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The wealth of native ingredients and culinary traditions found across our great 50 states ensures that Thanksgiving -- the most American of holidays -- is always a rich and abundant feast.
As you gather friends and family around the table, you tell a story: a narrative of the nation, brought to life in food. Ingredients such as corn, squash, and turkey -- those originally encountered in the New World -- tie the meal to the past and often to place. (Think of the cranberry bogs of Cape Cod, or the wild rice that grows in the glassy lakes of northern Minnesota.) Other dishes have been brought by peoples from around the globe to the new frontiers, dating from the founding of our country right up to the present day.
Whether you seek adventure or familiarity, ambition or comfort, in your choices for the Thanksgiving meal, you’ll find many options in these pages, all inspired by the regional diversity of the United States -- something to truly be thankful for.
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THE MENU OPTIONS
Rye-Whiskey Switchels and Deviled Quail Eggs
Sparkling Celery Gimlets
Baked Clam Dip
Alaska King-Crab Legs with Meyer Lemon-Miso Butter
Peanut Soup and Barley-Malt Pull-Apart Rolls
Persimmon, Beet, and Citrus Salad
Molasses-and-Cider Glazed Turkey with Rye-and-Black-Walnut Stuffing
Mashed Potatoes with Pumpkin and Greens
Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Green Herb Sauce
Glazed Turnips with Bacon
Wild-Rice and Lima-Bean Salad with Cranberry Relish
Sweet-Potato Pie with Cornmeal Crust
Coddled Pears in Whiskey
Deep-Dish Dried-Apple and Cranberry Pie
Tropical-Fruit Abrosia Gelee
Dried-Plum-Butter Stack Cake
Polenta Grape Cake
The sweet-and-sour soft drink known as switchel, made with fresh ginger and a dash of cider vinegar, was a popular thirst-quencher among harvest field workers in 19th-century New England. In recent years, craft brewers from Vermont to New York to Minnesota have revived this lost beverage, and now we’re spinning a homemade switchel in a resolutely grown-up direction with rye whiskey -- another colonial-American elixir that’s experiencing a profound resurgence today. The drink’s spicy notes play off the lemon that lightens up the southern-luncheon classic deviled eggs. We use quail eggs here -- they make one-bite hors d’oeuvres that are fitting before a big meal. Bobwhite quail also happen to be native to the eastern half of the United States.
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Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray -- flavored with celery seed -- was introduced in New York City in 1868 as a healthy tonic. For this fresh pale-green cocktail inspired by the soda, we started with the delicately flavored inner hearts. They were pureed with simple syrup, then mixed with lime juice and gin and served on the rocks -- with seltzer, celery seed, and stalks for stirring.
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Journey clear across the country with this spread of appetizers.
Whole smoked trout with rye crackers, lemon wedges, slices of green apple, and sour cream honors European settlers, who brought brown trout to the upper Midwest along with smoking traditions (for preservation, but also for the bold flavor that smoking imparts).
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Baked clam dip, served with potato chips, is an ode to the salt spray of the New England coast.
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Pickled shrimp nods toward the maritime South.
We represent the state farthest west on the continent with Alaska king-crab legs. This showstopping Thanksgiving starter is also one of the simplest, since the crab legs are sold cooked -- just serve them with butter enhanced with Meyer-lemon juice and miso -- both references to the flavor fusions found in California cuisine.
Peanut soup was popularized in the U.S. in colonial Williamsburg. This simple, silky version gets brightened up with lemon juice and served with diced green apple for a touch of tartness and red-pepper flakes for heat. Alongside, pass a pan of pull-apart dinner rolls, made yeasty-sweet with the burnt-sugar flavor of barley-malt syrup. This uncommon sweetener looks like molasses but is made from grain rather than cane. For extra malt flavor, a portion of the syrup is mixed with butter, then brushed over the tops before baking. Having been sectioned with a knife, the puffy, golden rolls pull away from one another with a soft tug.
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Between 8,000 and 12,000 years ago, when glaciers receded from what is now lower New York State, they left behind nitrogen-rich, jet-black soil that became some of the most fertile onion-growing land in America. The terrain makes vegetables as common as red onions intensely flavorful. We let these beauties shine in an easy yeasted flatbread, the rings strewn across the dough with flaky sea salt.
