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Preparing a Thanksgiving Feast - Southern Style

Thanksgiving DinnerWe love to share our local Southern recipes with our readers, and for one of the largest and most celebrated dinners of the year, we have created a "Thanksgiving Feast" section.  Around JoCo, the menu planning and begging for your favorite dish starts in early November, and that's how the menu gets longer and longer.  Each year family members say, keep it simple, we don't need all this food, but alas, no one wants to give up their favorite from the list.  Below are the necessities for a traditional menu from which many more items may be added.  Get out your sweatpants and start shopping by Monday, and preparing casseroles and desserts by Wednesday, so the actual day is much easier on the cooks with the turkey, gravy, rolls and ice tea to make. 

For some of our favorite local food products, try Atkinson's Mill Corn Meal for your dressing or House Autry Buttermilk Biscuit Mix and Johnston County Ham for easy Ham Biscuits for breakfast, and consider picking up a Spiral Slice Ham for your table from Stevens Sausage or Johnston County Hams.  If you aren't the world's best baker, try ordering from Sherry's Signature Cheesecakes, Clayton Bakery or Nancy Jo's Homemade all in Clayton.  Click Here area bakeries!  Many area restaurants will prepare your turkey and ham for you as well...making your day easier!

For your fresh produce, area farmer's markets have collards, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and more like old fashion candies!  Check here for more links!

Happy Thanksgiving from the JoCo Visitors Bureau!

Dinner RollsIngredients

2 1/2 to 3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup shortening
1 teaspoon salt
1 package regular or quick active dry yeast
1/2 cup very warm water (120°F to 130°F)
1/2 cup very warm milk (120°F to 130°F)
1 egg
Butter or margarine, melted


Mix 2 cups of the flour, the sugar, shortening, salt and yeast in medium bowl. Add warm water, warm milk and egg. Beat with electric mixer on low speed 1 minute, scraping bowl frequently. Beat on medium speed 1 minute, scraping bowl frequently. Stir in enough remaining flour to make dough easy to handle.

Turn dough onto lightly floured surface. Knead about 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Place in greased bowl and turn greased side up. Cover and let rise in warm place about 1 hour or until double. Dough is ready if indentation remains when touched

Grease bottoms and sides of 2 round pans, 9x1 1/2 inches.

Punch down dough. Cut dough in half; cut each half into 24 pieces. Shape into balls. Place close together in pans. Brush with butter. Cover and let rise in warm place about 30 minutes or until double

Heat oven to 400°F.

Bake 12 to 18 minutes or until golden brown.



Cranberry Salad2 small packages cranberry jello
2 cups boiling water
1 can whole berry cranberry sauce
1 large can crushed pineapple (not drained)
4 tablespoon orange juice
1 cup chopped pecans


Mix 2 cups of boiling water with the jello.  Mash up the cranberry sauce and stir into the hot jello mixture.  Then add the remaining ingredients and stir well.  Make the day before and chill, and serve.



This might take a little more time that using canned mushroom soup, but the difference is definitely worth the effort!

Green Bean CasseroleIngredients

Salt and pepper
1 1/2 pounds green beans, trimmed
3 tablespoons butter
2 shallots, chopped
1/2 pound button mushrooms, chopped
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup half-and-half
1 can fried onions


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, season with 2 tablespoons salt, and blanch the green beans for 5 minutes. Shock the green beans in a bowl filled with ice water, then remove and set aside to dry.

Melt the butter in a large cast-iron pan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and cook until lightly browned. Add the mushrooms and some salt and pepper, and cook until just softened. Add the flour and stir to coat the mushrooms and shallots. Add the chicken stock, whisking vigorously to smooth out any lumps. Whisk in the half-and-half. Bring to a simmer and cook for 3 minutes. Check the seasoning and adjust with more salt and pepper as needed. Add the green beans, then pour the mixture into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

Bake for 30 minutes. During the last 5 minutes of cooking, sprinkle with the fried onions for some extra crunch.

Giblet GravyWhen you put the turkey in the oven, begin to make your turkey stock for the gravy.  If your family doesn't like the liver bits, just leave them out, plus you can adjust how much of the giblets you want to add. Pull it all together with some juices from the cooked turkey as you finish up the last items for the meal.


