Thanksgiving is a time for food, family, friends, and being grateful. Here are some tried and tested homemade thanksgiving recipes to help you celebrate this special time of year.
Thanksgiving is one of the biggest holidays in the USA; it started out as a harvest festival and has evolved into a national holiday. Thanksgiving is celebrated in a total of 17 countries around the world, including the USA, Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands. Thanksgiving Day in the USA is celebrated on the third Thursday in November.
For most people, Thanksgiving is a time for families to come together, eat delicious, traditional food, and feel gratitude for what they have. But there is so much more to Thanksgiving than this.
Here are the top favourite Thanksgiving traditions in the USA.
- Watching Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade: This has become one of the most famous Thanksgiving traditions in America. Held in New York City and lasting for 3 hours, thousands of people turn out to see the parade. Giant balloons float overhead, bobbing around between the skyscrapers. An impressive sight! The tradition began in 1924 and has been held every Thanksgiving day since then, apart from 1942 – 1944, when the war was on
- Breaking the wishbone: The turkey is carved at the table and the wishbone is removed. The wishbone is a Y-shaped bone joining the neck and breast. It’s set aside then 2 people make a wish and pull the wishbone as if it’s a Christmas cracker. The person left holding the biggest piece of the bone is said to have their wish granted and have good fortune for the rest of the year
- Eating a traditional meal: Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without the traditional dinner. The usual dishes are turkey (of course) cranberry sauce, rolls, homemade stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts. Green bean casserole is gaining in popularity and mac and cheese is often served too. Pumpkin pie is the favoured dessert
- Having an afternoon nap: After eating so much good food, many people have to take a nap. Turkey contains an amino acid called tryptophan, which releases a chemical called melatonin. This makes us sleepy. But sugar has the same effect
- Being grateful: Thanksgiving is a time for sharing what you feel most grateful for. This is a wonderfully positive thing to do and being surrounded by your friends and family makes it so much more meaningful
- Watching a football game: The most popular sport in the USA, American football games played on Thanksgiving Day date back to 1876, around the time that the game was invented. Families gather around to watch their favourite teams compete. Some even go outside and burn off all the calories consumed at dinner by having a game of their own
- Friendsgiving: Most people choose to spend Thanksgiving with their families, but Friendsgiving is a newer tradition. People get together with friends, share a meal then go off to spend time with their families
- The turkey trot: Races are held on Thanksgiving Day, from 5k runs to half marathons. The name comes from the turkey, a favourite centrepiece of the Thanksgiving meal. Runners and walkers are welcome at these events
- Black Friday: The day after Thanksgiving, stores all across the country have their biggest sales. Known as Black Friday, this day is almost like another holiday. Even now, when a lot of people have switched over to online shopping, queues still form outside the big stores and people will stand in line for hours, hoping to grab a bargain
- Giving back to the community: Keeping to the spirit of Thanksgiving, many communities organise annual food collections to be given to those less fortunate. Also, Thanksgiving dinners are hosted so that everyone can have a hot meal on the day. Volunteers freely give up their time to help those in need
Thanksgiving is different in every country. In the UK it’s a harvest festival. In Japan, it’s called Labor Day Thanksgiving, while Germany has their Ertendankfest. But the principle is the same; good food, togetherness and gratitude.
If you’re going to host Thanksgiving dinner this year but you’re new to cooking this very important feast, here are some recipes for traditional food that your family will love. And you don’t need to do all of the cooking yourself – other family members can help with the preparation and cooking. Don’t be afraid to ask!
Traditional Roast Turkey
As it’s the centrepiece of your Thanksgiving feast, cooking the turkey the right way is so important. If you follow this method your turkey will never be dry, but moist and full of flavour. Serves 8 – 10.
One 6.75kg turkey
6 rashers of smoked streaky bacon
75g of butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 large sprigs of fresh rosemary
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
Line a large, deep roasting tin with non-stick baking paper. Place the turkey in the tin and spread the butter all over the breast and legs. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice over the turkey, then put the lemon shells inside the bird. Push the rosemary sprigs inside with the lemon. Season the turkey with salt and pepper, scatter over the thyme leaves and lay the bacon rashers over the breast.
Preheat the oven to gas 5/190C/375F and cook the turkey for 20 minutes per kilo plus 90 minutes. Use a large spoon to baste the turkey frequently during cooking; this will keep it nice and moist.
