Thanksgiving is one of my absolute favorite holidays, not just because of the delicious food, but because of the wonderful memories it evokes for me.
When I was growing up, my dad, a career law-enforcement officer, always had to work a part of the day. That meant it was the holiday we got to spend at home. Both sides of our family live in middle and south Georgia (and I grew up just south of Atlanta), and Christmas was a day of bustling from home, to my mom’s parents’ house for breakfast and gifts, then to my paternal grandparents’ home in Laurens County, Georgia (hence my name). It was always a great deal of fun, but also exhausting.
But on Thanksgiving, I woke up in my own bed, hearing my mama moving about and to smells of comfort.
Coffee brewing, turkey brining, biscuits and cornbread baking for my mama’s perfect dressing. I, from an early age, was in charge of pecan pie. I would pull out my mom’s Kelly-Green recipe box, and search for Abigail Van Buren’s (aka Dear Abby) recipe lovingly cut from the newspaper and pasted on the notecard. If you know my family, we’re big article clippers. I still sometimes get articles mailed to me, and it is one of my very favorite things.
Mama and I would watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade while eating cinnamon rolls. We would cook and laugh, nap and read. Then, we’d break out her beautiful china, have a fire lit, and usually have friends join us for our Thanksgiving celebration. We’ve always loved a ‘misfit holiday,’ and we continued that tradition far beyond leaving home.
Additionally, I married into a very large clan. At our Thanksgiving celebration with my wife’s family, we all gather, hold hands, and everyone counts off. It used to start with Papa, the patriarch of the Barbers. After he passed away in 2015, Nanny began the count. The count is important for several reasons. It shows what comes of two people loving one another and creating a family. It is also a shocking and adorable way for any of us to let the family know we’re expecting another, which has happened more than a few times, as the number falls in the 50s now. I know we’ll miss being at home this year, but our hearts are certainly with our families, and our faces, too, albeit virtually.
I love that I’m continuing the cooking tradition with my own daughter now.
It is so much fun, and she absolutely adores being in the kitchen. She asks almost every day if she can help with dinner, and she recently received her first (plastic) knife set. I’m excited to see which new recipes we will choose since it looks as if we are in Cincinnati this holiday. But, there are a few I know we’ll have to make: Abby’s pie, Nanny’s pretzel salad, and my Mama’s dressing. I’m including recipes below.
What are your favorite staples? Are you trying anything new this year? I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions! Happiest of Thanksgivings to you, friends. I’m grateful for you all.
Dear Abby’s Famous Pean Pie
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 eggs slightly beaten
1/3 cup butter melted
1/3 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup pecans (*I add more. Another ½ cup whole, then another ½ cup finely chopped on top!)
1 unbaked pie crust (*I use deep dish to hold my extra pecans)
Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix the first six ingredients together, pour into pie crust, and top with pecans. Bake 45 to 50 minutes. It is done when a toothpick inserted in the center of the pie comes out clean.
Nanny’s Pretzel Salad (it isn’t a salad, we’re just southern)
2 cups crumbled pretzels
3 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 ¼ stick of butter
8oz softened cream cheese
1 cup confectioner sugar
8oz cool whip
2 packages frozen strawberries (partially thawed)
2 cups water
2 – 3oz strawberry Jell-O
Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine pretzels, sugar, and melted butter. Press into 13×9 dish, and bake for 15 minutes. Remove and cool completely. Beat cream cheese and sugar in a large bowl, and fold in whipped topping. Spread over crust (seal edges so Jell-O won’t run under). Bring water to boil, add Jell-O, and dissolve completely. Add strawberries to Jell-O mixture. Pour over cream cheese. Refrigerate until set.
My Mama’s Cornbread Dressing (with a few of my tweaks)
8-day old biscuits
8 slices day-old cornbread
4 ribs celery, diced fine
1 sweet onion, diced fine
1 tablespoon olive oil (I mix olive oil and butter for sauteing)
4 tablespoons salted butter (I prefer unsalted butter) – divided
2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
1 tablespoon dried parsley
4 cups chicken stock (I use Kettle and Fire Bone Broth instead)
½-1 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Crumble biscuits and cornbread into chunky pieces in a large bowl. Set aside. Sauté celery and onion with butter in a skillet over medium-low heat until veggies are tender. Warm chicken stock in a saucepan on the stove. Add poultry seasoning and parsley. Stir well and take off heat. Add heavy cream to chicken stock, stir well, then pour mixture over breadcrumbs in bowl. Mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spoon dressing into casserole dish and top with pats of remaining butter. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes until golden brown and crispy on top.