Because my birthday is at the very end of November, we have always celebrated it on Thanksgiving. What better time to have friends and family over and have all your favorite dishes! For me it has also always meant being thankful for my garden: having the good health to work in the sun and the dirt and bringing as much as possible of the harvest to the table.
I’ve never raised my own turkey and I follow the directions on the bird as closely as possible. As far as the rest of the meal, I like to do things my own way. I love looking through cookbooks at Samuels and gathering recipes, but I always seem to change them a bit, just to suit me.
I start making the gravy early in the morning a few days before Thanksgiving. If it sits in the refrigerator for a day or two, the grease can rise to the surface and be skimmed off. The best results come from roasting necks and wings and any other spare parts at 350°. A dear friend of my mother shared that secret with me. Once they’re golden brown, boil them with a bouillon cube or two and enough water to cover. After an hour or so, I add celery, carrots, onion, garlic and as many herbs as I can gather from the garden. Parsley, rosemary, thyme, tarragon and at least one bay leaf all get thrown in the pot and boiled for at least two hours, making sure to add water to keep covered. When the turkey broth has cooled, it can be strained and set in the refrigerator to wait for the turkey and its pan drippings on Thanksgiving Day and made into gravy.
The green beans can also be made ahead and reheated, but there is no canned mushroom soup in my recipe. My father taught me this recipe when I was a child and it is still my favorite. I’ve been very lucky to always grow my own beans, but frozen will be tasty, too. Briefly boil them, rinse in cool water and set aside. In a skillet melt some butter and sauté lots of garlic. When the garlic is barely golden add some fresh, sliced mushrooms. When the mushrooms are cooked, add fresh parsley, the beans and a pinch of salt and heat until everything is warm.
There must also be sweet potatoes. I’ve grown them once with no success at all, but fresh ones are plentiful this time of year. They are easy to bake in the oven and this can also be done ahead of time. When they are cool enough to peel and slice, put them in a buttered pan with sliced apples, of course locally grown, and dot with butter. If a family member insists, brown sugar and cinnamon may also be added.
Some of my other Thanksgiving favorites have been found in many of the beautiful cookbooks at Samuels Library.
The Sweet Potato Cookbook by Lyniece N. Talmadge
This is a unique collection of more than one hundred tantalizing recipes for dishes to serve at breakfast, lunch, or dinner with chapters on appetizers, beverages, soups, main courses, side dishes, and even desserts.
Seriously Simple Holidays by Diane R. Worthington
This book will show you how to entertain with style and ease by keeping things simple with wonderful, festive recipes and ideas for hosing the perfect holiday gathering.
Too Many Tomatoes, Squash, Beans and Other Good Things by Lois M. Landau
An unusual and classic cookbook with hundreds of savory and delectable recipes that will help every gardener find ample ways to make use of the riches the garden provides.
Gifts from a Country Kitchen by Marion Ham
This is a beautiful collection of over 160 recipes that have been handed down through generations of American home cooks.
Faye Levy’s International Vegetable Cookbook
The author has combed the kitchens of the world to find inspired, mouth-watering – yet still healthful – ways to prepare vegetables. It is the definitive volume on vegetable cooking by the award-winning author featuring hundreds of wholesome internationally-flavored recipes.
Southern Living Home Cooking Basics
This lavishly illustrated guide to all things culinary offers a colorfully compelling approach for cooks to try the delights of the American southern table.
Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer
This new edition continues the vision of American cooking that began with the first edition of Joy. It is still the book you can turn to for perfect Beef Wellington and Baked Macaroni and Cheese. It's also the book where you can now find Turkey on the Grill, Spicy Peanut Sesame Noodles, and vegetarian meals.