To test if the turkey is done, push a skewer into the thickest part of the leg. If the juices are clear, then it’s cooked. If any trace of pink is showing, give it another 15 minutes then test again.
Cover the turkey with foil and allow it to rest for up to an hour before carving. The bacon will be very crisp so discard it if you want.
Best Turkey Gravy
The only thing better than roast turkey is roast turkey with gravy. This is simple but very good. Makes enough for 8 – 10 people.
60g plain flour
850 ml of good-quality chicken stock
8 tablespoons port or sherry
2 tablespoons cranberry sauce
Salt and pepper
To make the gravy, pour off the fat in the roasting tin, leaving just the turkey juices behind. Place the roasting tin over a low heat and add the flour, stirring continuously, to form a paste. Cook for a minute then gradually add the stock, whisking well all the time so that no lumps can form. Add the port or sherry and cranberry sauce and stir. The gravy should be of pouring consistency but not too runny. Transfer to a jug or gravy boat to make pouring easier.
Apricot and Coriander Stuffing
This stuffing is both sweet and spicy and goes perfectly with your roast turkey. I prefer to bake the stuffing in a dish rather than put it inside the turkey but go with your preference. If you stuff the turkey, weigh it again before cooking to calculate the exact time needed. Serves 8 – 10.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large onions, very finely chopped
250g fresh breadcrumbs
75g dried apricots, chopped
2 heaped teaspoons of coriander seeds
4 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander
4 tablespoons of roasting juices from the turkey
Salt and pepper
Heat a small pan and toast the coriander seeds over a medium heat, until they’ve darkened in colour and start to give off a lovely aroma. Tip them into a pestle and mortar and crush them to a powder. Heat the oil and butter in a large non-stick pan and fry the onion for 10 – 15 minutes until softened. Mix the other ingredients in a bowl and add the fried onions. Mix until thoroughly combined.
Pile into a baking dish, spoon over some of the turkey juices and bake in a hot oven, gas 6/200C/400F for about 20 minutes, until browned and crisp on top.
This is a rather more substantial stuffing. You can make your own cornbread for this, it’s really simple. Serves 8 – 10.
4 rashers smoked bacon, chopped
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
3 celery sticks, finely chopped
A small bunch of sage, leaves only, finely chopped
2 medium eggs, beaten
400 ml vegetable stock
50g butter, melted
175g fine semolina or polenta
100g plain flour
Half a teaspoon of baking powder
Half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
2 medium eggs
200 ml buttermilk or natural yoghurt
1 – 2 red chillies chopped (optional)
First of all, make the cornbread. Butter the base and sides of a 25 cm ovenproof dish and line it with non-stick baking paper.
Put the semolina or polenta, flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and a good pinch of salt in a large bowl. Whisk the eggs, buttermilk or yoghurt and melted butter together in a jug. Add the chillies if using.
Slowly pour the egg mixture onto the dry ingredients, stirring until just combined. Don’t overmix it or it will be tough. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking tin and cook for 40 – 50 minutes at gas 5/190C/375F until golden brown. Allow to cool in the tin.
Fry the bacon in a non-stick pan until it starts to crisp up. Remove onto a plate and set aside. Fry the onion, celery and garlic in the bacon fat for about 10 minutes until softened. (If there’s not much fat in the pan, add a tablespoon of vegetable oil.) Stir in the chopped sage.
Tip the vegetables into a bowl and leave to cool. Cut the cornbread into 2 cm cubes and add it to the bowl of vegetables along with the bacon. Season and mix well. Stir the eggs and vegetable stock together and pour over the stuffing.
Bake the stuffing in a 20 x 30 cm dish at gas 7/220C/450F for 15 – 20 minutes until golden brown and crisp at the edges.
Perfect Mashed Potatoes
This fluffy, creamy mashed potato is perfect to serve with your turkey. This might seem like a lot of butter but it will be absorbed by the potatoes and make your mash taste heavenly. Serves 8 – 10.
1.2kg potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
100 ml milk
Salt and pepper
Put the chunks of peeled potato into a pan of cold water, add salt (about a teaspoon) and put a lid on the pan. Bring it up to the boil then lower the heat and simmer for 15 – 20 minutes with a lid on the pan, until the potatoes are soft but not falling apart. Test them after 15 minutes by pushing the point of a knife into them. If the knife meets resistance, they need a bit longer.
