Next Thursday, we will celebrate Thanksgiving. This holiday was first celebrated in November 1621 in Massachusetts between the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag Indians as an autumn feast in honor of the Pilgrim’s’ first corn harvest. The original feast likely included some of the harvested corn as well as fowl and deer. This was most likely an extravagant get-together, but with a simple menu. Today our feast is still extravagant, but with a more varied selection of foods. We will consume turkey, dressing, ham, corn, beans, sweet potatoes, casseroles, breads, rolls and all sorts of cakes, pies and other sweet concoctions.
This Thanksgiving, I will be hosting our dinner at our new house in our new town. This will be the first time I am responsible for making the bulk of the meal. So far, my menu consists of roasted turkey breast, Mississippi pork roast with added potatoes and carrots, a creamy mustard-mayo potato salad like the ones I grew up eating, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, a sour cream coconut cake inspired the ones Mrs. Imogene Hardin makes and brings to the Sentinel each year, and my perfect cornbread dressing.
I do not have a traditional family recipe for dressing. My mother died when I was 22 and I did not pay much attention to the recipe when I was growing up. I remember it included cornbread, bread crumbs, chicken, onions, celery, broth and sage, but the other ingredients, the amounts of each ingredient, and the cooking time is something I do not remember.
So how did I get my recipe? Probably like a lot of people these days. I searched the internet and decided on one from the queen of Southern cooking, Paula Deen. Paula’s recipe seemed similar to the one I remember from my childhood. However, I have tweaked it here and there, added a little of my own magic and made it even better (Shsss! Don’t tell Paula!). My result is a moist, yet firm, dressing with a crispy crust on top and around the edges.
Perhaps the most important dish on my menu is chocolate pie. In my opinion, Thanksgiving isn’t Thanksgiving without chocolate pie. It has been a favorite holiday dessert since I was a child. My Aunt Opal made the best pies and I have been perfecting mine for several years now, and I do think it is perfect. Each slice is chocolaty; sweet, but not too sweet; and firm enough to be held in your hand and eaten like pizza. It is topped off with a stiff, fluffy meringue.
The first time I made meringue it was a disaster. I put my egg whites (which might have included a little yolk) in one of my regular plastic bowls and proceeded to beat them with my mixer. I beat, and beat, and beat, and beat, but all I could produce was a bubbly, egg white foam.
What had I done wrong? First, some of the yolk had run in with my egg whites. Fat will keep meringues from forming. Second, and I believe most importantly, I used a plastic bowl. I researched how to make meringues and found only glass or metal bowls should be used, never plastic. On my next try in a glass bowl, my meringue was perfect and it has been perfect ever since. With this fluffy, cloud like substance atop my chocolate pie, it is perfect as well.
I hope the diners at our Thanksgiving meal this year will enjoy all my special dishes, especially “Aunt Opal’s” chocolate pie, my take on “Mrs. Hardin’s” coconut cake, and my twist on “Paula Deen’s” Thanksgiving dressing. One thing is for sure, at the end of the day our bellies will be stuffed just as the Pilgrams and Wampanoags were those many years ago.