Turkey giblets and backbone from the turkey
2 medium stalks celery, sliced (1 cup)
1 medium onion, sliced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Drippings from roasted turkey
About 1/4 cup chicken broth (from 32-oz carton), if needed
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper to taste


In 2-quart saucepan, place giblets (except liver); add enough water to cover. Add celery, onion, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Heat to boiling; reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer 1 to 2 hours or until giblets are tender. Add liver during last 15 minutes of cooking.

Drain giblet mixture, reserving broth and giblets. Discard celery and onion.

After removing turkey from roasting pan, remove 1/2 cup drippings (turkey juices and fat); reserve. Pour remaining drippings into 2-cup measuring cup; add enough giblet broth and chicken broth to measure 2 cups; set aside.

Place reserved 1/2 cup drippings in roasting pan or 12-inch skillet. Stir in flour. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly and scraping up brown bits in pan, until smooth and browned. Gradually stir in 2 cups broth mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture boils and thickens. Remove meat from neck; finely chop meat and giblets and add to gravy if desired. Stir in salt and pepper.

Expert Tips:  Go ahead and make the giblet broth ahead of time. Drain as directed, then cover and refrigerate the giblets and broth separately.  Any leftover gravy is great to serve over biscuits or open-face turkey sandwiches.

Congealed Salads are definitely very Southern -- this one is easy and can be made the morning of Thanksgiving!

Watergate SaladIngredients

One large container Cool Whip
One large can crushed pineapple (20 oz.)
One package 4 oz. instant Pistachio Pudding Mix
One cup chopped pecans
One cup miniature marshmallows

Mix all ingredients including juice from pineapple.  Chill before serving


Cornbread DressingSome may call this stuffing, but traditionally we call this "dressing" in Johnston County with more that 70% of the south....wish we knew why!   Most articles note that we don't stuff the turkey any more, but bake the dressing and serve it along side the bird.


8 inch round pan of cornbread or six standard size muffins/crumbled
7 slices oven-dried white bread, cubed or crumbled
1 sleeve Saltine crackers - crumbled
1/2 but butter (one stick) melted
2 cups chopped celery
1 large sweet onion, chopped
7-8 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon dried sage (optional)
1 tablespoon poultry seasoning
5 large eggs beaten

Tip:  Breads, crackers, cornbread can be made the day before and placed in storage bag.  Even dressing can be prepared the day before and wrapped well for cooking the day of Thanksgiving.

Preheat oven to 350 degree.

Butter a large 9 x 13 baking dish.  In a large skillet, melt butter and saute celery and onion until softened, about 5-10 minutes.  In a large mixing bowl, place breads, and pour celery and onions on top.  Add broth and combine well.  Stir in salt, pepper, sage and poultry seasoning.  Add beaten eggs and combine well.  At this point some judgement is needed, if too stiff and dry, add more chicken broth.

Pour into prepared baking dish and bake 45 minutes to one hour, until lightly browned.








Serves 10-12

Roasted TurkeyIngredients

Turkey, 12-14 pounds

Great debates on whether to dry rub, brine the turkey, or just butter/salt/pepper your bird.  For a very moist and favorable turkey, below are instructions on a brine for your next Turkey dinner.

Brine ingredients:

1 cup kosher salt
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon juniper berries
2 good sized springs fresh thyme
2 whole bay leaves
peel of one large naval orange
1 large apple chopped or crushed
2 quarts vegetable stock
1 gallon of ice water or more as needed to cover the turkey

Roasting Ingredients

2 stalks of celery with leaves roughly cut
2 large carrots just cleaned and roughly cut
1 medium onion, peeled and roughly cut
2 quarts chicken stock
1 bunch parsley with stems
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon kosher salt


To brine the Turkey

1.  The night before your dinner, place all brine ingredients listed except the ice water into a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil then simmer on low for two minutes.  Cool the brine to at least room temperature. 

2.  While the brine is cooling remove the neck and gizzards from the turkey and rise the turkey in cold water.  Save the neck and gizzards for your gravy.  Place the rinsed turkey on a clean cutting board breast side down and with a sharp knife or kitchen shears, remove the back bone (which can be used for gravy as well).  Removing the back bone will allow the turkey to cook evenly instead of the breast meat over-cooking while the legs and thighs take longer to be done. 

3.  In a large pot (big enough to hold your turkey submerged with brine) place the turkey, with neck and back, in the pot and cover with the brine and the gallon of water, making sure the turkey is completely submerged.  Add more water if needed.  Helpful hint:  If your turkey is very large and too big to fit into a pot to brine, line a cooler with a trash bag (unscented) and use that to hold the turkey.  Store in a cool place to store the cooler or if large enough of a cooler, another bag of ice kept in the cooler with ice remaining in the bag will keep the turkey overnight. Plan to brine overnight or 8-10 hours.

