Thanksgiving Day

It’s that time of the year again in the USA, so wishing all my American readers a very blessed Thanksgiving Day. I love the idea of Thanksgiving because it seems only right that, at some point, we thank one another for everything – it’s such a pity that more countries don’t say thanks in the special way you guys do. Sure, I know it’s not the only country that gives thanks but the USA is the only country in the world that has declared it a public holiday and where families gather to say thanks.

It’s sweltering in the Cape as it always is this time of the year and many of us would give anything to for a little snow and little cool weather (me included). Strange how we’re never happy with what we have. Practically everyone eats turkey at this time of the year and since it’s very healthy and not exceedingly expensive, it’s a pretty good call so why not make two and invite someone who has no family and will spend the day alone.



  • 5 – 6 kg fresh, organic turkey
  • 3 or 4 good quality, thick veal sausages, skins removed

Flavoured butter

350 g butter, softened
1 large orange, zest only
2 tbsp cardamom seeds (the black ones removed from the green pods), crushed
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped leaves only
2 tbsp fresh parsley leaves, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


200 g white breadcrums
125 g butter
1 onion, finely chopped
6 fresh sage leaves
1 orange, zest only
100 g toasted pine nuts
100 g pistachio nuts, peeled and finely chopped
3 tbsp fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the gravy
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
125ml dry white wine
1 sprig fresh thyme
500ml home made chicken stock
200ml double cream
The pan juices from roasting
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


  • Pre-heat the oven to 180 C.
  • Combine all the ingredients for the flavoured butter to form a paste, season with salt and pepper and chill well.
  • Prepare the turkey – it’s much easier to ask your butcher to do it but for those die-hards amongst us, do it as follows: remove the legs & cut through the skin, then pull the joint firmly away from body and then cut through ball and socket joints carefully – you can’t rip it here.
  • Cut away the ‘oyster‘ on the back of the turkey so that the leg and the thigh comes away cleanly.
  • Using a thin, sharp, pointy knife, de-bone both legs and stuff them with the sausage meat and wrap them tightly in tin foil, chilling them first to set the shape.
  • To prepare the crown, cut off the wing tips (save them & use them for stock later) and, for easier carving, take out the wishbone and cut away the back bone with poultry shears – it can be quite tough but persevere.
  • Lift up the breast skin up with your fingers and separate it from the flesh gently by putting the fingers underneath the skin, palm-side down.
  • Divide and smear the flavoured butter between the two breast flaps and pull the skin back over it.
  • Season well, put in a roasting tin and cover loosely with butter paper or foil.
  • Roast the turkey by putting the foil-wrapped legs in a roasting pan and cooking for 45 minutes, then reducing the heat to 160 C and cooking for another 15 minutes.
  • Remove the foil then and roast for a further 30 minutes, straining off any juices for the gravy.
  • Cook the crown for 1-1½ hours at 180 C until the juices run clear and then allow the bird to rest for half an hour before carving.
  • To make the stuffing, melt the butter in a large saucepan and gently sauté onion until translucent and soft, stir in the sage and then add the breadcrumbs to absorb the butter.
  • Mix in the zest, the pine nuts and the seasoning, to taste and cook over medium heat until crumbs start to brown and begin to crisp, remove from the heat, stir in the parsley and serve warm.
  • To make the gravy, sauté the onion in the olive oil until they are translucent, pour in the wine, add the herbs and simmer until reduced enough to have thickened – there should only be a little left, covering the saucepan.
  • Add stock and simmer until reduced by half at which point you add the cream and simmer briskly for further five minutes, seasoning with freshly ground black pepper.
  • Remove from heat, cool for about 10 minutes and strain to remove all the big bits.
  • Now add the turkey pan juices and simmer briskly for about 2 minutes, season with salt (taste it)  and then strain.
  • Serve the turkey with the stuffing and gravy on the side.

