Every family has their Thanksgiving traditions. Some are funny — buying butter shaped like a turkey or recipes of spam casseroles or Jello-mold creations made by our grandmother that are just, well, oddly disturbing today. But we love them because they bring back memories of family times and long-gone loved ones.
At Kovels, we want to share some of our favorite holiday dishes in the hopes you will enjoy them and maybe start some new family traditions of your own.
We serve this every Thanksgiving. It was always a favorite of Ralph’s and he loved being the tester to get to the desired sweetness.
Fresh Cranberry and Orange Sauce
Grinder with coarse grinding plate
12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries
1/2-1 cup granulated sugar
Start by rinsing the oranges, but do not peel. Cut the oranges in half and then cut each half into three wedge sections for a total of six wedges.
Rinse the cranberries. Put them through the grinder alternating with the orange wedges.
Add 1/2-1 cup of sugar. Add some sugar and then taste adding more and tasting as you go to make the recipe match the sweetness you desire.
Refrigerate. The sweet and sour of the ingredients get more intense after a few hours.
My daughter made a new cranberry recipe last year and it was so popular that it became an instant addition to our Thanksgiving must-do recipes.
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
Bring them to a boil in a small saucepan.
Add 1 cup cranberries and stir.
Immediately remove from the heat and let cool.
Drain excess liquid.
Put 1/2 cup granulated sugar in a pie plate; add the cranberries and toss.
Let set for 1 hour, shaking the dish occasionally.
Modified from Food Network Magazine November 2021
When I asked my sister to bring over the family recipe boxes, I had no idea she would bring six boxes that belonged to both my mother and grandmother. It was wonderful to finger through them and see not only their recipes, but also recipes from their older relatives, friends and neighbors, with credit given at the top right of the cards and many of whom I remembered.
I loved seeing their handwriting again! Other cards were typewritten, which required skill with a typewriter. My grandmother, who was a schoolteacher, used the backs of typed letter drafts sometimes to save paper, which were folded to fit in the box.
These were kitchen encyclopedias of their time, alphabetized and categorized. Some of the index cards were food stained with time and labor. Categories included pies, meats and sandwiches. Many of the recipes had intriguing names, like Lady Baltimore Cake, Boiled Cake, Johnny Cake, Sailor Duff, Chocolate Sandwiches and Kiss Pie. Some called for ingredients, such as sour milk, sweet milk, lard, Crisco and breadcrumbs, were more commonly used years ago, and, though they are still available, they are not in my cupboards. And many called for ice water! A lot of pickled this and that, and sandwich variations. Frequently recurring words were cocktail, pudding, pickled and spiked.
One recipe from my mother for Fancy Cookies has “Good” written in large letters at top. And I found one box top that I hand-painted for my mother, with a table setting and paisleys in the corners.
I even found a recipe for dough tree ornaments that I learned about in Girl Scouts crafts. It has “not to eat” written at the top in my handwriting. I made many ornaments as gifts and to sell at shops. It was tucked inside of one of my mother’s recipe boxes so we would both remember over the years.
One recipe that I treasure is for my grandmother’s Waldorf Salad. She introduced it to me, I loved it then and now, and it always makes me think of her.
1 cup diced apples
1 cup diced celery
1/2 cup nut meats
1 tablespoon lemon juice
This cranberry quick bread has been on our Thanksgiving table for many years. The recipe is straight out of the children’s book Cranberry Thanksgiving, written in 1971 by Wende and Harry Devlin. One of my sons borrowed the book from his school library when he was in 2nd grade. We have been making “Grandmother’s Favorite Cranberry Bread” every season since then, now with grandchildren. We go easy on the raisins and chop the cranberries just a little in a food processor. It’s pretty tart, but we enjoy that.
Grandmother’s Favorite Cranberry Bread
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon grated orange peel
3/4 cup orange juice
1 1/2 cups light raisins
1 1/2 cup fresh or frozen cranberries, chopped
Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda into a large bowl. Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly. Add egg, orange peel, and orange juice all at once; stir just until mixture is evenly moist. Fold in raisins and cranberries.
Spoon into a greased 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack.
We all get together to celebrate “Thanksmas” (Thanksgiving and Christmas with the out-of-towners) on Thanksgiving weekend. Not everyone likes pumpkin pie, so we have apple crumb pie, too.
Apple Crumb Pie
Filling, mix together
6-7 cups pared, sliced Granny Smith apples
¾ c sugar
1 t cinnamon
Crumb topping, combine until crumbly
½ c softened butter
½ c brown sugar
1 cup flour
Make pastry for one-crust pie. Line a 9-inch pie pan with the pastry. Combine sliced apples with sugar and cinnamon and put into pastry shell. Top with crumb topping. Bake at 400 degrees for about 45–55 minutes. Check after 15 minutes to see if crumb topping is brown enough, then cover the pie loosely with foil so it doesn’t get overdone.
