The Thanksgiving Feast

      If there’s any day to bridge the gaping American divide, it’s Thanksgiving. On that great American feast, consensus rules. Eighty-eight percent of us report that turkey will be our Thanksgiving dish of choice, according to the National Turkey Federation. Certainly for me, one of the great pleasures of the day is the near unanimity of sharing in one great meal, all across the nation. 

       Following in the train of that bird — so delicious if cooked gently — comes a procession of dishes required by tradition, locality or season. Root vegetables — white and sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips perhaps beets — and vine vegetables — pumpkins and squash — meet all three criteria and appear on many tables. 

      Cool-loving greens vary with your culture. If you’re southern or African American, kale, collards or mustard may well be your greens of choice. Middle Europeans might prefer chard, while German-rooted families may feast on cabbage or creamed spinach. Of course we’ll have cranberries, which make us think we’re all Pilgrims. 

        There must be dressing — if you serve it on the side — or stuffing — if you prefer to put it inside the bird. How that dressing is prepared depends on family, culture and taste. My Midwestern roots want a bread base. Pennsylvanians might prefer potatoes. My Maryland colonization recommends I add oysters.

       “The Maryland state seal features a farmer and watermen, and there is no better way to honor that tradition than to include local meats, seafood and produce in your holiday meals,” says Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder. I heartily agree, though I prefer to serve oysters, those precious delicacies, as an appetizer. This year, I’ll be serving National Cook-Off prize-winner Marty Hyson’s Smoked Chardonnay Oysters.

       This year, we offer you culture-combining Thanksgiving recipes conceived by culinary pros — cookbook author Lucie Snodgrass — and prize-winners at the National Oyster Cook-Off. To promote diversity within unity, work these recipes in with your own favorites.

         They’ll all taste better — and honor Thanksgiving’s roots as a harvest festival — if they come from Maryland farms. As Bartenfelder says, “Buying local for the holidays is a great way to thank our farmers, producers and watermen for the hard work they do year-round.”

–Sandra Olivetti Martin
Roast Heritage Turkey

        I usually bake my stuffing separately, so that vegetarians can eat it, but you can certainly divide the stuffing, putting some in the turkey and baking some separately, if you prefer. If you choose to stuff the turkey, you will need to increase the roasting time.

–Lucie Snodgrass, Dishing Up Maryland


1 (16- to 18-pound) Narragansett or other heritage-breed turkey, cavities cleaned, rinsed and patted dry
1 small onion, peeled
6 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried rosemary
½ teaspoon dried savory
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place the turkey breast side up on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Make six small incisions in the turkey’s skin using a sharp knife. Insert the garlic under the turkey’s skin.
Spread the mustard over the turkey’s skin with a knife, and then drizzle the olive oil over. Sprinkle the salt and pepper on the turkey’s skin and in the cavities, and place the onion in the neck cavity. Sprinkle the sage, thyme, rosemary, and savory over the turkey, and insert a meat thermometer into one of the thigh areas near the breast.
Loosely cover the bird with aluminum foil, making a tent over the turkey and lightly tucking the foil around the edges of the pan. Roast for about 4 hours, or 15 minutes per pound. About 30 minutes before the turkey is done, remove aluminum foil and allow the skin to brown. Continue roasting until the meat thermometer reaches 180°F and the turkey’s juices run clear.
Remove the turkey from the oven and let it stand, covered, for 20 minutes.
12 servings


Black Friar Farms Oyster Dressing

       I grew up on a farm my grandparents owned. Thanksgiving was a much celebrated holiday. My grandfather would go down to the barn and pick out a turkey and bring it to my grandmother. I would stand next to her at the kitchen sink and watch her pluck the feathers. Our turkeys were huge and served unstuffed, with dressing baked separately.