It all started when, in 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared a feast after the harvest;  today this meal is considered to be the first Thanksgiving. Little did the early American colonists and local Indians know that that this autumn meal would continue to be a symbol of co-operation for centuries. It wasn’t a new thing; throughout time man has celebrated the harvest and has always given thanks for crops and blessings received. The Indian tribes, incidentally, always celebrated their harvests and so it clearly has nothing to do with religion or culture. There were many other thanksgiving ceremonies amongst early European settlers in northern America, for example, at Charles River in December 1619, a group of British settlers led by Captain John Woodlief  knelt to pray to give thanks to God for their healthy arrival after crossing the Atlantic.

Herewith an excerpt from Edward Winslow’s A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth where the 1621 Thanksgiving is described:

Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labours. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, among other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed upon our governor, and upon the captain, and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”

The early pilgrims used a substantial amount of spices in their food but many modern writers seem to believe that their food was bland. That’s nonsense. Spices were part and parcel of life for centuries before they arrived on American soil. Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and pepper were commonly used and dried fruit and sauces were commonly used. Spit roasting was, naturally, a popular since they didn’t exactly have an abundance of ovens and someone was always ready at the spit to ensure even roasting and basting. Because the pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians didn’t have refrigeration in the 17th century, it made sense to dry their foods in order to preserve them – so dried Indian corn, fish and herbs would have been used liberally and even meat was wind-dried. The most important meal of the day was eaten at noon and known as dinner (noonmeat). Housewives would spend the morning preparing the meal and supper was light and eaten at or around sunset. Breakfast, if eaten, consisted of leftovers from the previous day’s dinner. In a pilgrim household, the adults sat down to eat and the children and servants waited on them. The foods that the colonists and Wampanoag Indians ate were very similar, but their eating patterns were different. While the colonists had set eating patterns—breakfast, dinner, and supper—the Wampanoags usually ate when they were hungry and had pots cooking throughout the day.



  • 1kg sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed and then finely chopped
  • 1 red chilli, chopped finely
  • 250 ml single cream
  • Sea salt and black pepper


  • Pre-heat oven to 180 C.
  • Toss the sweet potato slices with the oil and all the other ingredients until the slices are well coated and the garlic and chilli well-distributed.
  • Transfer to a lightly oiled gratin dish, spreading out the slices with your fingertips –  try to ensure that the slices are lying as flat as possible.
  • Pour over any cream remaining in the bowl and trickle the remaining oil over the gratin.
  • Bake for 40-50 minutes until the sweet potato is completely tender and the top is browned and crispy.



  • 4 hard pears
  • 300 ml good  red wine
  • 25 g caster sugar
  • 1 whole cinnamon stick
  • 2 star anise
  • 1 tsp Maizena (corn flour or arrow root will be fine)
  • 1 decent piece of stem ginger in syrup, very finely chopped
  • 1 generous tbsp stem ginger syrup


  • Peel the pears carefully, leaving  the stalks intact.
  • Slice a thin disc from the base of each pear to make it sit upright.
  • Start off by placing the pears on their sides in a saucepan, pour in the red wine, sprinkle over the sugar and add the cinnamon stick and star anise.
  • Bring this up to simmering point, cover the saucepan and simmer very slowly for about an hour, turning now and again so that the pears cook evenly in the wine – for flavour and for colour purposes.
  • As soon as the pears are cooked, transfer to a bowl to cool, leaving the poaching liquid in the saucepan but removing the star anise and the cinnamon stick.
  • Mix the Maizena with a little cold water so that it forms a smooth paste and then pour this into the liquid in the saucepan over direct heat.
  • Bring the syrup just up to simmering point so that it thickens slightly and becomes translucent and shiny, remove the saucepan from the heat, stir in the chopped stem ginger as well as the ginger syrup to taste and then allow to cool.
  • Spoon the sauce over the pears, basting them well, cover them and allow to chill thoroughly and serve the pears in individual dishes with the sauce spooned over and loads of whipped cream

4 thoughts on “Thanksgiving Day

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Thanksgiving Day, Today America Says Thanks | Just Food Now --

  2. What a wonderful idea Turkey preparation & THANKS for the gravy recipe.  Yes, it’s basically an Autumn Harvest Feast reanimated by the English colonists in the Americas.  We forget that sometimes.  It’s important to enjoy the fruit of our labors & put a good spin on our incoming bad weather.  You’re the best, JUSTFOODNOW!

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