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Readers share best Thanksgiving recipes

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  • Thanksgiving Salad

    From Gloria Lariviere of Edgemoor, S.C.

    2 (6-ounce) bags baby spinach leaves or 5-lettuce mix

    1 English cucumber, stripes peeled lengthwise, quartered and sliced

    1 (4-ounce) container alfalfa sprouts

    2 pints grape tomatoes

    2 pints strawberries, stems removed and diced

    1 large bag seedless grapes

    1 (6-ounce) container blackberries

    1 pint blueberries

    1 cup sugared pecans, such as Diamond’s glazed pecan topping

    Poppy seed dressing

    COMBINE lettuce, cucumber, alfalfa sprouts, tomatoes, strawberries, grapes, blackberries and blueberries in a large bowl. Top with the pecans and drizzle with the dressing.

    Yield: 10-12 servings

  • Persimmon Pudding

    From Sandi Shumpert of Monroe

    1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter

    2 cups persimmon pulp

    2 eggs, beaten

    2 cups milk

    2 cups sugar, plus more for dusting

    2 teaspoons vanilla

    2 cups self-rising flour

    2 teaspoons cinnamon

    HEAT oven to 350 degrees.

    PLACE butter in a 9-by-13-inch pan and place in the preheated oven. Once melted, tip the pan to coat the bottom and the sides and then pour remaining melted butter into a cup. Set aside.

    COMBINE persimmon pulp, eggs, milk, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl. Then stir in flour and cinnamon. Mix well.

    POUR batter into preheated, buttered baking dish. Pour remaining melted butter on top of pudding. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove pan from oven and sprinkle top with sugar. Return to the oven and continue baking for 15-20 minutes. Let cool before serving.

    Yield: about 12 servings

  • Sweet Potato Casserole

    From Sheila Getty of Charlotte.

    3 cups cooked sweet potatoes (can use canned)

    1 1/4 cups sugar

    1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened

    2 eggs, slightly beaten

    1/3 cup milk

    1 teaspoon vanilla

    1 cup brown sugar

    1/3 cup flour

    1 cup chopped pecans

    1/3 cup (1 stick) melted butter

    HEAT oven to 350 degrees. Butter 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Set aside.

    MASH at least 3 cups sweet potatoes in a large bowl. (You can add another cup of sweet potatoes to stretch the dish a little.) Add sugar, softened butter, eggs, milk and vanilla. Stir well.

    POUR mashed sweet potatoes into baking dish. Combine brown sugar, flour, pecans and melted butter in a small bowl. Spread evenly over top of sweet potatoes. Bake for 30 minutes.

    Yield: 10-12 servings

  • Sweet Potato Pone

    Susan Lemmon of Charlotte said the butter or margarine can be cut by half and the dish still tastes good. From “Tea-Time at the Masters,” an Augusta, Ga., community cookbook

    1 stick butter or margarine

    3 cups raw sweet potatoes, grated

    1 cup sugar

    1/2 cup milk

    3 eggs slightly beaten

    2 tablespoons dark corn syrup

    Juice and grated zest of 1 orange

    1 teaspoon ground ginger

    1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

    1/8 teaspoon allspice

    1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

    HEAT oven to 350 degrees. Coat a large casserole dish with cooking spray.

    COMBINE all ingredients in the casserole dish. Bake for an hour. Can be served as a side dish or as a dessert with ice cream or whipped cream.

    Yield: 8 servings

To some, Thanksgiving traditions are sacred. And most of the time, that sanctity relates to the menu.

It would not be Thanksgiving without Mom’s gravy, Aunt Linda’s sweet potato casserole or three, four or five kinds of pie.

Our Thanksgiving food traditions are so sacrosanct that we asked readers to share them and to tell us what happens when someone tries to change a tradition. These stories run from hilarious to inspiring. Some families experience a revolt at the dining room table. Others merge and adapt family traditions without much fuss. Still others go home and cook all the dishes they wanted to eat but weren’t served at grandmother’s house.

Below are the edited essays and some of our readers’ “It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without it” recipes.

How not to fry a turkey

Ellyn Baeszler, 56, Davidson: My mother decided to cook only a turkey breast for Thanksgiving, since according to her, “Nobody likes dark meat.” No matter how many times we told her that we liked dark meat, she continued to bake only the breast.

Since we weren’t having any luck changing her mind, we decided to fry our own turkey to enjoy the dark meat. After eating with my parents, we came home and my husband and father-in-law launched into frying the turkey while enjoying a few beers. They got the oil to 350 degrees, put the turkey in and inserted the thermometer. It took forever to get the oil back to 350 degrees but finally it was ready and they set the timer for 45 minutes.

When the timer went off, they pulled the turkey out and it was the color of charcoal. The legs and wings were just bones sticking out. They realized that they had put the thermometer into the turkey instead of the oil so the oil was probably 1,000 degrees when they started cooking it. They had incinerated the outer two-thirds of the turkey so that the only edible part was the the innermost section of the breast.

My husband has learned how to fry a turkey, which includes not drinking multiple beers. My mother died four years ago. Now my family has Thanksgiving meal at my house and we feast on a 20-pound whole turkey.