–National Oyster Cook-Off Grand Prize Winner Debbie Reynolds.
3⁄4 lb. diced bacon
1⁄4 lb. (1 stick) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons bacon fat
¾ cup finely chopped onions
¾ cup finely chopped green bell peppers
1 finely diced jalapeno (optional)
½ cup finely chopped celery
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
3⁄4 cup chicken stock
1⁄4 cup oyster liquor, drained from shucked oysters
1 pint shucked oysters
5 cups day-old finely crumbled cornbread or cornbread muffins
1 (13-ounce) can evaporated milk
3 eggs
In a medium skillet, cook bacon over medium high heat until browned, drain and set aside reserving rendered fat. 
In a large skillet melt the butter and bacon fat with the onions, bell peppers, celery, garlic, jalapeno, herbs and bay leaves over medium high heat; sauté about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the salt and continue cooking until vegetables are barely wilted, about 5 minutes. Stir in the bacon, stock, oyster liquor and cook 5 minutes, stirring. Turn off heat and remove bay leaves. Beat eggs into milk in a medium bowl. Add the cornbread and milk mixture to skillet stirring well. Gently fold in oysters. Spoon dressing into a greased 13 x 9-inch baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees until browned on top, about 35 to 40 minutes.
Old-Fashioned Dutch Potato Filling

       I was lucky in my life as I had two wonderful cooking mentors. My mother was a wonderful home cook, and I learned much of what I know from her. But when I met my husband in the late 1970s, I was introduced to his grandmother, Mom-mom Bessie. She was amazing. She made the best Pennsylvania Dutch comfort food I ever had, and she was gracious enough to teach me some of her recipes. I would spend Saturdays with her in her kitchen. She taught me how she made her apple dumplings, fasnachts and her old fashioned potato filling. Her filling was like eating a potato soufflé, a result I have yet to achieve. But my recipe is a close second.

–National Oyster Cook-Off First Prize Winner Susan Bickta
1 stick butter or margarine plus 2 tablespoons
1 large onion, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2½ to 3 cups prepared mashed potatoes (or 1 24-ounce container from grocery store), warmed
1 6 ounce box chicken-flavored stuffing mix
2 large eggs
1⁄3 cup chicken broth
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Generously coat a 2 or 3 quart baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside.
Add 1 stick butter onion, celery, salt and pepper to a 10-inch no-stick skillet over medium high heat. Sautee, stirring often, until vegetables start to wilt, about 8 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the warmed mashed potatoes in a large mixing bowl. Add the sautéed vegetables, stuffing mix, eggs and broth. Mix well until combined. Transfer to prepared baking dish and dot with remaining butter.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until cooked through and browned on top.
Beet Salad

       I created this recipe about 15 years ago so we would have something different for our Thanksgiving meal. I always loved the combination of sweet/sour, sweet dried cranberries, toasted nuts and Gorgonzola. I added the roasted beets for color. The result is now a family favorite and a Thanksgiving tradition.

–National Oyster Cook-Off First Prize Winner Susan Bickta


1⁄3 cup vegetable oil
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
3-4 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon stone ground Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, smashed and minced
4 medium golden beets, tops removed and scrubbed
3 medium red beets, tops removed and scrubbed
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
¼ cup diced red onion
½ cup sweetened dried cranberries
2 cups baby spinach, packed
½ cup toasted pecans toasted in a single layer on a large non-stick baking sheet at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes, stirring often
½ cup Gorgonzola crumbs
Combine oil, vinegar, honey, mustard and garlic in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake well to mix. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place golden beets on a large piece of aluminum foil and drizzle with oil. Wrap tightly, making a packet. Place on a baking sheet. Do the same with the red beets. Roast for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes or until knife inserted in largest beet meets no resistance. Remove from oven and cool. Remove skins by rubbing off with hands under a stream of cool water.
Roughly chop beets into bite-size chunks. Place in a large bowl. Add the onion, dried cranberries, spinach, pecans and Gorgonzola. Give the vinaigrette another shake to mix well then pour over beet mixture in bowl. Toss gently to combine.