Story, recipes, and photos by Laura Davis —
Thanksgiving is such an exciting time. The preparations, the meal, the family and friends – all giving way to the official kickoff of the holiday season. Growing up our breakfast always consisted of orange sweet rolls while watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, while the smell of turkey wafts in the air all morning long. That’s a tradition I have kept going with my little ones today. We all have those little traditions that we look forward to every year and make our holidays unique and special.
My husband’s mother hosts Thanksgiving dinner on Chincoteague every year, so I usually get to take it pretty easy on Turkey Day. I have a few things that I’m always required to contribute to the feast, however – which I thought would be fun to share with you guys before the big day.
Everyone has their favorite way to cook the bird (myself included – you can find the recipe on my blog), but I wanted to share some things that are super easy to whip up for your holiday table – and so much better than their store-bought counterparts. You’ll be kicking that canned cranberry sauce to the curb after one bite of homemade cranberry relish!
Eastern Shore delicacies like salty oysters and sweet potatoes will always have a place shining brightly on my holiday menu – I hope you’ll make room for them on yours as well. Happy Thanksgiving, friends.
Fresh Cranberry Relish
12 ounces (1 bag) fresh cranberries
3/4 cup sugar
zest from 1 orange or tangerine
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup pecan halves
Toast the pecans in a small, dry skillet over medium heat for a few minutes – until starting to brown and are fragrant. Set aside to cool, and then roughly chop.
In a large saucepan combine the cranberries, sugar, water, and orange juice. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once cranberries begin to burst, reduce heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes.
Remove from heat, and stir in pecans and orange zest. Place into small serving bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to use.
Eastern Shore Oyster Stuffing
6 cups 1/2-inch-cubed French bread
3 slices bacon, cut into small pieces
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 onion, finely diced
2 ribs celery, finely diced
1 pint shucked oysters, liquid reserved
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons white wine
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons butter, melted
Heat oven to 250 degrees. Arrange bread cubes on a baking sheet in a single layer and bake, stirring occasionally, until dried but not browned, about 15 minutes. Let cool.
Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until crisp, about 10 minutes. Add onions and celery, reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are starting to soften, about 5 minutes. Add reserved liquid from oysters, stock, wine, parsley, herbs, hot sauce, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Scrape the mixture into a large bowl and stir in the bread cubes and oysters. Set aside to allow the flavors to come together for 10 minutes.
Raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Transfer mixture to a buttered 2-qt. oval baking dish and cover with foil. Bake for 30 minutes, remove foil, drizzle with remaining butter, and continue baking until golden brown and crusty, about 15 minutes more. Serve immediately.
Sweet Potato Pie (Thanks to JoSue Carroll for the recipe!)
2 cups sweet potato puree* (about 3 medium sweet potatoes)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
2 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1 unbaked pie shell
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine sweet potato puree, sugar, evaporated milk, eggs, flour, and lemon extract in a large bowl. Whisk until combined and smooth.
Pour into pie shell and bake for around 50 minutes, until crust is golden brown and the filling doesn’t jiggle.
Remove from oven to cool to room temperature before serving. Or refrigerate for a chilled pie.
* To make the sweet potato puree: Pierce sweet potatoes in a few spots with a fork and microwave at high power for about 10 minutes or roast at 350° for about 1 hour, until tender. Let cool slightly, then peel and puree in a food processor.
Laura Davis is a food writer/photographer based on Chincoteague Island. Her work has been featured in publications such as Chesapeake Bay Magazine, Taste of Home, and Savor Virginia. She blogs about food, drinks, and new recipes at www.tideandthyme.com