A Southern Thanksgiving with Chef Scott Peacock
Over the years, Scott Peacock's relationship with Thanksgiving has had its highs and lows, its sweet bites and burnt edges. As a boy growing up in the small town of Hartford, Alabama, he says, "I was obsessed with Thanksgiving. It was my absolute favorite holiday." But during the two decades he spent running professional kitchens, including the acclaimed Watershed restaurant in Decatur, Georgia, the James Beard Award-winning chef lost some of his appetite for it. "There were years where roasting a turkey was the last thing I wanted to do," he admits. Sometimes he joined other people's holiday tables, and sometimes he and his dear friend (and legendary southern chef) Edna Lewis would pass the day quietly in the apartment they shared. After Lewis's death, he would often travel over the long weekend. "Thanksgiving can be stressful," says the soft-spoken chef. "Especially when, like me, you're an introvert at heart."
But Peacock's views shifted about a decade ago, when he retired from Watershed and, seeking a peaceful retreat in Alabama's Black Belt region (named for its rich soil), bought a soundly built but slightly crumbling house in Marion. One of the first objects he found in the 1830 dwelling—which was still stuffed with the belongings of the family that had lived there for more than a century—was a child-size Pilgrim hat. "I felt like it was a signal," he says, "telling me there would be special gatherings in the house." And true enough, it's here that Peacock, arguably the country's most renowned master of classic southern cuisine, has reclaimed his love of Thanksgiving.
He's invited an intimate group of out-of-town friends and "Marionettes," the people who welcomed him to the community, and created a menu that brims with ingredients grown right in his backyard—from the white lammas wheat used for his buttermilk biscuits to the persimmons sweetening the chicories salad. And he's moved his antique dining table to the upstairs sitting room to bask in the warm light and those lovely yellow plaster walls, which's he in no hurry to fix. "There's a beauty in their history," he says. "It's a room for time-traveling."
It's that respect for the past and Peacock's willingness to take the slow, patient path that his lucky guests taste in every dish. "His biscuits are like nothing else," says friend Ethel Waite, reaching for seconds. "Nobody but Scott makes them like that any more."
Prop styling by Tanya Graff. Food styling by Greg Lofts
Smoky Shrimp-and-Sausage Gravy with Crusty Buttermilk Biscuits and Quick Pickled Crudités
Peacock's favorite spot in his nearly 200-year-old house is this yellow second-floor sitting room where he's moved his antique dining table and is serving the Thanksgiving feast. "That's the original calcimine paint on those walls," he says. Come Thanksgiving, he moves his dining table here and sets it with antique china and glassware, and napkins dyed with his own homegrown indigo.
Persimmons and Roasted Chicories with Shallot Vinaigrette
Peacock presents a bright, zesty salad of roasted chicories, persimmons, and herbs on one of his prized antique feather-edged platters.
Citrus-Roasted Heritage Turkey
Cornbread Dressing with Sage and Pecans
The dressing gets its flavor from celery, onions, sage, and roasted pecans that get stirred into the cornbread mixture before it bakes.
Peacock's guests include an intimate group of out-of-town friends and the people who welcomed him to the community. Here, friends Chris Joiner and Ethel Waite tuck into the turkey and sides.
Green-Bean Casserole with Chestnuts and Buttered Breadcrumbs and Other Sides
Spiced Pear Pie with Buckwheat Crumble
"You have to have a pie at Thanksgiving!" says Peacock, who folded buckwheat flour into the streusel topping of this pear-filled glory.
Brown Sugar-Cornmeal Shortbread Cookies and Brandied Figs
"I love having lots of different bites and flavors for dessert," he says. "It invites you to linger." Along with tipples of Alabama whiskey and other cordials, he offers a mosaic of cornmeal-shortbread cookies, satsumas and kumquats, store-bought nut brittle and praline-coated chocolate truffles, and Brandied Figs.