Where would Thanksgiving be without friends? With feasting in mind, I canvassed some fellow cooks on what they would like to see on their tables this year. The answers were enthusiastic, nostalgic, practical, centering on a local or seasonal approach. Contributions include a dressing, vegetable dishes, a relish and dessert -- everything you could want to surround your choice of noble bird.
From Pennsylvania via New England comes a white cornmeal pound cake, a 19th-century recipe from Sheryl Julian, food writer for the Boston Globe Magazine. The recipe originally appeared in "Domestic Cookery," a book by Elizabeth Ellicott Lea reprinted in facsimile in 1982 (University of Pennsylvania). "The cornmeal should be stone ground and rather coarse to add texture to the cake," insists Julian. "Some meals are dryer than others and need more liquid for the batter."
Traditional, too, is the dressing sent to me by Betty Davis from Longview, Tex. A savory mixture of toasted cornbread (yellow meal this time), white bread, rice and seasonings, it has been served "every Thanksgiving since Charley and I married 30 years ago," declares Betty. "Not only is it a family favorite, but I make extra to share with friends who are addicted to it."
Brand new is the recipe from Susy Davidson, executive director of La Varenne in Paris. Three-Onion Souffle' brings a French touch to her home-town ingredients, for Davidson is a native of Oregon -- vegetable country. Here she bakes sweet white onions to pure'e them, then mixes them with crisp scallions and pearl onions, caramelized for flavor. The souffle' would stand happily on its own as a light entre'e on another occasion.
The last two vegetable recipes come from professional chefs, one on the East Coast, one on the West. Marcel de Saulniers, owner of the Trellis restaurant in Colonial Williamsburg, is naturally an enthusiast of historical cuisine. Among the few foods in abundance for the early settlers were pumpkin, plums and bacon; baked together, the combination is inspired.
Like Marcel, Bob Brody, executive chef of the Sheraton Harbor Island and the Sheraton Inn in San Diego, loves to invent. His tomatillo relish reflects the influence of nearby Mexico (many on his kitchen team speak only Spanish, but Brody is a born teacher in any language). This relish is a classic, spiced with mustard, celery seed and turmeric, and the longer it is stored so the flavor mellows, the better it will be.
Both desserts for this menu are puddings -- the classic comfort food. Steamed cranberry pudding, laced with molasses, was Thanksgiving fare for Dorothea Checkley when she grew up in the prairies of North Dakota, "the coldest state in the U.S.A., only 67 miles from the Canadian border. Thanksgiving was already the beginning of winter, more often with snow than without it." Thirty for the feast was usual, experience that has led to Checkley's renown as champion cook for fund raising in Seattle.
"You've never tasted banana pudding?" exclaimed Anne Byrd when I visited her in North Carolina this spring. She soon remedied the deficiency, and I share this southern addiction, typical of the subjects Byrd explores regularly on a Charlotte television show. Whether served hot or cold, egg custard, sliced bananas and vanilla wafers marry remarkably well.
Looking at these recipes, all from dedicated cooks, I'm impressed by their simplicity. They use few ingredients and take very little time (look how short the timetable is for a major meal). The simplest suggestion of all came from Julia Child, who, when I asked what she liked best for Thanksgiving, replied "Cold turkey the day after, with lots of capers and homemade mayonnaise." Timetable ---------------
Up to 10 days ahead: Make tomatillo relish and refrigerate.
Up to 3 days ahead: Bake cornmeal pound cake and store in airtight container. Prepare Texas dressing and refrigerate. Steam cranberry pudding and make sauce; refrigerate both.
Up to 1 day ahead: Make onion mixture and saute' baby onions for souffle'; refrigerate them. Prepare pumpkin and plums for baking and refrigerate. Prepare banana pudding and refrigerate.
In the morning: Roast turkey in oven, stuffed with dressing if you like. Set the table. Chill white wines and cider.
Up to 2 hours before serving: Complete banana pudding. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
One hour before serving: If baking dressing, put in oven. Bake pumpkin and plums. Transfer relish to serving bowls. Sprinkle pound cake with sugar and set on platter.
30 minutes before serving: Heat cranberry pudding in steamer. Transfer turkey to platter and keep warm. Increase turkey oven heat to 375 degrees and bake souffle'. Make gravy for turkey.