Drain the cooked potatoes in a colander and shake off the excess water. Tip them back into the hot pan, add the milk and butter and season generously.
Using a potato masher or a large fork, start to break up the potatoes, making sure there are no lumps. You should have a smooth, fluffy texture. You can also use an electric hand whisk. This is the easier option as it saves time and energy. But feel free to mash the potatoes by hand if you like a workout.
*This recipe also works with sweet potatoes.
Mac and Cheese
A favourite dish at any time of the year, mac and cheese for Thanksgiving is always appreciated. You can use any kind of cheese you want, as long as it has a good, robust flavour. Serves 8 – 10 as a side dish.
800g short macaroni
1 teaspoon of thyme leaves or a large pinch of dried thyme
450 ml double cream
200g grated mature cheddar
200g grated Parmesan
A pinch of grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper
150g grated Gruyere
100g fresh breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon olive oil
A teaspoon of paprika
A small bunch of fresh parsley, finely chopped
Cook the macaroni in a large pan of boiling salted water. Give it a couple of minutes less cooking time than usual as it will have a second cooking in the oven.
Drain the pasta, but not too thoroughly. There should still be a bit of the cooking water left in it. Add the mascarpone, cream, cheese, nutmeg, thyme and seasoning. Set the pan over a low heat and stir occasionally until the cheese has melted into a smooth, creamy sauce.
Taste the mixture to check the seasoning and add a bit more if needed. Tip the whole thing into a baking dish, sprinkle with the grated Gruyere, breadcrumbs, parsley and paprika, drizzle over the olive oil and bake for about 20 – 25 minutes at gas mark 6/200C/400F until browned and bubbling. Allow to stand for 5 minutes before serving.
Green Bean Casserole
A lovely, fresh-tasting side dish, this is gaining in popularity. The cream adds richness but you can leave it out if you want. Serves 8 – 10.
1.2kg green beans, stalk ends cut off
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped
500g mushrooms, wiped clean and finely sliced
2 sprigs rosemary, leaves only
250 ml double cream
A pinch of paprika
Salt and pepper
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and add the beans. Cook for 3 – 4 minutes then drain and rinse in cold water. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a non-stick pan and fry the onions until golden, about 10 – 12 minutes. Add the mushrooms and fry for 1 – 2 minutes. Chop the rosemary and add it to the pan with the paprika and green beans. Season with salt and pepper and pour over the cream (if using.) Mix well.
Transfer to a large casserole dish, put a lid on and bake in a preheated oven at gas 4/180C/375F for 15 – 20 minutes. Stir well to combine the beans with the cream and serve straight away.
Cranberry Sauce with Orange and Spices
Homemade cranberry sauce is so much nicer than shop-bought. This has a tang of fresh orange and gentle spices which will go perfectly with your turkey. Makes 2 half-litre jars.
450g fresh or frozen cranberries
400g granulated sugar
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed
4 whole cloves
Zest and juice of a medium orange
275 ml red wine vinegar
200 ml apple cider vinegar
Heat a large, heavy-based pan and add the vinegar and sugar and cook until the sugar crystals have dissolved. Stir occasionally. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the crushed coriander seeds, whole cloves and cranberries. Grate the zest from the orange, being careful not to get any of the white pith as this is very bitter. Cut the orange in half and squeeze out the juice.
Add the orange zest and juice to the pan and cook over a low heat for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Be gentle when stirring the mixture as you want the cranberries to remain whole as much as possible. Some will burst during cooking but this is okay, as long as most of them are still whole.
Remove the pan from the heat and allow the sauce to cool for 30 minutes. Ladle into sterilised jars, seal with a tight-fitting lid and when it’s completely cold, you can label the jars.
Leave for at least a month before eating to allow the flavours to develop.
Sprouts with Bacon and Chestnuts
The humble Brussels sprout is transformed with the addition of crisp, smoky bacon and velvety soft chestnuts. Even those who claim not to like sprouts will make an exception for this dish. Serves 8 – 10 as a side dish.
