, and are traveling to see our family on the East Coast, the question is, ‘What shall I buy so you can make your spinach?’ ”
Thanksgiving is, after all, a time when we honor tradition.
“Thanksgiving isn’t Thanksgiving if it doesn’t have a dish similar to the first Thanksgiving,” wrote Kaelyn Cheney, who provided a squash recipe she calls “Pilgrims’ Original.”
The winner of the drawing for a $100 gift card is Pauline Ives.
Candied sweet potatoes
8 medium sweet potatoes
1/4 cup shortening
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
3/4 cup orange juice
1 3/4 teaspoons salt (divided use)
1/2 cup walnuts
Scrub sweet potatoes; cook in boiling water with 1 teaspoon salt, covered, 15 to 20 minutes, or until tender. Peel.
Place shortening, brown sugar, orange juice and remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt in saucepan; simmer 5 minutes.
Cut potatoes in 1/2-inch slices lengthwise. Arrange in 12-by-8-by-2-inch baking dish. Sprinkle each layer with nuts.
Pour half of syrup over potatoes. Bake in a 425-degree oven 15 minutes.
Pour remaining syrup over potatoes and bake for an additional 15 minutes.
Cranberry whipped cream salad
1 8.25-ounce can crushed pineapple
1 3-ounce package raspberry gelatin
1 16-ounce can whole-berry cranberry sauce
1 teaspoon grated orange peel (zest)
1 11-ounce can mandarin orange sections, drained
1 cup whipping cream
Drain pineapple, reserving syrup. Add enough boiling water to syrup to make 1 cup. Dissolve gelatin in hot liquid. Stir in cranberry sauce and orange peel. Chill until partially set. Fold in mandarin oranges and pineapple. Whip cream; fold into fruit mixture. Pour into 6-cup mold. Chill until set.
Serves 8 to 10.
1 12-ounce package frozen chopped spinach
4 slices bacon
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon (or more) minced garlic
1 cup half and half
Thaw spinach thoroughly and wring out in dish towel.
Fry bacon until crispy, reserving grease. Cool and dice bacon.
Fry onions in 1 tablespoon bacon grease until translucent. Remove pot from heat. Add bacon, flour and seasonings and blend thoroughly. Slowly add half and half. Stir until thickened. Add spinach and mix thoroughly.
(Can be made a day in advance and reheated in an ovenproof casserole. If too thick, add a bit more half and half.)
Irene’s turkey dressing
8 pork chops, cut into small pieces
1 cup raisins
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 cup cooked rice
Pinch ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 small bottle mild red hot sauce (Irene’s favorite brand was Salsa Brava)
1 stalk celery, sliced
Saute pork in its own fat with garlic and then onion and the hot sauce. After the meat has browned, add the rest of the ingredients.
1 pound whole fresh cranberries, chopped in food processor
2 cups sugar
1 pound small marshmallows
1 pint whipping cream, whipped
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts or pecans
On the night before Thanksgiving or a few hours before serving, mix the cranberries, sugar and marshmallows and refrigerate.
Just before serving, add whipped cream and nuts.
Serve in a clear bowl.
Custard bread pudding
Sara Lee raisin bread
1 cup sugar
2 quarts whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Butter a 12-by-10-by-2 1/2-inch or 9-by-12-by-2-inch pan, and another pan in which it will fit.
Place whole slices of bread to cover bottom of inner pan in one layer.
Beat eggs and sugar together, add milk and vanilla and pour over the bread. The bread will float to the top; press down on each slice until it absorbs milk. Place pan inside larger pan and fill outer pan with water to half the depth of inner pan.
Bake on middle shelf of oven for one hour. Let cool, or refrigerate to eat cold.
Top each serving with whipped cream or ice cream, if desired.
Recipe can be cut in half. Refrigerate leftovers.
1 pound raw cranberries, rinsed
1 unpeeled orange, cut into small chunks
1 cored, unpeeled apple, cut into small chunks
1/2 cup sugar
Place cranberries, orange and apple in a food processor. Pulse a few times, scrape and pulse a few more times. Be careful; the relish should not be pureed.
Transfer to a bowl. Stir in sugar and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Can be made a few days in advance and refrigerated until serving time.
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 3-pound butternut squash, peeled, cleaned and cubed
1 cup fresh cranberries
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or to taste
1/4 cup feta cheese
2 tablespoons honey, or to taste
Parsley, fresh or dried
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly drizzle or spritz a baking sheet with olive oil.
Add cubed squash to the sheet along with another drizzle of olive oil.
Sprinkle with a light layer of salt, pepper and garlic powder, to taste. Roast on center rack for 25 minutes.
Pull out the oven rack and add cranberries to the pan. Return to oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until cranberries have started to soften and burst a bit.
Remove from oven and sprinkle with cinnamon, feta and honey.
Garnish with parsley for a burst of color.
My mom’s stuffing
4 cups gluten-free bread croutons (see note)
1 tablespoon fresh parsley
1 tablespoon poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 tablespoon dried minced onion
1 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups turkey drippings
1 cup diced celery
1/4 cup diced red onion
Mix all thoroughly; cover and bake in oven heated to 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes. Uncover and bake another 10 minutes.
Note: Pence makes gluten-free croutons by toasting cubes of gluten-free bread in the oven. Sometimes she makes it with a mix, using her bread machine, and sometimes she just uses her favorite gluten-free bread.
Mom’s deviled eggs
Slice open hard-boiled eggs, remove the cooked yolks and transfer to a bowl, break apart with a fork until smooth. Add a dollop of mayonnaise, a small squirt of mustard, salt and pepper to taste. Arrange on a platter and sprinkle with paprika.