After serving turkey: Reheat vanilla sauce on top of stove. Unmold cranberry pudding. CORNMEAL POUND CAKE (Makes one 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf)
Half cake, half bread, this cornmeal recipe could be served with the turkey, or with fresh apples and pears to end the meal.
1 cup white cornmeal
1 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 eggs, beaten to mix
3 tablespoons milk, more if needed
Confectioners' sugar (for sprinkling)
Combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder and nutmeg on a sheet of waxed paper.
Cream butter, add sugar and beat until soft and light. Add eggs a little at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir dry ingredients in two batches into egg mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Add enough milk so batter falls easily from spoon. Note: Do not overmix or cake will be tough.
Transfer batter to buttered and floured 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan and bake in a 350-degree oven until a skewer inserted in center comes out clean, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Leave cake in pan until cool, then turn out onto a rack until cold.
Cornmeal pound cake can be baked up to 3 days ahead and stored in an airtight container. Sprinkle it with confectioners' sugar just before serving. TEXAS DRESSING FOR TURKEY (Makes 14 cups, or enough to fill a 16-pound bird and serve 16)
Wild or brown rice can be substituted for white rice.
2 pound loaf yellow corn bread
3 slices white bread, crusts discarded
3 tablespoons butter
2 white onions, coarsely chopped
1 small bunch celery, sliced
1 small green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
6 scallions, sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups cooked rice
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 1/2 tablespoons poultry seasoning
1 quart chicken stock, more if needed
3 eggs, beaten to mix
8-ounce can water chestnuts, drained and chopped
1/4 cup slivered almonds, browned in 1 tablespoon butter (optional)
Crumble corn bread and white bread, spread on baking sheets and cook in a 300-degree oven until very dry, 20 to 30 minutes. Work crumbs in a processor or break up with your fingers.
Heat butter in a large skillet and saute' onions, celery and bell pepper until almost soft, stirring occasionally. Add scallions with salt and pepper, and cook until soft also.
In a large casserole, stir together crumbs, saute'ed vegetables, cooked rice, sage and poultry seasoning. Pour in chicken stock, cover, and cook in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes. Taste dressing for seasoning. Dressing can be kept up to 3 days in refrigerator, or frozen.
To finish, stir eggs and water chestnuts into dressing and use to stuff turkey. Alternatively spoon dressing into a 9-by-13-inch greased baking dish, sprinkle top with almonds and bake in a 350-oven until hot and brown, about 1 hour. THREE-ONION SOUFFLE' (16 servings as part of this menu, 6 to 8 servings alone)
More mousse than souffle', this mixture can be held up to 30 minutes in the refrigerator before baking.
6 medium (3 pounds) sweet white onions, peeled and halved
2 cups ( 3/4 pound) baby pearl onions
5 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup light cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated nutmeg to taste
3 scallions sliced
4 egg yolks
6 egg whites
Butter a 13-by-9-inch baking dish, add white onions, cut sides down, and cover with foil. Bake in a 350-degree oven until very tender, about 1 hour, in a 350-degree oven. Drain and cool in a strainer. Pure'e onions in a food processor.
Blanch pearl onions by boiling in water 3 minutes, draining and refreshing with cold water. Peel them. In a frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons butter and saute' onions until brown, about 5 minutes. Shake pan often so they color evenly.
In a medium saucepan heat remaining butter, stir in flour and cook until foaming. Whisk in cream and bring to a boil, stirring constantly until sauce thickens. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and simmer 2 minutes. Stir in onion pure'e, scallions and egg yolks and continue cooking, stirring, until mixture thickens slightly, about 2 minutes. Taste for seasoning.
Onion mixture and baby onions can be prepared 24 hours ahead and refrigerated.
To finish, thickly butter baking or souffle' dish. Stiffly whip egg whites. Heat onion mixture, stirring, until warm, and stir in a quarter of the whipped egg whites. Note: This cooks egg whites so they hold shape. Add mixture to remaining egg whites and fold together as lightly as possible.
Spread half of souffle' mixture in prepared dish, cover with a layer of baby onions and add remaining mixture. Bake in a 375-dgree oven until puffed and brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve at once. BAKED PUMPKIN WITH PLUMS AND BACON (16 servings as part of this menu, 8 servings alone)
Variation on a colonial theme from Williamsburg.
