Increase the Blessings of a Good Table

The traditional American Thanksgiving menu reads like a compendium of a Maryland farmers’ market: potatoes, corn, squash, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, apples and turkey. The high-bush cranberry also grows here, and if you want to make your own cranberry sauce, the sour little berries can likely be harvested right from a neighbor’s ornamental garden.
    For my mother, who grew up on a South Dakota farm, perfecting Thanksgiving Dinner in Maryland meant adding some regional ingredients. From my yellowed and stained recipe cards copied from her archives 40 some years ago come three of my favorite holiday specialties: Mrs. Tawe’s Crab Cakes, Johnny Murphy’s Corn and Oyster Casserole and Pumpkin Chiffon Pie. My mother added all three of these dishes to an already packed and jammed table every Thanksgiving that I can remember.

Mrs. Tawe’s Crab Cakes

2 eggs
2 tbs. mayonnaise
1 tbs. horseradish mustard
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
5 drops Tabasco
1 tbs. parsley

  Mix together with 1 lb. back fin crabmeat and roll in cracker crumbs. Let sit one-half hour, then fry quickly.

Johnny Murphy’s Corn & ­Oyster Casserole

1/2 cup saltines crushed
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1/3 cup parsley
1 cup shredded cheese
32 ounces corn
1 pint oysters sautéed in their juice and cut in thirds
1 cup half & half (or cream)

  Put half saltines in 9 x 12 casserole dish and dot with half the butter.  Mix salt, pepper, parsley, cheese, corn and oysters with juice and layer on top. Pour in 1 cup half & half or cream and finish with remainder of saltines and butter topping. Bake 350˚F for 35 minutes until very hot.

Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

1-1/4 cup canned pumpkin
3 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cold water
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tbs. each ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt
1 envelope gelatin

  Beat egg yolks lightly and add pumpkin, milk, spices and half of sugar. Cook until thick.  Soften gelatin in water and add to hot pumpkin mixture. Mix thoroughly and cool. When mixture begins to thicken, fold in stiffly beaten egg whites to which the other half c of sugar has been added. Pour into previously baked pie shell, chill and garnish with whipped cream.

    Add to this the chaos of several kids tables, relatives from California or Denmark, an assortment of neighbors and a few well-wishers who couldn’t escape my mother’s orbit, and you have the makings of our classic Thanksgiving dinner. If food ran short, my mother had the gift of reaching into the refrigerator and multiplying the fish and splitting the loaves.
    Her brother and our favorite uncle had the duty of saying grace and did a fine job, always ending with an old-fashioned bawl. My brother, sister and I would stare at each other in disbelief that Uncle Pete once again — right at the time he started thanking God for my mother — would bring down the whole house crying. We’re the only family I know who used up the napkins before the dinner began.
    While the kids were guzzling milk, the grownups were pouring Blue Nun and Mateus into cut Wedgewood crystal saved for two special holidays each year: Thanksgiving and Christmas. The Maryland wine scene was limited in those days, and not many Marylanders had the opportunity to drink local wines.

Bring on the Maryland Wine
    Times have changed, and Maryland’s 62 wineries have just finished an excellent harvest season for which to give thanks. This year’s grape harvest won’t reach the table for at least a year, as vintners carry through winter and spring rituals of stabilization, barreling, filtration, blending and bottling.
    What you can enjoy now are vintages from excellent Maryland harvests past, notably 2010. Thanksgiving dinner offers a particularly rich and varied experience for exploring local Maryland wine pairings.
    If you’ve never tried a Maryland wine, you’re in for a surprise, as Maryland wineries have increasingly won major prizes. What’s more, the pride of competition has driven up quality.
    This Thanksgiving, we’re serving Mrs. Tawe’s Crab Cakes in miniature for starters. We’re pairing these with our own sparkling wines, Slack’s Pink Shoals (dry sparkling rosé) and Rocky Shoals (off-dry, and one of those rare red sparkling wines). Son Tucker, wine maker for Slack Wines, promises these new releases will be pleasers. Fortunately, sparkling wines go with just about everything.
    We’re on the waiting list for one of neighbor Christina Allen’s Jersey Buff heritage turkeys (www.corncribstudio, which we’ll match with several vegetable dishes from Jane Brody’s Good Food Book (Brussels Sprouts with Lemon-Mustard Sauce; Garlicky Green Beans; and Sweet Potatoes with Apples) as well as Johnny’s Corn and Oysters. For this rich smorgasbord we have on hand both Fiore Vineyard’s Sangiovese 2010 (2010 Maryland Governor’s Cup Best in Show) and Perigeaux’s Chardonnay Reserve 2010 (2011 American Wine Society Silver Medal).
    In my fertile memory bank of Thanksgivings past, there was the tempting choice between Apple Pie à la Mode and Pumpkin Chiffon Pie. These will be served this year with a choice of dessert wines: Bordeleau Vineyards and Winery’s 2007 Late Harvest Vidal Blanc (2009 Gold Medal Maryland Winemasters Choice Awards) and Port of Leonardtown’s Autumn Frost (2012 Gold Medal and Best in Class Maryland Winemasters Choice Awards).
    The extravaganza of Thanksgiving melts quickly into December’s holidays and runs headlong into New Year’s. I hope the formula of Maryland local foods plus Maryland wines spurs you, in turn, to send me your own favorite pairings for the holidays: [email protected].
    May your Thanksgiving be a testament to family and friends with a taste of Maryland’s bounty of food — with Maryland wine alongside.