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.
All of the following are available via mail-order. Call as soon as you
decide on your menu, since supplies are limited.
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
for heirloom seeds and their kitchen uses and
for farms and markets selling heirloom produce, meats, and other
farm-fresh products near you.
٠ MAPLE AND BALSAMIC GLAZED HERITAGE TURKEY
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
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
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.