1 pound fresh plums
Small pumpkin (about 4 pounds)
1/2 pound piece bacon, diced
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
Salt and pepper to taste
Halve plums, discarding pits, and cut each half in 2 pieces (4 if large). Halve pumpkin, discarding seeds, cut it in wedges and pare off skin with a knife. Cut flesh in same size chunks as plums.
Spread bacon in a 2-quart baking dish and bake in a 350-degree oven until lightly browned and fat has run, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain bacon on paper towels, discarding fat.
Mix pumpkin, plums and bacon and spread in baking dish. Dot with butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Note: If bacon is salty, more salt may not be needed. Cover with foil. Pumpkin can be prepared 24 hours ahead and refrigerated.
To finish, heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake pumpkin until tender and lightly browned, about 1 hour. Stir once or twice during cooking and remove foil for last 15 minutes. Serve hot. TOMATILLO RELISH (Makes 1 quart, or relish for 16)
Tomatillos give this relish a special bite, but green tomatoes, or even fresh ripe ones, can be substituted.
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1 pound tomatillos, cut in thin slices
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut in thin strips
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut in thin strips
1/4 cup salt
1 1/2 tablespoons white mustard seed
1 1/2 tablespoons celery seed
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 tablespoon sugar
3 cups white vinegar
In a non-aluminum bowl, mix onion, tomatillos and peppers with salt. Cover and leave 12 hours or overnight in refrigerator.
Drain vegetables of their juices, rinse with a little cold water and drain thoroughly. Add mustard seed, celery seed, turmeric, sugar and vinegar. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, 35 to 45 minutes.
Let cool, then keep at least 3 and up to 10 days in refrigerator so flavor mellows. Alternatively, spoon relish while still hot into sterilized jars; seal when cool. GRANDMOTHER'S STEAMED CRANBERRY PUDDING (16 servings as part of this menu, 8 to 10 alone)
"Simply mix all together," instructs Dorothea Checkley, with the insouciance of the born cook. The following instructions are scarcely more complicated.
1 cup molasses
1 cup water
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups chopped cranberries
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
FOR THE VANILLA SAUCE:
1 cup half-and-half
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons vanilla
Thicky butter two 1-pound coffee cans. Heat molasses and water in a saucepan until melted. Mix a third of the flour with cranberries to prevent sticking. Sift remaining flour into a bowl with baking soda, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the center, gradually stir in molasses mixture, then the cranberries. Spoon batter into cans.
Seal tightly with foil, set cans in a steamer and cover with lid. Steam 1 1/2 hours. Cranberry pudding can be cooked up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated.
To make the sauce, combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Heat gently, stirring, until sugar is melted. Simmer 3 minutes. Sauce can be prepared up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated.
To finish, reheat pudding in cans in a steamer. Reheat sauce on top of stove. Unmold pudding from cans and slice to serve with sauce. BANANA PUDDING (16 servings as part of this menu, 8 alone)
A classic to serve hot or cold.
FOR THE CUSTARD:
3 cups milk
1 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla
6 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
FOR THE FILLING:
3/4 of a 12-ounce box vanilla wafers
5 medium-ripe bananas, sliced diagonally
FOR THE MERINGUE:
6 egg whites
1/4 cup sugar
For the custard, scald milk in a saucepan with vanilla bean, if using, cover and leave to infuse 10 minutes. In a bowl, whisk egg yolks with sugar until thick and light, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir milk into egg mixture, discarding vanilla bean. Add salt, return mixture to saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until custard thickens lightly. When a finger is drawn through custard across the back of a spoon, it will leave a clear trail. Take from heat and continue whisking 2 to 3 minutes. If using vanilla extract, add it now.
Spoon a layer of custard into a 2-quart baking dish and cover with a layer of vanilla wafers. Top with a layer of sliced bananas. Cover with custard and continue adding layers, ending with a generous layer of custard. Reserve enough vanilla wafers to place around edge of dish. Banana pudding can be prepared 24 hours ahead and refrigerated.
To finish, stiffly whip egg whites, add sugar and continue whisking until meringue is glossy, about 30 seconds. Spread meringue over entire surface of pudding.
Bake pudding in a 450-degree oven until meringue is lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Tuck remaining wafers under meringue so they stand upright around edge of pudding. Serve warm, at room temperature or cold.