1.25kg Brussels sprouts
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
8 rashers smoked streaky bacon, cut into strips
200g vacuum-packed chestnuts
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
Trim the sprouts by slicing off the end of the stalk, then removing any outer leaves that are limp or discoloured. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the sprouts for 5 – 6 minutes until just tender. Drain and run them under the cold tap.
Heat the oil in a non-stick pan and fry the onion until softened, about 10 – 12 minutes. Add the bacon and fry until crisp and browned at the edges. Remove from the pan, leaving the fat and oil residue behind. Add the chestnuts and fry over a high heat for 5 minutes until lightly browned. Scoop out of the pan with a slotted spoon and put the chestnuts on a plate with the bacon and onions.
Tip the sprouts into the pan and add most of the butter (about 35g.) Fry over a high heat for a couple of minutes, then add the bacon, onion and chestnuts, season with salt and pepper and mix well.
Tip into a serving dish and add the rest of the butter before taking the dish to the table.
Pumpkin Pie with Maple and Pecan Cream
Pumpkin pie is the favoured Thanksgiving dessert. Every family will have their own recipe, maybe passed down through the generations. This recipe is accompanied by softly whipped cream flavoured with maple syrup, and given added crunch with pecan nuts. Serves 8.
550g pumpkin (peeled weight)
500g shortcrust pastry
175g light muscovado sugar
2 large eggs
142 ml double cream
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground ginger
Half a teaspoon of grated fresh nutmeg
For the cream:
142 ml whipping cream
5 – 6 tablespoons maple syrup
25g pecan nuts, very finely chopped
Cut the pumpkin into small chunks and place in a bowl. Cover and microwave on high for 10 – 15 minutes, until soft. Tip into a colander to drain and leave until needed.
Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface until it’s the thickness of a pound coin (about 2 – 3 mm) and line a 25 cm loose-based tart tin. Ease the pastry into the tin, working gently, and press it into the base and sides of the tin. Leave the excess pastry overhanging the edges and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to gas 6/200C/400F and prick the pastry case all over with a fork. This stops it from rising up in the oven. Alternatively, you can line the case with foil and baking beans or rice. Trim off the excess pastry with a sharp knife for a neat finish.
Bake the pie case for 15 – 20 minutes. If using the foil and baking beans remove these and bake for another 10 minutes. If not, give it another 7 – 10 minutes until the pastry is cooked and a golden brown colour. Lower the oven temperature to gas 3/160C/325F.
Put the pumpkin, sugar, spices and cream into a food processor and whizz to a puree. Pour the mixture into the pastry case and bake for an hour, until the filling is set and pale brown in colour. The filling will puff up in the centre but sink as the pie cools.
Whip the cream to soft peaks and fold in the maple syrup and nuts. Serve the pie in thin slices with a spoonful of cream on top. Dust with a little ground cinnamon before serving if you like.
Another Thanksgiving favourite, this pie is sweet, nutty and very satisfying. Serves 6 – 8.
4 large eggs, beaten
100 ml pure maple syrup
50g butter, melted
75g light muscovado sugar
2 tablespoons plain flour
Half a teaspoon of vanilla extract
300g halved pecan nuts
1 sheet of ready-rolled shortcrust pastry
Open out the sheet of pastry and use it to line a 23cm loose-bottomed tart tin with fluted edges. Press it down firmly, making sure it’s pushed into the fluted edges of the tin. Prick the base all over with a fork and chill it in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to gas 6/200C/400F and bake the pastry case for 20 minutes. It should be a light golden colour. If the base has risen up, don’t worry, it will go down once it’s out of the oven.
To make the filling, whisk together the eggs, sugar, maple syrup, flour, butter and vanilla extract until smooth. Stir in the nuts. Pour the mixture into the cooked pastry case, using your fingers to turn the nuts on top, so that the curved tops are showing. (This is just for appearance, so it’s not absolutely necessary.)
Reduce the oven temperature to gas5/190C/375F and bake the pie for 25 – 30 minutes, until the filling is set. Leave the tart in the tin for 15 minutes, then remove it onto a plate by placing the tin on top of a can. Slide the edges of the tin free and slip the tart onto a serving plate, carefully pulling out the metal base of the tin. Serve warm or cold with some good vanilla ice cream.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article. If you have any comments or suggestions, please leave them below.
After Thanksgiving comes Christmas. Go to American Christmas food traditions to find out more.
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