To Roast the Turkey

4.  The following day, about three hours before you want the turkey to be finished, remove the turkey from the brine and discard the brine, saving the neck and back for the gravy.

5.  Preheat the oven to 500 degrees and place the oven rack on the lowest section of the oven.

6.  Rinse the turkey and pat it dry.

7.  In a large roasting pan place the vegetables, chicken stock and parsley.  Then place a V-style rack with the point of the V facing up (which is the opposite of how you normally use it), over the vegetables and stock.

8.  Place the turkey over the rack so that is saddles the rack breast up.  Bend the wings tips under the breast and the the leg ends down into the rack so the turkey doesn't slide.  Brush the turkey with the melted butter and then sprinkle with the salt.

9.  Place in the pre-heated oven uncovered for 30 minutes to brown.  Then remove and lower the oven to 325 degrees.  Place a probe thermometer into the thick part of the breast and set the alarm for 160 degrees.  Tent the turkey with foil and place back into the oven.

10.  When the turkey reaches 160 degrees, remove from the oven and transfer turkey to a serving platter, savings the drippings and solids in a separate container for the gravy.  Because the backbone is gone, the turkey will be easy to pick up with long handled tongs.

11.  Allow the turkey to rest for 30 minutes.  While the turkey rests complete your gravy.




7-8 Small Sweet Potatoes
1 cup sugar
1 stick butter
1 small can evaporated milk
3 eggs
nutmeg (to taste!)
marshmallows or crunchy topping of (1/3 cup flour, 1/2 brown sugar, 1/2 stick soft, 1 cup chopped nuts)


Boil sweet potatoes and mash. Mix all ingredients except marshmallows and place in 9x13 inch dish. Bake one hour at 350. Add marshmallows and brown. This makes large family servings for Thanksgiving or Christmas! If using crunchy topping on the sweet potatoes top and bake for the full hour.





Pecan PieIngredients:

3 eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 stick butter, melted
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Beat eggs, then blend in all ingredients.

Pour into unbaked 9" deep pie shell.

Bake about 45 minutes or until crust is brown and filling is puffed and set.

Cool before enjoying.


Collards are a year-round favorite in Carolina Tobacco Country. Each season produces a different flavor and texture. They are not a boring vegetable for they do not always taste the same.

Summer collards are tougher and require more cooking time. Though they may be put in at the same time as the meat, and cooked just as long, the are still a bit crunchy when served.

On the other hand, winter collards are tender after they are kissed by frost and require only 30 minutes of cooking. They are naturally sweet and certain to appear on the table at Thanksgiving and Christmas along with baked sweet potatoes.


They withstand all but the very hardest freezes, and even the stalks where the winter collards were cut off sprout again in the spring giving yet a different flavor. They are tender and are served with sliced green onions and vinegar. Summer collards are good with fresh, hot green pepper chopped in them, sliced tomatoes, stew fried corn made from corn just out of the corn patch.

Collards are cooked very much like rutabagas and other vegetables but require more meat to season them and must not be crowded in the pot. Tender collards are put in the pot when the meat is almost done, while though ones are put in with meat.

There is just a bit of "know-how" required in cooking a good "mess" of collards. Some people like to add a little sugar to them while others do not. Corn dumplings are good with them no matter what the season. Even though dumplings may be cooked with the collards, fried corn bread usually accompanies the meal also.

2 lbs. collards1 to 2 lbs meat, (smoked or unsmoked) depending on the fatness
Salt to taste (may not require salt if your meat is very salty)
Water to cover collards well after they are wilted

Look collards well for vermin and bad spots to remove. Wash in several waters, if needed. Put summer collards in with the meat, accouding to their tenderness. Winter collards are put in after the meat tenders. Use your won judgement. Cook until done. Peeled potatoes and corn meal dumplings may be added abut 30 minutes before collards are done.

When done, take up potatoes and dumplings and lift collards out of pot liquor. Drain collards well and put in a bowl. Chop with hand chopper, or with a knife in each hand, cut through collards simultaneously until collards are chopped well. Drain again. Then, with a big spoon, scoop some of the fat off the top of the pot liquor and mix in with the collards.




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