In the Midlands, autumn’s finest gifts include crisp cool weather, nature’s brilliant foliage and an opulent harvest that culminates in a bountiful Thanksgiving Day feast. The collective observance of this national holiday brings together extended families and friends to share a communal meal that reflects the spirit of America’s early settlers.
For centuries, eastern Native American tribes gave harvest feasts to celebrate their successes in hunting, fishing and planting. English, Spanish and French New World settlers combined their religious celebrations with many of the Native American’s feast traditions. The Thanksgiving holiday’s evolving face transcends social and religious boundaries. It embraces all that Americans value, allowing time to give thanks for the blessings in life and to express gratitude for the warmth of home, community and country.
Thanksgiving is a day when most of us wake up with food on the brain. The contemporary national menu is vastly different from the three-day feast shared by the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag tribe in 1621, but the custom of serving indigenous American foods persists. There’s a good chance that wild fowl, cranberries, squash, pumpkin and corn were served nearly four centuries ago at the New England feast, just as they are today. Many influencing factors helped establish the modern Thanksgiving menu: regional preferences, family heritage and local seasonal ingredients.
The recipes here are shared by the Columbia Metropolitan Magazine family – each one a favorite dish from the holiday menu of its contributor. Following tradition, the culinary centerpiece is the roast turkey – a popular Thanksgiving icon. Emily and Henry Clay’s recipe for wild turkey with stuffing is especially appropriate since the turkey is native to North America and is the South Carolina state game bird. In his writings, Pilgrim Father Edward Winslow mentioned an abundance of wild fowl, including turkey, which the colonists hunted just prior to the harvest feast.
Irresistible side dishes made with South Carolina crops are now in season: sweet potatoes, collard greens and radishes. We have also included recipes for refreshing ambrosia, cranberry sauce with a twist and creamy pumpkin mousse. No doubt, families will prepare many of their own cherished Thanksgiving dishes this year – tried-and-true classics and, perhaps, the unorthodox – using recipes and cooking practices passed through generations. Tradition is important, but it’s fun to add a tantalizing grace note in the guise of a new dish. Discover a taste sensation in our recipe collection that becomes a new family favorite holiday tradition.
Emily and Henry’s Wild Turkey in a Roasting Bag
Serving a wild turkey this Thanksgiving is the best way to invite a true Native American to your family dinner. Ben Franklin held the bird in high esteem, commenting that the wild turkey was more respectable than the American eagle. Emily and Henry Clay share their favorite method for preparing the game bird. Wild turkeys aren’t quite the same as a store-bought turkey; the flavorful wild turkey has an equal portion of light to dark meat.
Emily says, “Wild turkeys tend to be very lean and dry and need to cook with moisture surrounding the vast part of the meat. Drumsticks are often dry no matter what, so it might be wise to cut them off, leaving the thigh intact, for making soup another day.”
A roasted wild turkey won’t be as plump or pretty as a broad-breasted domestic turkey, but the incomparable, rich, robust flavor makes it one of the most delicious game birds. If you aren’t a hunter or don’t have access to farm-raised wild game birds, use this recipe for preparing a domestic turkey. Note: The wild turkey shown in the photo was not roasted in a special oven bag. Although not as attractive, wild turkey is especially moist and delicious when cooked in the bag.
1 fresh or thawed, whole, dressed wild turkey
1 large roasting bag, like a Reynolds® Oven Bag for turkey
2 14-ounce bags Pepperidge Farm® Cornbread Stuffing
1/2 cup milk
2 large eggs
2 apples, cored, chopped
1 8-ounce can sliced water chestnuts
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup water
2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
3 ribs of celery, chopped in thirds
1/2 cup chopped onions
3 chopped carrots
1 tablespoon minced garlic
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Follow the package directions for preparing the cornbread stuffing mix, adding 1/2 cup milk, 2 eggs, chopped apples, sliced water chestnuts and, if necessary, a little additional water.
Weigh the turkey, then rinse well with cold water. Place the bird, breast-side down, inside the large roasting bag. Season the turkey inside and out with salt and pepper then lightly pack the stuffing inside the cavity. Pour the wine, water and remaining vegetables over the turkey’s back. Put small holes in the top of the bag, then place inside a large roasting pan that gives support on the sides. The side support will secure the roasting turkey with the breast-side down, without tipping over. This is key since it is important to keep the breast surrounded with moisture.
Cook the stuffed turkey 25 to 30 minutes per pound. The thigh meat should reach around 180 degrees. (See the Cook’s Notes below) Use a meat thermometer to test, placing it in the thickest part of the thigh. When done, cool the turkey 15 minutes after taking it from the oven. Remove the flavorful gravy, which is often the highlight of a wild roasted turkey. Be very careful when removing the gravy and the turkey from the roasting bag, as it is quite easy for it to slip. Carve the turkey, remove the stuffing and enjoy.
