ImageMy favorite part about Thanksgiving is always the desserts. Pumpkin pie and pecan pie are my favorites, but squash pie is my personal specialty. But all the Thanksgiving pies are very much American specialties. You can't really find pie as popular anywhere else in the world. The first Americans, the pilgrims, who celebrated the holiday did not automatically think to make pies out of the land's native squashes and pumpkins. They were more apt to eat meat pies for a main dish and custards for dessert as was the tradition in Europe, but because of scarcity, they had to use the plentiful crops for something. Some bright individual combined pumpkins, pie, and custard and came up with the basics for the recipes we follow today. I sincerely thank that individual.

There's just something special about fall and winter squashes, their unique shapes and earthy flavors, that makes me want to cook and bake with them. Since I prefer the more mellow flavor of squash to pumpkin, I use acorn or butternut squash. Sometimes I steam or roast them for this recipe, but canned squash or pumpkin works perfectly well. Since it's synonymous with the holiday, it's the only time I use a can all year. This recipe is very quick and easy. The squash custard is whipped in one bowl. A machine isn't even required. So, do not buy a pumpkin pie from the bakery or frozen section of the grocery store. And whatever you do, don't buy frozen pie crust either. This pie with its cornmeal crust is much more unique than anything available in stores. Serve with a dollop of fresh whipped cream and your guests will be delightedly pleased with Thanksgiving dessert.

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jello_biography.jpgHere's the deal about Thanksgiving dinner at our house: it's the same every year, except for one thing.   Every year one thing changes.  

Sometimes we try something new and it stays forever, like the apricot jello mold that's been a guilty pleasure of our Thanksgiving dinner for at least fourteen years.  

Sometimes it's something that makes the cut for several years - like sweet potatoes with pecan praline - and then, for no real reason, falls off the menu never to be spoken of again.

And sometimes it's a mistake, like the pearl onions in balsamic vinegar, which turned out to be a dish that was far too full of itself. 

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pumpkinbread.jpgOur family will pause during Thanksgiving dinner and each of us will take a moment to mention what we're most thankful for in the past year.  Other than that, I have to confess our holiday is all about food. 

The eating begins the moment I arrive at my sister's house.  I put down my suitcase and head for the kitchen where a loaf of fresh pumpkin bread is waiting.  I'll eat my first slice of many before I even take off my coat.   

We have turkey of course, but pumpkin bread is the official food for the week of our family's Thanksgiving.  I've already done the math – and I'm worried whether the 14 loaves Carla already made will be enough for the 14 people in the family  before fights break out over the crumbs. 

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blmisc38.jpgThanksgiving in our house wasn't Thanksgiving without a stupid amount of chestnuts that needed to be roasted and peeled for stuffing. It was actually fun in a punishing sort of way. We were the house that hosted all the Thanksgiving orphans and to be able to eat on Thanksgiving you had to come over the night before and help roast and peel. Much hilarity ensued as everyone became convinced that their technique was the one way to peel the difficult buggers.

By the time the actual meal came around I was so full from tasting stuffing and eating the crumbled chestnuts that facing that groaning table made me want to groan.  So I had my own meal I created from the bigger meal around me.

Before we sat down to eat, while the adults were having a drink and cheese,  I became obsessed with my aunt's bowlfuls of Spanish peanuts, raisins and chocolate chips that were set throughout the living room.  Forget gorp or trail mix or even Chex mix. That combo was like eating the best cookie ever without the dough.

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stuffingNo matter what you say, my mother made the best Thanksgiving. It was not at noon or at four; we ate at dinner time when it was dark. Stuffing was my favorite part and still is unless you make creamed onions. When it's my assignment I use this recipe. One reason it doesn't taste quite like hers is that I don't have old bread. She calls it turkey stuffing but that can't be right because she never made turkey, only capon. My father did not eat turkey and nobody knew from brine.

Esther Kaufman's Long Island Simple Stuffing: 8 cups stale white bread cubed, no crusts; 1 cup minced onion, 1 tablespoon salt, ½ cup butter, 1 cup diced celery with leaves; parsley, sage, thyme and pepper. Dry out the bread at 325°F but don't let it brown. Cook the onion in butter, add the seasonings. Add the celery, cook 3-5 minutes. Pour over the bread, mixing well, and stuff the bird. It was perfectly okay to stuff . . . then (after seat belts and before helmets were fitted at birth).

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