I am so ticked off, really angry right now. What happened this year to Thanksgiving, one of our most traditional, non-religious, rooted-in-history holidays, and one I have very much looked forward to every year since I was a child?
So many major stores chose to go right from Halloween hype to pre-Christmas greed, filling aisles and storefronts with everything and anything to do with Christmas and with little or nothing devoted to Thanksgiving. And 10 days of Black Friday before we’ve even sat down for turkey dinner? Shame, shame.
Thanksgiving is so much a part of the history of this country and has always been about reminding ourselves who we are as Americans, and how thankful we are, or should be, to be living in and part of the greatest country in the world. It’s also about gathering together with as much family and as many friends as possible to share a special meal and create memories.
My memory banks have so many Thanksgivings in storage, and I treasure every one of them. From the time I was very small, I was in the kitchen with my mom and, in those very early years, both great-grandmothers and grandmothers. The men all gathered in the living room and played cribbage or pinochle, and shared hunting and fishing stories. I listened as they chatted to each other about other family members and other Thanksgivings, and watched as the women prepared the upcoming feast. I was given small chores to do, like sprinkling brown sugar over the top of a pumpkin pie, or a bit of cinnamon over an apple pie. I snitched cooling cookies off the counter, and pieces of apple from the mixing bowl. They pretended not to see.
I no longer have those amazing women in my life, but I will have the memories of spending those hours and days with them until I, too, am gone. And I learned so much about fresh food prep from them and still have many of their recipes, which will be passed on to the granddaughters who now spend time in the kitchen with me. I hope very much to be creating the same sort of memories for them.
Don’t get me wrong; I do like and enjoy Christmas, but it is a much more stressful time which goes on, it often seems, for too many days before the “big day” finally arrives. And while I have many Christmas memories, they seem to run together and it’s hard to recall specifics as to when and what happened on Christmas of any certain year.
So, yes, I’m angry that so many retailers are starting the Christmas craziness so early, sending the “get out there and start shopping” message, including “we’ll be open Thanksgiving Day so you can take advantage of our special Thanksgiving Day sales.”
Do they honestly believe it’s more fun to be out shopping on Thanksgiving Day than to be in the kitchen and around the dining table with the people most dear to your heart? What have we come to?
I wish all our readers a very happy Thanksgiving, and may you be spending the day and/or evening in the company of those dearest to you, whether they’re family or friends.
On my Thanksgiving menu, there will always be at least two desserts: pumpkin pie because I know it’s expected, and pumpkin cheesecake because I love cheesecake more than any other dessert indulgence. If I’m going to someone else’s home for the occasion, I offer to bring a pumpkin cheesecake, such as this one.
For the crust: 1 ½ cups gingersnap cookie crumbs, ¾ cup ground pecans, ¼ cup unsalted butter (melted), 2 T. (packed) brown sugar
For the filling: 3 pkgs. (8 oz. each) cream cheese at room temp., 1 ½ cups canned solid pack pumpkin, 1 ½ cups (packed) brown sugar, 1 T. pumpkin pie spice, 1 T. vanilla, ¼ t. ground cloves, 3 large eggs and an additional ½ cup chopped pecans, to sprinkle on top
Combine all crust ingredients in a bowl and stir until moist clumps form. Press mixture onto the bottom and 1 inch up the sides of a 9-inch spring form pan with 2 ¾-inch sides. Refrigerate while preparing the filling.
Filling: Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese in a large bowl until smooth. Add pumpkin, brown sugar, spices and vanilla; beat until well blended. Add eggs one at a time, beating just until blended after each addition. Pour batter into prepared crust (it will fill higher than the crust).
Bake cheesecake in a preheated 350 degree oven until top is golden and center is softly set, about one hour and 15 min. Transfer pan to a rack to cool completely; cover and chill overnight. When ready to serve, use a small knife to cut around sides of pan to loosen cake. Remove pan sides; garnish cake with chopped pecans and serve.
Another Thanksgiving favorite for as long as I can remember, and always on our holiday table, is some version of corn pudding. This is a very old recipe I still prefer because it calls for fresh corn.
CREAMED CORN PUDDING
10-12 large ears of corn, shucked
4 T. butter, divided (see instructions)
2 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
2 ½ t. kosher salt, divided
4 large eggs, separated
½ cup sour cream or crème fraîche
½ t. freshly ground black pepper
Using large holes on a box grater, grate enough corn into a large measuring cup to measure 4 generous cups of thick milky pulp.
Melt 2 T. of the butter in a heavy large skillet over med.-low heat. Add onions and celery; sprinkle with ½ t. coarse kosher salt. Sauté until tender but not brown, 10-12 min. Scrape mixture into bowl.
Whisk egg yolks in a large bowl for 2 min. Stir in corn mixture, onion mixture, sour cream or crème fraîche, 1/8 t. pepper and remaining 2 t. coarse salt. Whisk egg whites in a separate bowl until stiff but not dry; fold into the corn batter in 2 additions.
Place remaining 2 T. butter in a 10-12 cup cast-iron skillet (I still have and use my mother’s), or a baking dish. Transfer to a preheated 425 degree oven and heat until butter begins to brown, about 4 min. Be careful not to burn the butter. Remove from oven and use a brush to spread butter over bottom and sides of dish or pan. Add pudding; return to oven and bake 15 min., then reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue to bake until pudding is set and golden, about 30 min. more. Let stand 10 min. before serving. Serves 10-12.
It doesn’t always have to be mashed potatoes; the best of both in the potato world is this gratin of gold and sweet.
SWEET POTATO & YUKON GOLD POTATO GRATIN
6 T. butter, room temp., divided
2 ¼ lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, rinsed
1 ½ lbs. red-skinned sweet potatoes (yams), peeled
2 cups whole milk
1 garlic clove, pressed
1 T. kosher salt
2 t. fresh thyme leaves
1 t. freshly ground black pepper
1/8 t. ground nutmeg
1 cup whipping cream
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a 13x9x2 baking dish with 2 T. butter. Thinly slice all potatoes and place in prepared dish. In a med. Saucepan, bring milk and remaining ingredients except whipping cream to a boil. Pour over the potatoes and dot with 2 T. butter. Cover with foil, place in oven and bake until potatoes are tender and milk is almost absorbed, about 50 min.
Bring cream to boil in a saucepan. Uncover potatoes and pour cream over then dot with remaining 2 T. butter. Bake uncovered until top is golden brown in spots, about 25 min. Cool slightly. Serves 12.