Cook’s Notes: The USDA-recommended safe minimum temperature for doneness in any part of the turkey is 165 degrees F. The center of the stuffing should also register a minimum of 165 degrees. Keep an eye on the breast meat when it reaches 170 degrees – it can suffer at higher temperatures. When you can pierce the thickest part of the breast with ease and no red tint or juices appear, the turkey is done. The dark meat can be roasted to 180 degrees without any loss of quality. In fact, it becomes more juicy and tender, especially with domestic turkeys. (Moisture in a cooking bag can help tenderize wild turkey dark meat.) A stuffed turkey takes slightly longer to cook than an unstuffed bird.
The bird’s temperature continues to rise about 5 additional degrees when removed from the oven. Take this into consideration when timing your turkey. A short resting period after cooking keeps the meat tender, allowing the juices to redistribute through the bird. An instant-read thermometer works fast, leaving a smaller puncture, and is a reliable way to determine the doneness of poultry. Be sure the thermometer rests in the meat, not touching bone.
Miss Jane’s Dressing
Shawn Coward contributes this dressing recipe by Jane LaPorte, her best friend. Flavorful and savory, it conveniently begins with a cornbread stuffing mix. She says to be careful not to purchase spicy-hot sausage for this dish.
The words dressing and stuffing are often used interchangeably, but stuffing is usually packed inside the cavity of the turkey while dressing is baked separately in a pan.
1 pound bulk sausage
1 to 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large chopped onion
2 stalks celery, thin-sliced
1 diced red bell pepper
1 15.25-ounce can yellow kernel corn, drained
2 14-ounce bags Pepperidge Farm® Cornbread Stuffing
1 or 2 chicken bouillon cubes, to taste
In a medium skillet, sauté the sausage until cooked. Drain off any fat. Add a small amount of vegetable oil and sauté the onion, celery and bell pepper, until tender. Mix in the can of drained corn. Set aside. Follow the package directions for preparing the cornbread stuffing mix, adding 1 or 2 bouillon cubes to the heated water called for in the recipe. In a large bowl, toss the prepared dressing with the sausage and the vegetables. Spoon the mixture into a large shallow baking dish. Bake in a 350 degree preheated oven for 30 minutes or until the stuffing mixture is hot and the top becomes crispy. Serves 6 to 8.
Irene’s Giblet Gravy
Robyn Culbertson shares a yummy gravy recipe from Irene Booth, her mother. Robyn says, “This gravy and my Aunt Fran’s dressing are two things I can’t live without at Thanksgiving. I usually take as much of the leftovers home as I can manage.” Ingredient amounts are approximate and can be adjusted, as needed.
giblets from one turkey (see Cook’s Notes)
about 3 tablespoons butter
about 3 tablespoons flour
warm defatted turkey drippings/broth
4 or 5 shelled hard-cooked eggs, chopped
salt and black pepper
Rinse turkey giblets and neck. Cover with 1 quart water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 45 minutes or until tender. Chop the giblets and shred the meat from the neck. Set aside. (The giblet “broth” can be strained and used.) Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Using a whisk or a wooden spoon, blend in flour. Continue whisking until mixture turns brown and smells fragrant. Pour in the defatted drippings (about 3 cups) and whisk vigorously until the gravy thickens to the desired consistency. Add some of the reserved broth, if necessary. Mix in the giblets, neck meat and eggs. Season to taste. Serve warm.
Cook’s Notes: Nutrient-rich giblets include the heart, liver and gizzard of a poultry carcass. The liver can be omitted, if you prefer. Some cooks add chopped onion, celery, peppercorns, herbs and seasonings to the water when cooking the giblets. Advice from Robyn: “If you make the turkey the day before, chill the pan drippings so the fat will coagulate and rise to the top. It can easily be skimmed off. My mom usually cooks the turkey on Thanksgiving Day, so she drops some ice cubes into the drippings to flash-cool the fat, making it easier to get some of it out.”
Mimi’s Sweet Potato Casserole
This sweet potato casserole is contributed by Mimi Howard, Margaret Rambo’s grandmother. It can be conveniently made ahead and frozen, but it’s best to leave out the eggs until the casserole is thawed for topping and cooking. This recipe can be cut in half. Mimi says, “I make lots of the delicious walnut topping since it is also good on baked apples.”
