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Article from Country Home Magazine

November 2005

THANKSGIVING: BACK TO OUR ROOTS

Make your Thanksgiving dinner a meal to remember with heritage foods rich in meaning and flavor.

This Thanksgiving, we scoured the country for the caliber of handcrafted foods that graced our grandparents' tables. Happily, renewed interest in cooking with heirloom ingredients has led to greater availability--even doorstep delivery.  Setting the tone for our heritage feast is a Narragansett Turkey, the original American breed.  Farmers like Mary Pitman have helped revive heritage turkeys, which boast an incomparable robust flavor and the distinction of being naturally raised.  To accompany it, we dipped into family recipe boxes and antique cookbooks for inspiration: an Oaky Maple Syrup Glaze and a Stuffing studded with artisanal country ham and handharvested wild rice are some of the results.  Even the fruit in our cranberry chutney is vintage.  Like many heirloom seeds passed down over the generations, they yield smaller, tastier, and prettier fruit. Everything old is available again.  And for that among so many other gifts--we are thankful.

"The laugh of happy children, the glad greetings of family," wrote Sarah Josepha Hale, campaigning for Thanksgiving to become a national holiday.  "For one day, make every American home the place of plenty and rejoicing."  After President Lincoln granted her wish, Victorian cooks dressed their tables with a surfeit of side dishes, many inspired by Native American recipes from the original harvest feast.  Succotash is reinvented with dappled heirloom beans and pillowy hominy hulled from Iroquois White Corn.  Pass around tousles of watercress with heirloom apples, sweetly dressed with local wildflower honey.  Green beans are slicked with brown butter and sliver almonds.  Mashed heirloom potatoes--reamer than their commercial counterparts--and squash biscuits are possible right now when autumnal markets are rife with time-honored varieties, such as kabocha.

In 1796, Amelia Simmons inspired cooks everywhere when she put her silky "Pumpkin Pudding" in a crust and published the creation in American Cookery, this country's first cookbook.  Our revival of her classical goes back to basics, forgoing the pastry for pure, velvety flavor.  The pudding pairs well with its partners on the dessert plate--pear and cranberry tart, zesty with ginger and foolproof with a simple crust, and whole pears oven-roasted until soft and golden, drizzled with local wildflower honey culled from a potpourri of seasonal blossoms.  Between sparkling sips of cider, indulge in luscious bites of ripe, raw milk cheeses. Then settle in for long nap.

The Heirloom Market

Generations of gardeners and cooks connected with edible heritage through the tradition of seed saving, preserving the most flavorful, juicy and beautiful progenies for harvests to come. With the trend in agribusiness, many of these heirlooms disappeared in a deluge of durable, uniform varieties that could be grown anywhere and withstand shipping, at the expense of taste.  Fortunately, revivalist farmers are bringing heirloom produce, heritage meats (such as fuller-flavored Berkshire pork), heritage-variety fresh eggs, and farmstead cheeses to local markets, selling them to grocery chains, and even shipping fresh from their Web sites.  It is now easy to fine purple-striped rattlesnake beans with their curly tips; every imaginable shape and hue of potato, from flavorful All-Blues to knobby fingerlings; a cornucopia of Hubbard, Turban, and Crookneck s quash; and snappy, naturally blushed apples galore.  Visit www.seedsavers.org for heirloom seeds and their kitchen uses and www.localharves.com for farms and markets selling heirloom produce, meats, and other farm-fresh products near you.

Sources

All of the following are available via mail-order.  Call as soon as you decide on your menu, since supplies are limited.

