Tried & True Traditional Thanksgiving Recipes

by Elysian Magazine

The focal point of every Thanksgiving is, of course, a perfectly cooked, moist and tender turkey with pools of rich, brown, homemade gravy.  Butternut squash is a traditional side dish, too, and the recipe here focuses on the pure taste of this fall vegetable (you can, though, sweeten it to taste with brown sugar or maple sugar, and top with miniature marshmallows—a treat in of itself!)  Then there are the pies—apple, pumpkin, and pecan, served with vanilla ice cream or heavy cream…and cheesecake—always homemade cheesecake for my family: plain and simple, creamy and decadent! Happy Thanksgiving!


This recipe is for fresh-kill or frozen turkey—but I prefer a frozen turkey, defrosted. It is less expensive than a fresh-kill but that’s not why. A defrosted turkey tends to be more succulent. In fact, I have stuffed many a turkey where there was still a little ice in the cavity—which adds to the tenderness!

1 whole frozen turkey, defrosted, 12-lbs or larger, depending upon the number you are serving
Package(s) Pepperidge Farm stuffing—the amount you’ll need depends on the size of the turkey (check package)
Reynolds Basting Bags for Turkey
Salt, pepper, and thyme
1 lemon
Butter for the stuffing, per the package

1. Place your oven rack so the roasting pan will be as close to centered as possible.
2. Preheat oven to 425-degrees.</strong
3. Prepare Pepperidge Farm stuffing, any variety, according to the package.
4. Cut lemon in half and put in the turkey cavity.
5. Stuff the turkey.
6. Rub the turkey with the salt, pepper, and thyme.
7. Put turkey in a poultry bag, removing the air, and tie tightly. Place on a rack in a roasting pan. Insert meat thermometer carefully into and at the top of the bird, keeping the puncture in the bag as tight as possible.
8. Put turkey in the oven and immediately lower to 350-degrees. Approximate cook time for the turkey 15-minutes to the pound. Make sure the bird is thoroughly cooked according to the meat thermometer.
9. A 20-minutes before serving, take out the turkey. Carefully cut the poultry bag, keeping the juices contained. This will be the basis for your gravy. Place the turkey on the carving board or platter and let it rest.
10. Spoon stuffing into a serving dish


Thanksgiving gravy
Melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a medium saucepan
Sprinkle 1 tablespoon corn starch or white flour into the saucepan and whisk, gradually pouring the turkey juices from the poultry bag.

Continue to whisk until the gravy is smooth. If it’s too thin, sprinkle a little more cornstarch until the right consistency. If too lumpy, then put gravy in a blender, give it a few pulses till the lumps are gone, and return to pan to low heat.

Add a little Bouquet Garni gravy browning for a rich color. Serve hot in a gravy boat.
NOTE: I always keep several jars of Roasted Turkey Gravy on hand. There’s never enough to go around and gravy is a necessity for leftovers or turkey casseroles.


Thanksgiving squash
Of course, you can buy butternut squash, peel, and cube—but it’s much easier to buy fresh squash already peeled and cubed. Allow four servings to the pound.

Put cubed squash in a Dutch oven or oventop pot with cover in 2-inches of water and bring the water to a rolling boil. Lower the heat to simmer, put the cover on the pot, and cook until the squash is very tender. Drain thoroughly and let it stand for five minutes. Meantime, melt 3-tablespoons of butter in the pot. Return the squash to the pot and mash, adding brown sugar or maple syrup and a dollop of molasses to taste, gradually, tasting as you go along.

Fold squash into an ovenproof serving dish. Top with mini marshmallows (optional.) Set in a 325-degree oven to heat about 20 minutes before serving. At the last moment, set the oven to broil to give the marshmallows a little browning. Take out with oven mitts and set on a hotplate to serve.


Thanksgiving Cheescake
Make the day before

It would not be right, though, to end this Thanksgiving cookery column without a last homemade recipe—and that’s my own, for cheesecake. It’s pretty basic but it’s by far the best.

4-cups graham cracker crumbs or honey graham crackers, crushed fine
4 bricks of Philadelphia cream cheese
2 lemons
1 teaspoon orange extract
1 cup sugar (more, if you prefer it sweeter)
½ cup melted butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Set two racks in your oven: one in the middle with plenty of headroom for the cheesecake, and on the bottom rack, place a roasting pan or pyrex dish of water. The water adds steam to the oven, which gives the cheesecake and consistent, light texture. Turn oven on to 425.
2. In a food processor or Kitchenaid mixmaster, blend graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, and cinnamon until fine. Turn out into a buttered springform pan. Press the mixture with the back of tablespoon or your fingers along the bottom and 2-inches up the sides.
3. Wash out the processor or mixmaster and add cream cheese, cut up in pieces, the juice of the lemons, the grated rind of the lemons, the orange extract and the sugar. Blend thoroughly until very smooth. There may be some lumps—that’s okay. They’ll smooth out in the baking as long as you’ve given the batter a thorough mixing.
4. Fold the batter into the springform pan. Set on the top rack, above the pan of water. Immediately turn down the oven to 350. Bake 50 minutes. Take a straw, thin knife, or chopstick and gently place into the middle of the cake. If it comes out clean, it’s done. If not, figure on another 5, 10, minutes…whatever it takes till it comes out clean.
Take out of the oven.
5. Set on the counter until the cake is completely at room temperature, several hours. Then, with a thin knife, carefully run the knife around the sides of the pan. Gently open the springform and release. Leave the bottom of the pan on the cake, cover the cake loosely in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 12 hours before serving.

You can garnish with fresh glazed strawberries or strawberries dipped in chocolate. Or serve plain—which is what we do.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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