My mother was not a cook. Nor was my grandmother. And my father came from a traditional family where the men did not cook (or clean the dishes afterward). Which meant that our Thanksgiving meals, while full of love, were not brimming with traditional family recipes. My biggest memory is making the mashed potatoes from a box of freeze-dried potato flakes. I was so proud that I had “made” the mashed potatoes. It was years before I realized that some families make mashed potatoes from actual potatoes.
I luckily married a man who not only had a mother who was a great cook, but he, too, knew his way around the kitchen. He was a Southerner, so our palates are completely different to this day, but I have fallen in love with his Sweet Potato Casserole. It has been a staple on our Thanksgiving table for the past 30 years. It is very sweet and very yummy.
It is from The Pirates’ House Cook Book from Savannah, Ga., the city in which we met and were married.
Sweet Potato Casserole
1 (2 1/2 lb) can sweet potatoes, drained
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat ingredients together in electric mixer or food processor until smooth. Pour into greased 2-quart casserole.
1 cup coconut
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup self-rising flour
1 cup chopped nuts
1/4 cup butter or margarine melted
Mix together and spread on top of sweet potatoes. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes.
This recipe was famously invented in the Campbell’s Test Kitchen in 1955. Since then, it has been part of countless Thanksgiving dinners, including my family’s for as long as I can remember.
Green Bean Casserole
(As seen on Campbell’s soup can and French’s fried onion labels)
About 15 oz. cooked, frozen, or canned cut green beans, drained if canned
10 1/2 oz. condensed cream of mushroom soup (1 can Campbell’s brand)
3/4 c. milk
1 tsp. soy sauce
Ground black pepper, to taste
Salt, to taste (optional)
1 1/3 c. crispy fried onions, divided
Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a mixing bowl or 1 1/2 qt. casserole dish, mix the green beans, mushroom soup, milk, soy sauce, pepper, and, if using, salt. Mix in 2/3 cup of the onions.
Bake the green bean mixture in a 1 1/2 qt. casserole for 25 minutes, or until hot.
Stir the mixture and sprinkle the remaining onions on top.
Bake the casserole for 5 more minutes or until the onions are golden brown.
Flan is a very popular dessert in Latin American countries, especially in the Caribbean where I’m from. Its silky, velvety and smooth texture is divine. I give my flan a “Thanksgiving” twist by adding pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice to the original recipe and let me tell you, it has been the most requested dessert at our family gatherings during Thanksgiving for the past 14 years. It’s very simple and I’ve been perfecting the recipe with a few tricks I have learned along the way. I use a classic 9-inch Bundt cake pan for easy serving.
Pumpkin Flan Recipe
For the caramel:
1-cup of white sugar and a squeeze of lime juice.
For the flan:
I make it for a lot of people (10-15+), so this recipe has been adjusted for that.
3 cans of evaporated milk
3 cans of condensed milk
1-can of pumpkin puree
A pinch of salt
Half a teaspoon of rum or any liquor (to remove the eggy taste)
1-2 tablespoons of vanilla extract (or to taste)
2 tablespoons (or more, to taste) of pumpkin spice
Preheat oven at 350 degrees.
In the stove, heat the sugar in a heavy saucepan at medium heat until it melts and caramelizes. Pour a squeeze of lemon juice and stir. Once it’s done, pour it in the Bundt cake pan and swirl carefully until it coats the bottom and some of the sides. Set aside.
In the blender, in batches, blend the evaporated milk, condensed milk, pumpkin puree, vanilla extract, pumpkin spice and pinch of salt. Adjust to taste. In the last batch add the eggs (once you are happy how the blended ingredients taste).
Use a strainer and strain the liquid while pouring it into the Bundt cake pan. Tap to release any bubbles.
Cover the top of the container with foil.
Put the cake pan in a water bath (like haft way) and into the oven for 1:30 to 2 hours. It will be ready when the top is set, you can use a toothpick to test, if it comes clean or with very little residue, it’s ready.
Take it out of the oven and let it cool. Once it’s cool, refrigerate for a day or at least 5-6 hours.
Run a knife along the edge of the pan, tap the pan around and carefully invert onto a plate and enjoy!
I don’t really have a recipe that was a favorite. We had mashed potatoes and green beans and turkey and salad but nothing unique! My mother’s recipes for any special thing are long gone.
My warmest memories of Thanksgiving were from the 1960s, seeing my cousins from Pontiac, Michigan. We’d go to Pontiac, or they’d come to Cleveland. I have a twin sister, and my aunt and uncle had two sets of twins, a pair of boys and a pair of girls (seen in the photo). The six of us played games, tossed around the football and made lots of noise. The turkey feast was incidental! The holiday was pure playtime.