Let's Eat,  The Art of Beautiful Living

Thanksgiving Food and Traditions


Besides twinkling lights and the look of amazement on children’s faces, is there anything more wonderful than holiday food?

I don’t think that much can compete with the thrill I get planning a holiday menu and thinking about sitting around the table with my favorite people visiting and celebrating.  Traditions are important and food as a holiday tradition is probably one of my favorites.  As traditional as we are, we have broken with some old ones and are establishing some new ones for our family.  Here are a few of my favorite things (cue the Sound of Music soundtrack…):

I want to tell you that I love Christmas above all other holidays, but I can’t.  If we are talking about the birth of Christ, then yes.  Christmas is my absolute favorite.  However, if we are talking about enjoyment of the day versus the time and energy put into it, Thanksgiving wins hands down.  No shopping for presents.  Minimal decorating.  It is all about the food and fellowship.  I can get behind that all day long.

Here is what a Burch Family Thanksgiving looks like at White Rock…

The Treats

I love to nibble as you can increasingly tell by my increasing waistline.  I can’t help it.  Nana always had something to nibble on at her house and, now that I am a grandmother, you can bet that there will be something for those precious little ones to enjoy.  I do make enough for the big kids to have some too.  This year, Izzy was here in time to help with the cookie baking.  It was a joy to spend time with her in the kitchen.  I am hoping that it was the first of many baking days with her.  Soon, she will have a little apron around her and will industriously be mixing dough and scooping out cookies onto sheets.  I remember how patient Nana was with me and how much I learned doing things under her encouraging and watchful eyes.

Thanksgiving cookies are traditionally oatmeal variations.  Jerry loves oatmeal raisin.  I have been adding some shredded coconut to his oatmeal raisin cookies and I really like them better.  Just a tad bit of interest and a bit of added moisture for chewiness.  Win!   I couldn’t help myself…Izzy and I made another batch of oatmeal raisin cookies but we added white chocolate chips and dried cranberries to this batch.  Because I am still playing around with recipes to get a nice, chewy cookie, I added a banana to this batch.  They were delicious.

A favorite meal of ours is what we call “nibbles”.  Sounds dumb, I know.  However, it is an easy prep and (if done correctly) provides lots of flavors and textures.  Typically, we have a couple of different meats, cheeses, and bread/crackers.  Our favorites are Italian hard salamis and hams.  When we select the cheeses, we range from sweet mild cheeses to pretty stout blue cheese.  Some cheeses are hard and are served cubed.  Some are soft and are brought to room temperature to facilitate spreading on toasted baguettes.

Fresh fruits, like the beautiful grapes above, help to cleanse the pallet between the cheeses.  Olives are just lovely to pair with cheeses.  The ones pictured above are castelvetrano olives.  They are by far my favorite.  They are not super vinegary and they taste fresher to me than the heavily pickled ones.

The Bird

Our Thanksgiving meals revolve around a turkey.  My grandmother roasted hers in the oven for years, and then my grandfather began to smoke the birds outside.  My mom purchased smoked turkeys to serve at her house.  In 1987, she and Dad flew into Albany, New York to celebrate Christmas with us.  We were living in Saratoga Springs and there were no smoked turkeys to be found up there.  Mom put a frozen turkey into her suitcase for us to enjoy when they came to visit.  Sometime in the 1990s, someone in Ennis started frying turkeys and selling them.  Mom stated her intentions to serve a fried turkey and I asked that she get a smoked turkey as back up.  I shouldn’t have worried.  Fried turkeys are delicious and Jerry cooked them this way for years.  He made his own Cajun butter injection and the birds were just perfect.

This year, he had another plan.  He had received a smoker (a very nice smoker purchased for him by yours truly because I wanted a smoker…) for Father’s Day.  He didn’t really want it, but has decided that (because it works so darn well) it is maybe one of the best presents he has ever received.  Jerry decided that he didn’t want to fry the turkey, but smoke it.  He wanted it to be juicy and flavorful.  Bam!  He made up his Cajun butter, injected the turkey and then smoked it.  It was delicious.

The Dressings

Traditionally, we have always had cornbread dressing.  I have Nana’s recipe and it is a savory yumyum sort of dish and another one of those “I wonder why we don’t have this during the year?” sort of things.  Maybe it is too much work for a Wednesday night.  Maybe my family just never made it any other time and so I just don’t think about it during the year.  I wonder if it would taste as good or as special if I served it every Sunday with a roasted (ha! smoked) chicken.  I will most likely never know because I just can’t see myself making dressing any time other than the holiday season.  Nana’s dressing belongs on the table at Thanksgiving and Christmas along with her Parker House Rolls (the bane of my existence – sort of).

And so when Jerry found a recipe for Oyster Dressing, I was excited (LOVE oysters) and I felt like I was doing something naughty.  I mean, we couldn’t NOT make Nana’s dressing.  That is how we ended up with two dressings on the table at both Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Of course, the kids didn’t like the oyster dressing and that left Jerry and I as the only ones eating it.  With all that was on the table, it was just more leftovers to deal with and oysters don’t keep for long.

We have made some significant changes to our holiday meal plans.

For one, we only have turkey at Thanksgiving and we serve it with Nana’s cornbread dressing.  Easy.  We have shifted the oyster dressing to Christmas because no one expects dressing anyway since we now cook a huge prime rib instead of turkey.  Luckily, our children have married folks who like oysters, so our number of folks partaking has also increased.

The Cranberries

My Nana had a recipe for a fresh cranberry relish that included pecans in it.  I wasn’t much of a fan of it, but it was far and above the canned nasty stuff you buy in the stores.  My dear friend, Carol Valentine, introduced me to her cranberry chutney.  Y’all!  This is the real deal.  I have made this and given it away (it looks beautiful in a Mason jar).  I have used it in a pie (beautiful color bubbling over the lattice crust).  Of course, it is just stunning in a bowl on the Thanksgiving table.

I suppose that how it tastes should be addressed.  It is neither sweet nor tart,  just that perfect combination of the two.  It has brown sugar and apple cider vinegar in it and I think those two balance out.  The additional spices and citrus (from the oranges) make this dish scream “holidays”.  It will always be a staple for our holiday dinners.



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