Heritage Turkeys

Mary Pitman--whose family has raised free-range turkeys in Fresno, California, since the 1950s--specializes  in Narragansetts, the oldest breed in the U.S. (www.marysturkeys.com;888-666-8244.) Heritage Foods USA, run by the former president of Slow Food USA, works with multiple farmers around the country to preserve the legacy of varieties like Bourbon Reds and American Bronzes. Heritage breeds generally have darker, leaner meat than commercial birds. (212-980-6603;www.heritagefoodsusa.com)


Make your Thanksgiving dinner a meal to remember with heritage foods rich in meaning and flavor. This year, we scoured the country for the caliber of handcrafted foods that graced our grandparents' tables. Setting the tone for our heritage feast is a Narragansett turkey, the original American breed. To accompany it, we dipped into family recipe boxes and antique cookbooks for inspiration. The result is the menu below, full of delicious foods with links to the past. Happily, renewed interest in cooking with heirloom ingredients has led to greater availability. Visit www.seedsavers.org for heirloom seeds and their kitchen uses and www.localharvest.com for farms and markets selling heirloom produce, meats, and other farm-fresh products near you.

Menu


٠ MAPLE AND BALSAMIC GLAZED HERITAGE TURKEY ٠
 

 

Picture of a Thanksgiving Dinner

Maple and Balsamic Glazed Heritage Turkey
Old breeds, such as the Narragansett, have smaller breasts and darker, richer meat than commercially raised birds, so you don't cook them as long. Old world meets new in this shellac of maple syrup, tangy with a touch of balsamic vinegar.

11/2 cups unsalted butter, softened
1 cup pure maple syrup
1/3 cup snipped fresh sage
2-3 tbsp. coarse sea salt
2-3 tbsp. mixed peppercorns or black peppercorns, crushed
1 18 to 20 lb. heritage breed turkey
Country Ham and Wild Rice Stuffing (see recipe below)
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

In a large bowl beat the 11/2 cups softened butter, 1/2 cup syrup, sage, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 tablespoon peppercorns with an electric mixer until smooth. Shape into a 15-inch-long log on a piece of waxed paper, using paper to help form log. Wrap and chill log about 1 hour or until firm. Slice into 1/2-inch-thick rounds.

Meanwhile, rinse the inside of the turkey; pat dry with paper towels. Gently separate the skin from the turkey breasts and tops of drumsticks by easing a paring knife or your fingers between the skin and the meat to make 2 pockets that extend all the way down to the neck cavity and over the drumsticks. Pull neck skin to the back; fasten with a skewer.

Place half of the maple butter rounds in each pocket. Sprinkle remaining salt and peppercorns in the cavity and over the surface of the turkey.*

Place about 5 cups of the Country Ham and Wild Rice Stuffing in a large microwave-safe bowl. Micro-cook, covered, on 100-percent power (high) for 3 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds. Loosely fill main cavity with the warm stuffing, packing it lightly. Spoon all the remaining stuffing into a greased 3-quart baking dish; cover and chill until ready to bake. Tuck the turkey legs under the band of skin, if there is one, or tie the legs to the tail with 100-percent-cotton kitchen string. Twist wing tips under the back.

Place turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Insert a meat thermometer into the center of an inside thigh muscle. The thermometer should not touch bone. Cover loosely with foil. Place turkey in a 325˚ oven. Roast until meat thermometer registers 150˚, about 4 to 41/2 hours. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan heat remaining 2 tablespoons butter, remaining 1/2 cup maple syrup, and balsamic vinegar until boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 4 to 5 minutes until slightly thickened.

Remove foil from the turkey; increase oven temperature to 350˚. Add covered stuffing casserole to the oven; roast 20 minutes more. Brush turkey with all of the maple-balsamic glaze. Roast turkey 15 to 30 minutes more or until the thickest part of the thigh reaches 180˚ and stuffing reaches 165˚. Remove turkey from oven and tent with foil. Let turkey stand 30 minutes before removing stuffing and carving. (Set roasting pan with pan juices aside to make gravy, if desired.) While the turkey stands, continue to bake the stuffing in casserole until heated through. Makes 20 to 25 servings.

*make-ahead tip: Prepare turkey to this point. Do not stuff. Cover and chill up to 24 hours. Continue as directed above.