Thanksgiving Report, 2012

I’m baaaack!  Six months is a long break, but I’m hoping to be a bit more active in the coming year.  I’ll try to at least post a few things about my occasional cooking adventures, some of them well after the fact.

So, for Thanksgiving this year I went with the proposed menu from “Selected Recipes and Menus” by Marian Jane Parker (see and I sure hope I eventually figure out how they broke the link-insertion tool). Probably published some time in the 1920s, it goes like this:

Assorted Canapes
Turkey with Chestnut Stuffing and Giblet Gravy
Baked Onions       Baked Squash
Caramel Sweet Potatoes          Mashed Potatoes
Molded Cranberry Jelly    Celery    Olives
Orange Delight Salad
Hot Baking Powder Biscuits
Pumpkin Pie
Caramel Nut Cake
Salted Nuts       Bonbons

In other words, a huge feast meant for a large crowd, when I was expecting a whole seven people.  But one thing I learned from last year is that controlling portions is important – guests should be encouraged to take small amounts of each dish so as not to stuff themselves prematurely.

Actually, the guests learned that from last year anyway.  It’s important to have well-trained dinner guests.

So, “Assorted Canapes” meant I had to pick some.  Two, since it’s a small crowd.  The booklet offered

Sardine Canapes

Spread sardines on slices of bread, dress with lemon juice, and garnish with rings of gherkin pickles and stuffed olives.  Bread does not need to be buttered.  A variation is to toast sardines slightly before or after spreading on bread.  With toasted sardines riced hard cooked egg may be used as a garnish.

Sardines.  I hadn’t looked a sardine in the face since a hiking trip back when I was a teenager.  I remembered liking them, but I was burning a lot of calories on that trip, so I wasn’t sure that was a useful assessment.

Nonetheless, I got a tin of sardines and spread them on rounds of fresh white bread (cut out with a biscuit cutter), garnishing them as directed except that I forgot about the lemon juice.  My dad and I were the only ones willing to try them, which was a shame: sardines are really quite tasty.

The other canapé was intended to be a reprise of one I did last year, Water Cress Sandwiches – basically egg salad with watercress in it.  Unfortunately, the grocery store did not have any watercress on hand, so it wound up being basic egg salad sandwiches (again on the rounds of white bread).  These met with more general approval from the guests.

The Chestnut Stuffing recipe I had to get from another cookbook.  I’d never eaten chestnuts before, and I was amazed by two things: how incredibly difficult they are to shell, and how sweet they are.  It’s no wonder the Victorians considered roasted chestnuts a treat!  At any rate, the stuffing just involved mashing the boiled chestnuts and adding butter, cracker crumbs, salt and pepper, and some hot lactose-free milk (originally cream).  Everybody agreed it was tasty, but (conservative tastes winning out) seemed to prefer my traditional apple-raisin-bread stuffing (cooked in the turkey on top of the chestnut mix, and thriftily using the remains of the bread from making the sandwich rounds).

Once again, I didn’t get to the Giblet Sauce.  There just never seems to be enough time for fancy gravy efforts; we wound up with my husband’s usual flour gravy.

Baked Onions I also had to find in another book.  It was a bit involved, requiring beef stock (which I made the day before) and cooking the onions once in boiling water and then again in a casserole with the stock, finally using the juice to make a gravy to put over them.  These went over quite well, but I think the creamed onions I made last year were tastier.

Baked Squash used a recipe from the same book as the baked onions, and used the really simple method of buttering the portions and sticking them in the oven for a while.  I used an acorn squash because I like those, but it came out a bit stringy.  I may have cooked them too long.

Caramel Sweet Potatoes turned out to be whipped sweet potatoes that my mom brought, saving me some precious time.

Mashed Potatoes were made by my husband according to the America’s Test Kitchen method of steaming the potatoes and then whipping them in the mixer.  Yum.

Molded Cranberry Jelly

1 qt. cranberries
1 c. water
2 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. clove
3/4 tsp. cinnamon

Place cranberries, water, sugar, cinnamon and clove in a sauce pan.  Cover and cook slowly until all the berries burst open.  Press through a sieve.  Put into individual molds which have been dipped in cold water.  Chill.  Turn out onto small individual plates and garnish with a bit of parsley.

This required some math to deal with the 12 ounces of cranberries that come in a package, rather than 1 quart.  The adjustments worked out to 3/4 c. sugar, 1/3 c. water, 1/8 tsp. cloves, and 1/4 tsp. cinnamon (and you thought you’d never need to calculate fractions after grade school!!).

Also?  This was delicious.  Even though I wasn’t able to actually unmold the jelly – I wound up just handing the molds around, one between every two plates or so.  So very tasty.  My mouth is watering just remembering it.