10 to 12 baked sweet potatoes, to make 8 cups
1 stick (1/2 cup) softened butter, cut in pieces
1 cup sugar, or to taste, if desired
dash of salt
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
Walnut Topping (see recipe below)
Peel and measure sweet potatoes. Add to the large bowl of an electric mixer; beat until soft. Add the butter and sugar; beat until fluffy, but don’t over-mix. Mix in salt, cream and vanilla. Taste to adjust, if desired. Cool sweet potato mixture, then stir in the eggs. Put the mixture into a large buttered casserole dish. Evenly sprinkle on the Walnut Topping. Bake in a 350 degrees preheated oven for 45 minutes or until the casserole puffs and the topping becomes crispy. Serves 8 to 10.
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 to 1 stick butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup flour, preferably self-rising
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
In a medium bowl, combine the brown sugar, butter and flour until crumbly. Mix in the walnuts.
Nancy’s Macaroni and Cheese
Macaroni and cheese – known as macaroni pie – has been served on South Carolina’s tables since at least the antebellum period. Nancy Lambert says the secret to this dish is to use the entire amount of cheese suggested in the recipe and make sure it is sharp. She says that it’s also important to make sure the noodles are well covered with the milk mixture.
1 cup elbow macaroni noodles
4 cups (1 pound) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 large eggs
2 cups milk
salt and pepper, to taste
2 to 3 tablespoons butter, cut in pieces
Cook noodles according to package directions, then drain and rinse. Reserve about 3/4 cup of the cheese for the topping. In a 1 1/2 quart baking dish, create layers of noodles, cheese, noodles, cheese. In a large bowl, slightly beat eggs with a whisk or a fork, then blend in the milk, salt and pepper until well combined. Pour mixture over the noodles and cheese layers; pat down noodles with a fork. Sprinkle the reserved cheese over the top; dot with butter. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes until golden and bubbly. Let the dish stand for 20 minutes before serving. Serves 6.
Maxine’s Vegetable Casserole
Amy and Dennis Craighead serve this casserole at family birthdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Amy explains, “The recipe comes from my mother, Maxine, a wonderful cook. Whenever I think about it, I can picture the dining room table set with the special linen tablecloth, fine china with the delicate silver line around the edge and our best crystal water goblets. I can see my whole family coming from different locations to be together at whatever special occasion is being celebrated. Mom loves to serve it because she knows how much we all love to eat it!”
1 15-ounce can white shoe peg corn, drained
1 15-ounce can French-cut green beans, drained
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup chopped green pepper
1/2 cup sour cream
1 10 3/4-ounce can Campbell’s® Condensed Cream of Celery Soup
1/2 to 3/4 cup crushed Cheeze–Its ®
1/2 cup melted butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, gently combine all the ingredients except the crushed Cheeze–Its and the melted butter. Put the vegetable mixture into a glass 9 by 13 casserole dish. Top the casserole with the crushed cheese crackers then drizzle with the butter. Bake for about 45 minutes then serve warm. Serves 6.
Natalie’s Spirited Collard Greens
Collard greens have never tasted so good! In this recipe, shared by Natalie Meggs, they are creatively seasoned with bourbon whiskey and bacon. South Carolina ranks second in the nation for production of collards, which became the official state vegetable in 2011.
3 tablespoons butter
4 thick bacon slices, cut crosswise in 1/4-inch strips
1 large sweet onion, diced
1 12-ounce bottle ale beer
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup bourbon
1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
6 pounds fresh, young, tender collard greens, trimmed and chopped
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon each salt and black pepper
In a large Dutch oven, melt butter over medium heat. Cook bacon, stirring often, 6 to 8 minutes or until crisp. Drain on paper towels, reserving drippings in the pan. Sauté onion in hot drippings 3 minutes or until onion is tender. Add bacon, ale, brown sugar, bourbon and red pepper. Cook 3 minutes or until mixture is reduced by one-fourth. Add collards in batches and cook, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes or until wilted. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and cook one hour or to desire degree of doneness. Stir in vinegar, salt and pepper. Serves 10.
Susan’s Roasted Radishes, Carrots & Olives
Roasting mellows the radish’s bite, bringing out its sweet flavor. Whole carrots with intact tops are preferable to the small trimmed carrots packed in plastic bags. When roasted, black olives offer a flavorful, chewy bite. During the last 5 minutes of cooking, stir a little minced garlic into this unusual harvest salad and sprinkle crumbled feta cheese over the warm roasted vegetables.
