What did Pilgrims really eat for Thanksgiving? Pumpkin pie? Sweet potatoes with melted marshmallows? Cool Whip or jello or french fried onions atop green beans swimming in cream of chicken soup?
According to history, at the first Thanksgiving, there were probably wild turkeys, ducks and geese, we know from history that the Wampanoag Indians brought deer. They were near the ocean so it’s speculated that there were fish, lobster and oysters. There were pumpkins but no potatoes. Oh, and they weren’t equipped to make pie as sadly there were no ovens yet. Sweet potatoes were an exotic luxury in Europe so they weren’t on the menu. And apples had yet to be introduced to North America.
Cranberries were available but alas, no sugar. Corn was most likely ground for porridges and pancakes. Veggies would have included parsnips, collards, carrots, parsley, turnips, spinach, cabbage, sage, thyme, marjoram and onions. Dried beans were plentiful as were blueberries, grapes and nuts.
I’ve been pondering how to simplify the feast this year. Focus on family maybe a little more than food. Look back to a time when things were simpler and maybe consider making things a bit healthier this year. Is it really necessary to go into a food induced coma and pass out on the couch after your Thanksgiving meal? I don’t know, call me old fashioned but I kind of like the idea of being a bit less over the top this year.
No need to sacrifice flavor though! I think you will find these recipes to be easy, straightforward and doable. Not overwhelming. Plan ahead a little and you can delight your family with a Thanksgiving meal that would do a Pilgrim proud!
Kitchen Princess Thanksgiving Menu
Herb Roasted Turkey and Gravy
Cornbread Sausage Stuffing with Apples
Please don’t be intimidated by roasting a turkey. It’s very simple. Really!!! I don’t like stuffing in my turkey because #1 I’m nervous it might not get hot enough and possibly give everyone at the table food poisoning and #2, I don’t like how wet and slimy it gets! Sorry about that but I like it a little crispy and brown on top.
Kitchen Princess Herb Roasted Turkey
- One 10-12 pound fresh turkey
- 4 tablespoons butter, softened
- Salt and pepper
- 1 large yellow onion, cut into 1/8′s
- 1 stalk celery, cut into 1 inch pieces
- 1 large carrot, cut into 1 inch pieces
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- 1/2 bunch fresh sage
- 3 or 4 sprigs fresh parsley
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups chicken broth or turkey stock for basting.
- Remove the neck, gizzard, heart and wing tips from the turkey and set aside for making stock for the gravy.
- Wash the turkey inside and out and pat dry with paper towels. Preheat the oven to 325.
- Place the turkey, breast side down on a rack in a large roasting pan.
- Rub the butter on all sides and stuff some underneath the skin.
- Season inside and out with salt and pepper.
- Place the onion, celery, carrot and all the fresh herbs inside the turkey.
- Loosely tie the legs together with kitchen twine.
- Place in oven and roast the turkey for 1 hour.
- Remove from the oven, turn the turkey over, and baste with 1/2 cup of stock.
- Roast breast side up and continue basting with the pan juices or butter every 15-20 minutes until the breast meat registers between 170-180 degrees on an instant read thermometer.
- Total cooking time will be about 15 or 20 minutes per pound.
- If the breast or drumsticks start getting too brown, cover loosely with aluminum foil.
- Remove from the oven and let it rest loosely covered with foil while you make the gravy.
You don’t have to make turkey broth from the gizzards, but I think it makes a much tastier gravy when you use freshly made turkey broth as opposed to canned chicken stock. It’s super easy and it will be finished before the turkey is done roasting.
- Turkey heart, neck, gizzard and wing tips
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 large carrot, coarsely chopped
- 1 onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 large celery stalk coarsely chopped
- 1 small bay leaf
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 3 cups water
- Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the neck, heart, gizzard and wing tips to the pan. Saute until just beginning to brown, about a minute.
- Add the vegetables and bay leaf and saute till soft, about 2 minutes.
- Pour the chicken stock and water into the pan and bring to a boil.
- Simmer about an hour until reduced to about 4 cups. You can add the turkey liver to the broth the last 15 minutes if you would like.
- Strain the stock over a bowl. Pull the meat off of the neck and chop the neck meat and giblets if you want to add it to your gravy. Otherwise, discard all the solids.
- Pour all the juices from your turkey roasting pan into a measuring cup and skim off the fat.
- In the roasting pan using 2 burners on your stove, melt 3 tablespoons of butter until bubbly and then add 3 tablespoons of flour.
- Stir rapidly for a few seconds to cook the flour.
- Add the reserved juices from the turkey and 3 cups of your turkey broth to the pan. Scrape up all the brown bits as you heat the gravy.
- Stir over medium heat until the gravy thickens. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper if necessary. Add the chopped giblets and neck meat if using. If the gravy gets too thick, add the rest of your turkey broth.
- Pour into a gravy boat or pitcher.
Cornbread Sausage Stuffing with Apples
Adapted from The Silver Palette Cookbook. I have made this stuffing to rave reviews for more than twenty years!
- 1 1/2 sticks sweet butter
- 2 1/2 cups finely chopped yellow onions
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 3 tart apples cored and chunked but not peeled
- 1 pound lightly seasoned sausage flavored with sage (I use Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage)
- 3 cups coarsely crumbled corn bread (preferably homemade)
- 3 cups coarsely crumbled whole wheat bread - let it get stale
- 3 cups coarsely crumbled white bread – french or homemade preferred, best if it’s stale
- 1 cup dried fruit like craisins, chopped figs or apricots
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried sage
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
- 1 1/2 cups shelled, toasted pecan halves
- 2 cans chicken broth
- Melt half of the butter in a skillet. Add chopped onions and cook over medium heat, partially covered, until tender and lightly colored, about 25 minutes. Transfer onions and butter to a large mixing bowl.
- Melt remaining butter in the same skillet. Add apple chunks and cook over high heat until lightly colored but not mushy. Transfer apples and butter to the mixing bowl.
- Crumble the sausage into the skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring until lightly browned. With a slotted spoon, transfer sausage to the mixing bowl and reserve the rendered fat.
- Add remaining ingredients and the chicken broth to the mixing bowl and combine gently. Refrigerate if not used promptly.
- Spoon the stuffing into a large greased casserole. Cover and set the casserole into a large pan. Pour hot water around the casserole to come halfway up the sides.
- Bake for 30 to 45 minutes at 325.
- Baste occasionally with the cooking juices from the roasting turkey or with the reserved sausage fat.
- Feel free to add or substitute ingredients. Roast chestnuts would be wonderful as well as fresh mushrooms and shallots.
- You could use sweet Italian sausage and fennel. Trim and chop the fennel roughly and add it in to the onions after they have sauteed for 10 minutes or so.
- Other kinds of bread are fine in this stuffing. If you have a french baguette or loaf of pumpernickel or an artisan bread, all would be fine. Stale is better than just baked. Let it sit out the day before you make the stuffing to get stale.
- Only use the bags of commercial stuffing mix if you must. This recipe is so much better with real bread.