Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I know the true meaning of Thanksgiving, but I can't help associating it with food. I think of all the toothsome dishes: roasted turkey, sweet potato casserole, cranberry sauce, pecan pie... and everything in between. I feel stuffed and sleepy already. Blissful indulgence.

The side dish (dessert?) that really does me in is my sister's Sweet Potato Casserole. If you have a sweet tooth, you really have to try this:
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled, boiled, and drained, and mashed with 1/3 cup oleo
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tspn vanilla
1/3 cup milk

Topping Ingredients
1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup melted oleo
1 cup pecans

Bake at 375 for 25 - 30 minutes, until bubbly and sugar is carmelized.

Try it, you'll love it! It's too good for words.

In the past several years, I've come to favor fried turkeys. On Thanksgiving, it just wouldn't be right. Roasted is the only way to go. I love how it takes hours and hours of careful attention and basting, and the whole house is filled with that wonderful aroma.

In my family tradition, we always have mashed potatoes and gravy with turkey. (Yeah, and sweet potatoes. You need lots of carbs with that turkey to get a really good nap afterwards.) I've seen a lot of people make mashed potatoes in my day, and every one of them has a slightly different take on it. Brown potatoes, red potatoes, gold potatoes. Skin on, skin off. Gobs of butter to only a pat. Whipped, creamy, chunky. Some folks even fold eggs into them - I plan to try that next time. The variations for such a simple dish are astounding.

And lets not even get started on gravy... That's as controversial as cornbread stuffing vs. bread stuffing. Or politics and religion.

Which reminds me, I almost forgot my mother-in-law's Cornbread Stuffing for Turkey:
Double batch of cornbread, unsweetened
3 - 4 celery stalks, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tbspn butter
3 slices bread, crumbled
3 - 4 eggs
1 tbspn sage
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup water

Crumble the cornbread and place in large bowl. In a skillet, saute onions and celery in butter until glossy. Add to cornbread. Stir in additional ingredients. Texture should be moist and can form a ball, but not too sticky. Stuff some into the turkey and cook according to directions. Place remainder in 9 x 13 pan and bake at 350 until golden brown.

How's that for compromise?

Something I discovered on my neverending adventure of growing heirloom vegetables is the Seminole Pumpkin. I bought the seeds from Baker Creek Seed Co. a few years ago. This is truly a Native American pumpkin. It comes from the Seminole Indians of Florida. It has very long vines, so the Seminoles would plant them at the base of dead trees. The plants would climb the tree, and the little pumpkins hung like ornaments. Seminole pumpkins aren't very large, but they have BIG flavor! It is unquestionably the richest pumpkin or squash I've ever eaten, having nutty aftertones. They keep for up to a year. What I like to do with them is cut the top off and hollow them out as you would a Jack O' Lantern, bake them until nearly done, and stuff them with Thanksgiving dinner leftovers, especially sweet potato casserole and cranberry sauce. Then I finish baking. One serves 2 or 3 people.

I enjoy growing squash, sweet potatoes, green beans, sweet corn, and anything else that could possibly be eaten at Thanksgiving dinner. Heirloom varieties offer a wide range of flavors, textures, and colors. I was amazed to discover the wide array of heirloom sweet potatoes - I counted 80 in the Sand Hill Presevation Center poultry and seed catalog (they sell exotic turkeys as well...) Colors range from white to orange to purple to red, both flesh and skin. Some are gigantic, some are small, some are rough, some are smooth. That's the beauty of heirlooms - diversity.

Well, now I'm working up a proper appetite for tomorrow!

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