UC Berkeley News


From their table to yours
Staff and faculty share favorite Thanksgiving dishes

14 November 2007

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Thanksgiving brings familiar fare, a menu of standards any American can name - turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie. Thankfully, every family puts its own stamp on the meal: Some faithfully recreate a dish that's been passed down the bloodline; others introduce new dishes into the mix, establishing traditions of their own. The Berkeleyan asked a number of people on campus to reminisce about their family's trademark Turkey Day dishes. Along with their memories, several participants shared their recipes - some of which, perhaps, will become staples on your Thanksgiving sideboard.

My husband is the primary cook in our household, and every year he makes an amazing warm cranberry sauce featuring dried cranberries, rosemary, honey, and I don't know what else (port, maybe?) that is a huge hit. I always insist on making "traditional" cranberry sauce (toss cranberries and sugar in some water and boil for 5 minutes) - often my only contribution to the meal - and every year we have almost an entire bowl of my stuff left over while "Michael's sauce" has been scraped clean.

-Michele Rabkin,
associate director, Consortium for the Arts

The recipes
After years, really decades, of the tooth-aching, candy-coated yam casseroles that were more dessert than side dish, my sister mercifully put our family out of its dental misery. She concocted a recipe that offers the color, texture, and tradition of sweet potatoes while tasting surprisingly more savory than sweet: carrot soufflé. The body of the dish is a light and airy carrot puree. The topping has the familiar crispy crunch of mom's too-sweet potatoes but now with just a hint of sweetness, along with the unexpected flavors of coconut, toasty walnuts, and crushed corn flakes (oops! there goes the family secret). It is so yummy that we also eat it at times other than Thanksgiving.

-Barbara Gross-Davis,
assistant vice provost, Undergraduate Education

Our mother's sourdough-based stuffing was always a focal point of our Thanksgiving dinner. It was called "Shirley Maclaine Stuffing" because it undergoes an "out-of-body experience" (it's made in a casserole, not stuffed into the turkey). As years went by, she let my husband do the turkey and my sister make the pies, but Mom was always responsible for the stuffing. Since Mom is gone, the stuffing torch is now passed to me, and I still make it her way every year. I have been unbending on this - no variations to the recipe, ever.

-Nancy Johnsen Horton,
director of annual giving, College of Chemistry

As you can imagine, with the last name Gobler, Thanksgiving is an interesting holiday for me. You cannot imagine the multitudes of people who say "gobble, gobble" to me during this season and act as if they just came up with the most hysterical joke of the century. As for special dishes, in the past I can remember a few years when, due to spousal family obligations, my siblings and I could not visit and celebrate with my parents until the day after Thanksgiving. So, believe it or not, we had fish on that Thursday - not turkey - and when asked, I said I was just working to protect the breed.

-Ellen Gobler, senior public events manager,
Graduate Division - Communications and Events

Lefse! The best way to describe it is as a Norwegian tortilla. It looks just like a flour tortilla, but bigger and made with potato flour. You spread butter and sugar on it, roll it up, and eat it as a side dish. My mom never made it, but some nice woman or other in our church always saw to it that we had enough on Thanksgiving and Christmas (Dad was the minister, after all). It was a huge treat when someone brought some over.

-Steve Tollefson, director, Office of Educational
Development; lecturer, College Writing Programs

Ever since we came to the U.S. from South Africa, 22 years ago, my dad prides himself on preparing the biggest turkey he can find with a South African Indian flair. He dry-rubs the bird in masala and other spices, and it is scrumptious!

-Melanie Abrahams Moonsamy,
academic adviser, Athletic Study Center

In the early to mid-1950s, we all used to gather at my maternal grandparents' house up in the northern Sacramento Valley for turkey and all the trimmings - except that I (in my usual determined way) insisted on having a bologna sandwich. I was probably 9 or 10 when I "discovered" how tasty the traditional foods were. While my grandfather insisted that Thanksgiving wasn't Thanksgiving without parsnips, everyone else in the family hated them - wouldn't touch them. Only Boppa and I appreciated them. Those days of big family gatherings are no more, alas, but to this day, wherever I celebrate Thanksgiving, I bring the parsnips.

-Kathryn Klar, lecturer, Celtic Studies

My mother has repeatedly overwhelmed guests with this recipe for her trademark pineapple ball. We've had grown men and women lying on the floor, begging for this recipe in near-tears:

2 8-oz. packages cream cheese
1 small can crushed pineapple, drained
1 tsp. Lawry's seasoned salt
¼ cup chopped green onions

Throw everything in the mixer; process until well-mixed. Form into a ball in plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, set ball out with Wheat Thins crackers. If desired, roll ball in toasted pinenuts or pecans before serving.

One taste, and it's all over....

-Jean Smith,
administrative analyst, Public Affairs

Twelve years ago I really got into soupmaking and started bringing soup to Thanksgiving, along with a fresh Caesar salad as a contrast to all the well-cooked veggies. The soup that stuck, and that everyone now expects every year, is "Leek and Pear" (made with white wine and tarragon). It's really different yet blends well with all the traditional dishes, and looks beautiful in a bowl on the plate as a starter. Their second favorite is pumpkin/carrot soup, served in a real pumpkin bowl. Both soups are from simple Fog City Diner recipes.

We also use this soup course as a time for each person to say what he is grateful for this year. Then everyone piles their plates with turkey and stuffing, gravy, etc. ... and digs in!

-Michelle Frey-Schutters,
design director, University Relations

My Aunt Millie - who turns 90 on St. Patrick's Day - is hands-down the best chef who ever lived. However, getting any recipes out of her is a challenge, because she does it all from memory. The thing that always amazed me was the speed at which she could lay out a spread. This came in handy on Thanksgiving, because back in the day, the Egg Bowl - the game between the Ole Miss Rebels and the Bulldogs from Mississippi State University - was played on Thanksgiving. Her husband played football for Ole Miss, and nothing would keep them from any game.

Aunt Millie used to call this pecan pie her forgotten pie, because she once accidentally left it in the oven for an hour and a half instead of an hour. This accident proved to be a good one, because it's the secret to the pie and what makes it the best pecan pie you'll ever have. It holds together very nicely . . . not the least bit runny.

-Esther Gulli, executive administrative officer,
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs

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