Celery and Olives – I never seem to get around to bothering with these.  Really, with the amount of food everybody was dealing with it’s hard to imagine anyone having room!  … but I think these menus assume a pause of some length between courses, to be filled with some nibbling.  It never seems to work out that way when I cook, though.

Orange Delight Salad

Peel oranges and remove all the white membrane.  Separate into sections, removing skin and keeping sections whole.  Peel bananas and cut into quarters lengthwise, then cut in quarters in same length pieces as orange sections.  Put the orange and banana into French dressing and let stand 1/2 hour.  Drain and arrange three sections of orange and three alternating pieces of banana to form a flower on crisp lettuce leaves.  In the center put a generous tablespoonful of pineapple cream dressing made by mixing 1 cup mayonnaise dressing with 1/2 cup whipped cream and 2/3 cup grated pineapple, well drained.

I was interested to try this, though not terribly hopeful since French dressing of the time involved some mix of paprika, cayenne, mustard, garlic, and vinegar (plus salad oil).  Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately! – I forgot to buy the bananas several days in advance, so the ones I had around were just not going to be ripe enough to eat.  I made a generic fruit salad instead.  That was just fine (my secret is to add a generous dash of nutmeg and let it stand overnight if possible).

Does anybody need a can of crushed pineapple?  There’s still one lurking in my pantry.  *sigh*

Hot Baking Powder Biscuits

2 c. sifted flour
2 level tsp. Calumet Baking Powder [needed 4]
1/2 level tsp. salt
2 tbs. shortening
3/4 c. milk

Sift flour, baking powder, and salt three times.  Rub the shortening in with a fork or the tips of the fingers.  Add milk and mix lightly to a dough.  Turn on a well-floured board and roll or pat into 1 inch thickness.  Cut and bake in a hot oven (450 degrees F.) 12 to 15 minutes.

This recipe wasn’t noticeably superior (or inferior) to my usual drop-biscuit version.

And now, finally, we reach dessert.  Assuming you’re actually still with me.

Pumpkin Pie

2 eggs
1/2 c. sugar
1 c. stewed pumpkin [canned]
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. cloves
1-1/2 c. milk [lactose free]

Beat eggs, add sugar, pumpkin and spices.  Mix thoroughly and then add milk.  Bake in a pie crust.

Pie Pastry

1-1/2 c. sifted flour
1/2 level tsp. salt
1/4 level tsp. Calumet Baking Powder
1/2 c. shortening

Sift dry ingredients, cut in shortening, add just enough cold water to hold the ingredients together.  Bake in a hot oven (400 degrees F.).

This pie crust recipe turned out a bit heavy for my taste, though perhaps I didn’t roll it out thinly enough; it also seemed a bit too stiff when I was rolling it out, which probably accounts for that.

The filling, though, was incredibly light and smooth, downright melting on the tongue – so much so that my family, who prefer a more robust pie, didn’t care much for it.  Which meant that there was plenty of “pie for breakfast” for meeee!

Caramel Nut Cake

1/2 c. shortening
1 c. sugar
3/4 c. milk
4 eggs [separated]
2 c. sifted flour
2 level tsp. Calumet Baking Powder [needs 4]
3/4 c. chopped nuts

Sift flour three times with baking powder.  Cream shortening, add sugar, gradually add egg yolks and nuts.  Add dry ingredients alternately with milk.  Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites.  Bake in 2 layers in a moderate oven (375 degrees F.).  Ice with caramel icing, sprinkle the top and sides of the cake with chopped nuts.

Caramel Icing

1-1/3 c. granulated sugar
2/3 c. brown sugar [light brown]
1/4 c. butter
2/3 c. milk [lactose-free]
1 tbs. corn syrup

Mix ingredients, add one half of butter.  Boil until a soft ball is formed in cold water.  Add rest of butter.  Let set until almost cool.  Beat until of consistency to spread.  One-half cup of nuts may be added.

This cake was amazing – light and hearty at the same time.  The icing came out a bit granular – I still haven’t figured out the exact timing on when to start beating these cooked frostings – but it spread okay and was tasty.  The guests were a bit too full to really appreciate it, though, and I think it wasn’t really what most people expect in a cake.  But I’d make it again; people really need to explore different variations on cake than “fluffy and incredibly sweet.”

The rest of the menu called for Coffee, Salted Nuts, and Bonbons.  I drew the line at actually buying some candy, and anyway (as I expected) the guests had snacked on some of the unsalted mixed unshelled nuts I had on hand before dinner.

As always, trying a bunch of new recipes was a learning experience – but a lot of fun (and hard work).  Tune in next year for the 2013 edition of Vintage Thanksgiving!

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