2 bunches small to medium red radishes, trimmed, rinsed
6 to 8 fresh carrots with tops, trimmed, scrubbed, cut in 1 1/2-inch-long pieces
1 6-ounce can California ripe pitted olives, drained
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 to 2 tablespoons minced herbs, like parsley, thyme, chives or rosemary
sea salt and black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons white balsamic or sherry wine vinegar
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Large radishes taste spicier if halved lengthwise. Put radishes, carrot pieces and olives in a shallow, enameled cast iron casserole or large ovenproof skillet; coat with olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper. Roast 20 to 25 minutes or until radishes are tender yet slightly firm in the middle. Drizzle with vinegar; scoop onto serving platter and add garnish. Serves 6.
Sandra Zimmerman remembers that her grandmother always served this dish on holidays, and her mother followed the tradition. “I have followed the tradition as well,” she says. “I remember when I was little, thinking it was the prettiest dish on the table. It was – and is – always served in a clear crystal bowl. It is so pretty, that it could almost serve as the centerpiece!”
1 20-ounce can pineapple chunks
1 tablespoon sugar
1 large pink grapefruit, peeled, seeded and sectioned
3 oranges, peeled, seeded and sectioned
2 bananas, sliced
1 8-ounce jar maraschino cherries, drained
1/2 cup flaked coconut
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
Drain pineapple, reserving 1/2 cup juice. Combine sugar and reserved juice; stir well. In a large bowl, gently combine pineapple chunks, grapefruit and orange sections, banana slices and cherries. Cover and chill several hours. Before serving, sprinkle with coconut and nuts. Serves 6 to 8.
Susan’s Cranberry-Cherry Sauce
As cranberries simmer, a popping sound means the berries are releasing pectin – a natural fiber that thickens the sauce. Sugar helps pectin to bond, which aids thickening. I like to vary the flavor of this versatile sauce by adding dried cherries or white raisins or chopped dried apricots. The sauce is especially tasty with turkey, wild or domestic.
1 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries
1 cup orange juice or water
1 1/2 cups sugar or more to taste, if desired
1 cup (4 ounces) dried tart cherries
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
fine strips of zest from 1/2 orange
Rinse cranberries, discarding any stems or bruised fruit. In a medium saucepan, stir together cranberries with orange juice and sugar. Bring to a full boil then lower heat. Simmer, while stirring, until berries pop. Add cherries, cinnamon and orange zest, then stir well. Remove from the heat. Allow sauce to stand 1/2 hour before pouring it into a pretty crystal bowl for serving. The cool sauce can also be poured into a storage bowl, covered and refrigerated two to three days. Serves 6.
Susan’s Oak Leaf Pumpkin Mousse
This creamy spiced mousse can be served in stemmed or footed glasses or spooned into small individual crumb crusts, pastry shells or small hollow pumpkins. Instead of the “leaf” decorations, a topping of crystallized ginger, chocolate curls, chopped pecan praline or a drizzle of praline sauce adds the perfect finish. If the mousse is made ahead of time, add whipped cream topping and decoration just before serving.
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
3 tablespoons dark rum or orange juice
1 15-ounce can solid pack pumpkin (not pie filling)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 large egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon each ground nutmeg and ginger
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 cups cold heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup whipped heavy cream, flavored with sugar and vanilla, to taste
6 oak leaf-shape cookies (cut from sugar cookie dough or pie pastry) or chocolate leaves or ginger snaps
Dissolve gelatin in the rum or juice; set aside to soften 10 minutes. In a heatproof bowl, combine pumpkin, both sugars, egg yolks, spices and salt. Set over a pan of simmering water, whisking constantly, 5 to 7 minutes or until hot. Do not overheat. Stir in softened gelatin until dissolved. Remove from heat and cool. Stir in vanilla. Whip heavy cream until soft peaks form; gently fold into pumpkin mixture. Spoon 3/4 cup mousse into each of six serving dishes. Chill 4 hours or overnight. Serve with whipped cream and a leaf-shaped cookie or other decoration. Serves 6.
Pumpkin Mousse with Pecan Streusel
Put one tablespoon Pecan Streusel into a serving dish, then top with about 1/3 cup mousse. Repeat the process ending with the mousse. Top with whipped cream and decoration. Makes 5 to 6 servings.
Sprinkle over desserts like mousse, stewed fruit or pumpkin ice cream.
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, scooped into measuring cup
1/ 4 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup brown sugar
5 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour and salt with brown sugar. Cut in butter and pecans until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Chill 30 minutes. Spread mixture loosely onto a baking sheet; bake 20 minutes or just until crispy and golden brown. Cool, then break up into crumbles. If made ahead up to 3 days, store in an airtight container.
Photo Credit: Red scroll dinnerware, maple leaf placemats, napkins, mum napkin rings and pumpkin plate courtesy of Pier 1 Imports®.