Vegetables even children will eat

Gloria Lariviere, 67, Edgemoor, S.C.: It all started when I watched my last Tupperware container go out the door after a Thanksgiving feast and I still had way too much food in my fridge. Plus, the grandchildren balked at eating veggies. I had to do something.

I wiped out all of the vegetables, except for a few favorites. We used to have turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, peas and carrots, creamed pearl onions. We now have fried turkey, stuffing, gravy, corn, Thanksgiving salad.

P.S. The kids love the Thanksgiving salad and go back for seconds.

A mandatory dessert

Sandi Shumpert, 60, Monroe: Since my mother’s death, I host Thanksgiving Day lunch. We have turkey, mom’s cornbread dressing, mac and cheese and sides. But it is mandatory that we have persimmon pudding on the dessert table. One of the reasons I bought my house in the 1980s was that it had a persimmon tree in the front yard. Wild persimmons are a necessary ingredient. We don’t hold much stock with those enormous Japanese persimmons.

One of the biggest dramas in my culinary life was two years ago when a gentleman ran his pickup off the road to avoid an accident and destroyed my persimmon tree. Insurance can’t make it right. I have found a new donor tree, but it is not the same as having one in the yard.

I always feel my mom’s spirit when I am putting persimmons through a chinois.

Don’t forget the sweet potato casserole

Sheila Getty, “60-plus,” Charlotte: The dish I have to share with you is sweet potato casserole. I have used this recipe for close to 40 years and it has become a mandatory staple for holiday meals (Thanksgiving and Christmas). It is so popular that I have had family and very dear friends threaten not to come if this dish was not included. (I had three small daughters and actually considered not serving it in lieu of the traditional mashed potatoes. I frankly needed to simplify and saw no need for two potato dishes that year. I was apparently very, very, very wrong!) Both were served. You can get great mashed potatoes at almost any family feast. The sweet potatoes are an indulgence.

The really neat thing about this recipe is: 1) Everyone likes it. 2) It does not require exact measures, so it is very novice cook friendly, 3) it has no nationality; both Northerners and Southerners, Italian and German immigrants love it, 4) it is delicious. This dish is by no means “heart friendly.” It is dessert at dinner. Thank goodness you experience it only twice a year.

A sweet potato tradition

Susan Lemmon, 61, Charlotte: When we used to have Thanksgiving with my husband’s parents in Raleigh, I was introduced to two dishes I had never seen: peanut butter dressing and baked, grated sweet potatoes. My mother-in-law was from Thomasville, Ga., where they love peanuts and recipes that use them. I was never a fan of that dressing; however, the sweet potatoes were wonderful. The shreds of sweet potato retain the slightest bit of firmness, almost like they’ve been cooked “al dente,” and they’re surrounded by a lovely spiced custard. This way to prepare sweet potatoes must be on our Thanksgiving menu every year.

Cook a turkey under a what?

Shelley Bonnin, 48, Charlotte: One year we decided to cook a turkey in a bucket. The idea was given to us by the family with whom we used to share Panthers’ tickets. Basically, you cover some flat ground outside with lots of aluminum foil, then you place a marinated turkey upside down on a metal stake in the ground, making sure the turkey is not touching the ground. You put a metal bucket upside down over the turkey. You surround the outside base of the bucket with charcoal. Light the charcoal and 2 hours later the turkey is done.

We were so nervous about trying this that we roasted a turkey in the oven as well. Despite our worries, everything seemed to go smoothly with the bucket turkey. When we put all the food out for the big Thanksgiving dinner, we put out both turkeys, so everyone could compare. The bucket turkey was the best we had ever had, and we have never roasted the turkey in the oven since.

Editor’s Note: Food editor Kathleen Purvis just wrote about this method for making a turkey. For more details, go to

Must-have pies

Lynn Lyons, 52, Charlotte: We are “pie people.” Don’t get me wrong – we certainly enjoy cake, but it’s pie that really excites my family.

All the holidays were celebrated at my parents’ home. After my dad passed away, everyone gathered at my home. We celebrated there for more than 20 years. Thanksgiving quickly became my favorite holiday to host. I love to cook and bake and “the more the merrier” is my mantra.

It’s through trial and error, and a very opinionated and forgiving clan that I “perfected” my pie-making skills. The annual pie count quickly grew from one to four – all the same kinds, every year.

I started with a traditional pumpkin pie recipe, straight out of a “Better Homes and Gardens” cookbook, and made it my own by enhancing the spices.

My brother, who has Type 1 diabetes, asked me to try my hand at a sugar-free apple pie. It’s an unwritten rule that we take only a sliver so he can take home what’s left, because that’s a real treat for him.

When my mom met someone special, he requested coconut cream pie. So I called on my trusty Southern Living magazine, and I wasn’t let down. And neither was he.

My husband clamored for a sugar-free blackberry pie when he had to start watching his sugar intake. And that indeed evoked a smile from him that any wife would be proud to have directed at her.

Now that my husband and I live in North Carolina, I want to try my hand at a pecan pie (pronounced pe-KHAN where I come from).

This will be our first Thanksgiving without our spirited mom, and we will be somewhat scattered throughout the South, each searching for new traditions to cultivate. Yes, it will be very different this year, but we will give thanks for all the time we were given with mom, for all being in one place for so many holidays, and for the extended family and friends who became part of our annual celebration. And we wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Weigl: 919-829-4848; Twitter: @andreaweigl
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