Cooks' Exchange: Remembering the bird in the basement

Cooks' Exchange: Remembering the bird in the basement


How well I remember a Thanksgiving back in the mid-1940s when a great big live “bird” came to live in our basement for a short period of time to be fed well before Thursday arrived. Then one day, while I was playing outside, the bird suddenly died. Being an animal lover, it made me sad.

After much work, the naked bird was taken upstairs to the kitchen for Mother to do whatever was necessary to cook and serve it for dinner the next day when relatives arrived.

In the meantime, Mother seemed to be in the kitchen from early morning to late evening preparing everything from relishes, yeast breads, rolls, cranberries, vegetables, and so much more to pumpkin and mincemeat pies. In between kitchen duties, she covered a table in the dining room with her favorite lace tablecloth and set it with our best dishes, goblets, coffee cups and saucers, linen napkins, candles, and a small bouquet of flowers.

The next day, considering everything she did to prepare and serve a delicious Thanksgiving meal for all to enjoy, my little cousin, Billy, smiled from his seat at the table and said “Gee, Aunt Mary, this celery sure is good.” As time passes on, it remains one of those precious moments to remember for a lifetime.

Apple and other Thanksgiving related recipes continue to arrive, the first one for a pumpkin pecan pie described as being “lactose-free” shared in 2012 by Donna Grever for Hometown Favorites compiled with a collection of recipes by Friends of Matheson Memorial Library in Elkhorn, WI.

Nancy Reagan’s pumpkin pecan pie

4 eggs

2 cups pumpkin, canned or fresh

1 cup sugar

½ cup dark corn syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon pumpkin spice

¼ teaspoon salt

9-inch unbaked pie shell

1 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Break eggs into a large bowl and beat with a wire whisk. Add pumpkin, sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, cinnamon, pumpkin spice and salt. Stir until sugar is dissolved and ingredients are well-blended. Pour into pie shell and sprinkle with pecans. Bake 40 minutes, or until filling is set (knife inserted in center of pie comes out clean.)

From the same book, here is Virginia Paulsen’s favorite bread recipe to make 24 hours before serving.

Cranberry bread

2 cups flour

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 cup sugar

1 egg, beaten

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

½ cup orange juice

2 tablespoons hot water

½ cup walnuts, chopped

1 cup cranberries, chopped

Zest of 1 orange

Sift together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and sugar. Add egg, oil, orange juice and hot water. Stir only until dry ingredients are moistened. Fold in nuts, cranberries and orange zest. Grease a 4x8x2-inch loaf pan. Pour in bread batter and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Cool and place in refrigerator 24 hours before serving.

Using both apples and cranberries, here is a favorite from a King Midas Collector’s Bake Book.

Cranberry apple crisp

2 cups raw cranberries

3 cups peeled, coarsely chopped apples

1 cup sugar

½ cup butter

1 cup King Midas flour

½ cup quick-cooking rolled oats

½ cup firmly packed brown sugar

½ teaspoon salt

Combine raw cranberries, apples and sugar in an 8-inch square pan. Cut butter into flour, oats, brown sugar and salt until particles are fine. Sprinkle over fruit. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm or cold with whipped cream or ice cream.

Tip: If fresh cranberries are not available, substitute ½ cup frozen cranberry relish.

Martha Stewart stresses the importance of using canned pumpkin puree, not pumpkin pie filling or fresh pumpkin puree for this recipe to take to a Thanksgiving potluck gathering.

Pumpkin spice cake with honey frosting

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for pan

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled

2 teaspoons baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pumpkin-pie spice (or 1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon, ¾ teaspoon ginger, ½ teaspoon nutmeg, 1/8 teaspoon each allspice and cloves)

2 large eggs

1 ½ cups sugar

15-ounce can solid-pack pumpkin puree

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, salt, and pumpkin-pie spice. In a large bowl, whisk eggs, sugar, butter, and pumpkin puree until combined. Add dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture, and mix gently until smooth. Turn batter into prepared pan, and smooth top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out with just few moist crumbs attached, about 45-50 minutes

Cool cake 10 minutes in pan, then turn out of pan, and cool completely, right side up, on a rack. Spread top of cooled cake with honey frosting. Cut cake into squares. Serves 9

Honey frosting

In a medium bowl, whisk ½ cup (1 stick) very soft unsalted butter, an 8-ounce bar of very soft regular, or reduced-fat cream cheese, and ¼ cup honey until smooth.

Loaf pan alternative: If you use a 9x5-inch loaf pan, increase baking time by 25 to 30 minutes (tent loaf with foil if it browns too quickly).

If you don’t have a simple stuffing recipe handy, you might be interested in one using a Golden Delicious apple and pork sausage for a 10-12 pound turkey. Discovered in Olwen Woodier’s “Apple Cookbook,” preparation time is a mere 15 minutes and the recipe serves 10.

Sausage and apple stuffing

½ pound pork sausage

1 medium-size Golden Delicious or Empire apple

2 medium-size onions, chopped

½ teaspoon dried sage

½ teaspoon dried thyme

½ teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon ground mace

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

8 slices whole wheat bread

1 large egg

Cook the sausage meat in a large skillet for 5 minutes, turning occasionally. Peel, core, and chop the apple. Add apple and onions to the meat with the spices. Saute for 5 minutes. Crumble bread into pan, beat the egg, and mix all together. Stuff into a 10-12 pound turkey and bake. The stuffing can be baked separately in a greased 1-quart baking dish for 45 minutes at 350 degrees.

Not necessarily a Thanksgiving recipe, but this is one that will warm your heart on a cold day. My mother-in-law introduced me to bread pudding and I’ve loved the dish since. Here is a Taste of Home recipe for two to enjoy anytime of the year, especially nice right now.

Bread pudding for two

1 cup soft bread cubes

1 egg

2/3 cup milk

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon butter, melted

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Dash salt

1/3 cup raisins

Vanilla ice cream, optional

Place bread in a greased 1-quart baking dish. In a bowl, whisk egg and milk. Stir in brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Pour over bread and sprinkle with raisins. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Serve warm with or without ice cream.

Yield: 2 servings.

My mother-in-law never served bread pudding with ice cream, but instead, a wonderful warm sauce that can be reduced in size for a smaller portion.

Mom Murray’s bread pudding sauce

½ cup sugar

1 tablespoons cornstarch

1 cup hot water

1 teaspoon vanilla

1-2 tablespoons butter

In a small saucepan, mix together sugar and cornstarch. Gradually add hot water and cook 1 minute, stirring to make certain sauce is smooth. Add vanilla and butter.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Contact the Cooks’ Exchange in care of the Wisconsin State Journal, P.O. Box 8058, Madison, WI, 53708 or by email at


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