By Dotti Hydue, Levy County Kitchen Contributor and Editing Consultant
SOME historians contend that the first Thanksgiving was held in St. Augustine in 1565 to mark the safe arrival of 800 Spanish settlers. The Spaniards gave thanks by celebrating mass followed by a feast shared with friendly Native Americans. A bit further north and 56 years later, Pilgrim settlers came together with area natives to celebrate their corn harvest. The only documented items on their menu were deer and wildfowl; but I assume there was corn as well. President Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving Day an official holiday in 1863 and since then Americans have embraced this uniquely American holiday.
Thanksgiving traditions, like everything else, change over the years as families grow, people marry and divorce, families merge or move out-of-state, people are born and people pass on. Yet as families and circumstances change, the meaning of Thanksgiving stays the same. It is a time to come together with loved ones to give thanks, a time to share laughter, tears, and down-home cooking.
This is the time of year traditional family recipes come out and homes are filled with savory aromas that have young and old hanging around the kitchen long before the main meal is ready. What’s on your table this year—turkey, venison, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn pudding, candied yams, sweet potato and pecan pies? Is your turkey roasted, baked, barbecued or fried? What type of stuffing do you favor? Did you know that if you cook the stuffing inside the turkey it is called stuffing? If you cook it outside the bird in a casserole it is called dressing.
Now that it is usually just my husband and me around the Thanksgiving table, our menu items have evolved. Gone are the days when I wrestle a slippery, naked, stuffed turkey into my mom’s blue enamel roasting pan at five in the morning. Instead Bill might fire up the Webber and smoke a turkey breast or a nice plump chicken. We’ve had Cornish game hens, salmon, and even volunteered at a community food bank where we shared a traditional meal with dozens of strangers. What a comforting feeling of belonging as the roomful of strangers—seniors, loners, single mothers with children, entire families—came together to give thanks.
At this year’s feast, why not start a new tradition by asking each person what he or she is thankful for. Honor those no longer at your table with a heartfelt toast. Share your bounty with an elderly neighbor by inviting them over or by taking them a to-go plate. Shake up your menu by trying a new side dish or dessert.
It is so easy to get caught up in life’s challenges and stress. Instead of focusing on what you might be missing in life, gather around the table and be thankful for what you have. Be generous with your food and your love. There is so much to be thankful for.
COUSIN GAIL’S CREAM CHEESE SPREAD
All the flavors of the season are blended into this creamy spread.
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup finely chopped dried cranberries
1/4 cup finely chopped pecans
Beat cream cheese, orange juice concentrate, sugar, orange peel, and cinnamon together until fluffy. Stir in dried cranberries and pecans. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving with assorted crackers.
SWEET POTATO BISCUITS
If you use a cutter to form the biscuits be sure and push straight down; do not twist the cutter or the biscuits will not rise properly.
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
3/4 cup mashed, cooked sweet potatoes
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 400°. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, combine brown sugar, melted butter, and sweet potatoes. Beat until fluffy. Stir baking soda into buttermilk. Combine all ingredients, stirring just until moist. Turn out onto floured work surface. Knead lightly. Roll out and cut into biscuits. Bake on ungreased baking sheet for about 20 minutes or until done.
LEFTOVER TURKEY can be made into any number of creative dishes. For a great sandwich, layer a few slices of turkey and Swiss cheese between pieces of buttered white bread. Dip sandwich into an egg beaten with a little milk. Fry in butter until crisp and golden brown.
For Turkey Hash, fry some chopped onions and peppers in a skillet with plenty of butter. Add some cut-up boiled potatoes (sweet or white), chopped turkey meat, and a few dashes of hot sauce. Fry until well browned. Top with a cooked egg for breakfast or serve with cranberry sauce and a bottle of beer for a satisfying lunch.
The Levy County Quilt Museum is having its annual open house and sale starting the day after Thanksgiving (a great alternative to the black Friday shopping madness at the malls and superstores). There is always a wonderful selection of handmade quilts and fabric crafts for sale at reasonable prices. The museum is located at 11050 NW 10th Avenue outside Chiefland off 27A. Call the museum Tuesday through Saturday between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. at (352) 493-2801 for more information.
The Suwannee Valley Shriner’s Club will hold its sugar cane boil in Fanning Springs during Thanksgiving week. Call (352) 542-9827 or the Chiefland Chamber of Commerce at (352) 493-1849 for more information.
That’s all for now. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Until next time, the kitchen is closed.
Cover photo: Provided by Scott DeBerry, Publisher, illustrating the tradition of their family Thanksgiving portrait.