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American and Asian persimmon trees have long been prized by the nation’s gardeners for ornamental landscaping, but the fruit’s tart, mellow-sweet flavor is also a rare treat for cooks. Serve wedges with roasted beets, citrus sections, endive spears, and a tangle of watercress. Whether offered as its own course or along with the rest of the meal, a salad this vibrant and beautiful is always welcome.
The native wild turkey may or may not have been served at what is often referred to as our first Thanksgiving, a 1621 harvest feast in current-day Plymouth, Massachusetts. But in the centuries that followed, turkey has become nearly synonymous with the holiday. This bird, glossy from its glaze of molasses and cider, is roasted with a stuffing of toasted rye bread and black walnuts.
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As for the cranberry condiment that is a nonnegotiable accompaniment: This luminous gelled ring, far right, alludes to the canned cranberries of midcentury holiday tables. We’ve amplified the flavor with cherries and garnished the dish with sugared sage sprigs and Cape gooseberries.
For a slightly different take on the usual potatoes—yet a dish still wholly suited to this time of year -- pumpkin and braised Swiss chard are mashed along with the spuds.
The palest of brassicas is dramatic and delicious in this presentation. A head of cauliflower becomes browned, nutty, and so tender it’s scoopable when roasted whole, wrapped in parchment. Serve it with a stirred-together fresh-herb sauce, fragrant with cilantro and parsley.
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With its distinctive yet subtle flavor, celery finds its way into all kinds of dishes. But we rarely appreciate the stalks on their own. Get to know this vegetable anew by braising it with thyme in a five-ingredient dish that may become a standard on your table all year round.
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Turnips have an inherent sweetness (taste a thin slice, raw, just to confirm) that makes them a tasty alternative to yams and sweet potatoes. And when settlers came to the New World, indigenous peoples had already been tapping sugar maples for years. Here, the syrup is combined with cider vinegar and Dijon mustard to make a bright glaze for the root. The smokiness of bacon provides a savory counterpoint.
Three great natives of the Americas -- wild rice, lima beans, and cranberries -- meet in this hearty, protein-rich salad. The pride of the Great Lakes region, wild rice has a delightfully nutty flavor and springy texture that pair well with almost-creamy lima beans. Cranberries—used by native tribes for dye and medicine and well as food—are the base of the unusual dressing, made by chopping the berries with orange, mint, and sugar.
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Among the many customary pleasures of the Thanksgiving table, an airy souffle stands out. Carrot and its close cousin parsnip -- both brought to these shores by early English and Dutch settlers -- play beautifully together. A pinch of allspice adds warmth.
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Perhaps the saying should be “As American as sweet-potato pie”: The starchy, sweet tuber was being grown here long before European settlers landed (while the apple’s origins are in central Asia). Familiar pie spices -- cinnamon, nutmeg, and fresh ginger -- give the pureed filling unmistakable autumnal flavor. Reroll the pastry scraps and cut out leaf shapes, baking them on their own and scattering them across the top for an effect mimicking nature’s seasonal shift. Serve slices of the pie dolloped with lightly sweetened whipped cream.
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This dessert honors America’s oldest fruit tree, a pear tree brought from Europe around 1630 and planted in Massachusetts, where it defies all odds by bearing fruit to this day. Here, we poached Bosc pears in a Tennessee whiskey–spiked liquid perfumed with vanilla bean and orange zest. Alongside, a scoop of vanilla ice cream is drizzled with bittersweet blackstrap molasses.
Try a new kind of apple pie this year: This one contains the dried fruit, which offers deep flavor and a pleasant chew. Tart cranberries, cooked until just bursting, lend extra dimension, and the slightly crackly brown-sugar-and-oats topping complements an easy press-in crust.
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An assortment of sweets, cheeses, and fruits finishes the meal perfectly, re-emphasizing the bountiful harvest of American treasures.
Tropical-fruit ambrosia gelee -- a gelled confection made with coconut milk and studded with dried papaya and Maraschino cherries -- evokes both retro 1950s desserts and the Victorian-era pudding known as blancmange.
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Stack cake, an old Appalachian dessert that has been known to stand in for a wedding cake (according to lore, friends and family members would contribute individual layers), is often made with an apple-butter filling, but we chose dried-plum butter instead.
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A rustic polenta cake is studded with red grapes and rosemary.
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For many, the holiday wouldn’t be the same without pecan pie -- but we twisted tradition by adding chunks of chocolate to the crust and maple sugar to the filling.