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November 2008

Part 8 - Amazing X-Rated Bread

Anna's Challah

This last one's not local at all, but it brings a lot to the table. It's a big, fluffy, gorgeous braided loaf that makes a nice centerpiece if you're not doing the turkey thing. And it's elicited some pretty high praise; some have described the satisfaction they feel upon eating it in shockingly sensual terms. Plus it's got a strangely redemptive quality to it. The pecan pie can turn out runny, the cranberries unloved, the green beans scorched... but if you serve the bread, everyone will think it was a wonderful meal. Really, it's amazing. It's also technically Challah, the Jewish bread served at the Sabbath table and at other celebratory meals. 

Challah - 2 large braided loaves

For the braids:

2 tbsp. active dry yeast (I use fast-acting, only one rise)
4 tsp. sea salt
3/4 cup honey
1 3/4 cups very warm tap water
2 cups unbleached white flour (more to come)
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
3 large egggs
5-6 cups more unbleached white flour

For the Glaze:

1 egg
poppy seeds

Measure the yeast,salt, honey, and very warm tap water into the bowl and stir. Mix in the first 2 cups of flour (all egg breads take part of the flour early to give the eggs something to hold onto.) Mix in the oil and 3 large eggs.

Add four more cups of flour gradually. As soon as working with the spoon or whisk becomes heavy going, clean it into the bowl and switch to mixing the flour in with your bare hands. (You've begun kneading right in the bowl.) This dough is easy to knead because it is soft and yielding.

Dump the dough onto a floured board (or counter top) and knead in some of the remaining flour. Don't force in every last bit of flour that you can. The exact amount of flour you will use will vary depending on the moisture in the air. If it's still sticky after 8 cups of flour, go ahead and add a little more. If you've reached a cohesive ball after only 6 1/2 cups, stop! Baking is an inexact science. Knead for 10-15 minutes.

Divide dough in two, then divide each half into three pieces. Roll the pieces into strands and braid. Place on greased baking sheet and let rise in warm place til double in bulk - for 1/2 hour (if very warm) to a couple of hours (if it's cool). I usually place my loaves in an oven that's been warmed at the lowest temperature, then turned off. It takes 30-45 minutes.

After it's risen, preheat the oven to 350. Beat an egg til fairly smooth and brush on loaves gently so they won't fall. Sprinkle with poppy seeds. When oven reaches 350, bake on middle rack for 30-45 minutes, checking bottom to see that it is browned.

Enjoy! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Part 7 - Famous Silver Springs Pecan Pie

Silver Springs 3

This recipe was handed down to my mother from my grandmother, and I think I have eaten it at least once a year my entire life. By no means healthy, it is purely delicious. And it is made with a local ingredient - maybe two (pecans, and eggs) - which qualifies it as far as I'm concerned. 

Silver Springs Pecan Pie

1 cup white sugar
1 cup light corn syrup (my grandmother writes "Karo")
1 cup chopped pecans
3 eggs, well beaten
1/2 stick butter, softened
1/4 (scant) tsp. salt

Cream butter and sugar well. Add salt and well beaten eggs, syrup and chopped nut meats. Mix well. Bake in raw, 9"pie crust at 300 for 1 hour.

Traditional Pie Crust (it makes a difference)

1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp. butter or shortening, softened
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt
4-5 tablespoons ice water

Cut shortening into flour and salt until particles are  pea-size (nothing does this better than an old fashioned pastry cutter). Sprinkle with ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing with fork until pastry leaves sides of bowl. Form into a ball, then roll out to fit pie pan.

This pie is saturated in tradition (as well as fat). Not only is it from my Nanny, the recipe originated about 30 miles south of here at the once snazzy Silver Springs Restaurant. I have some wonderful home movies taken by my grandfather at the Springs when the two were younger than me.  They drove their little motorboat right up to the shore and they are frolicking in their 50s bathing suits with some friends. They are just beautiful. Make this pie, make some memories, and call your grandparents if you still can.

Part 6 - Green Bean Stir-Fry

Oh my. We have had such cold weather for November, I haven't seen a lot of local green beans - a Thanksgiving mainstay at our house.  If you're a little south of here and haven't had a frost yet, here's a very simple and tasty way to cook them.  It should be the last dish you prepare, right before serving. Everyone loves this:

3-4 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 1/2 pounds green beans, ends trimmed
4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
salt and pepper to taste

In a large wok or skillet, heat the oil on medium-high. Add green beans and cook, stirring frequently, for two minutes or so.  Add garlic and continue to stir-fry for 4 or 5 minutes till green beans are tender and slightly shriveled. Serve immediately.

Eight servings.

Part 5 - Autumn Salad

It's hard to come across salad greens here in the heat of the summer, when you want them most. The upside is that we have a relatively long lettuce harvest - from October through June. This morning I picked up some lovely bags of "spicy mix" at the farmers market to replenish the many bags we ate and served last week. I'm looking forward to serving them at our Thanksgiving feast. It's the perfect foil for some of the sweeter things on your plate. All of the vegetables (and the fruit) can be purchased locally this time of year.  Honey too.

Autumn Salad


1/2 lb. spicy mix salad greens
3 peeled and sliced persimmons (or apples if they're available)
2 cups thinly sliced fennel bulb
Small sweet onion, sliced
3/4 cup pecans, sliced
3/4 cup local goat cheese (or sliced boiled eggs)

Honey Mustard Dressing

3 tablespoons local honey
1 1/2 tablespoons dijon mustard
6 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and ground black pepper to taste

Mix salad ingredients except for persimmons, shake dressing and pour over salad, then decorate with artfully placed persimmons.

Eight Servings.




Part 4 - Cranberries?

Local goodness

Are cranberries really necessary?  Some say yes. At my very southern family Thanksgiving feasts I don't remember ever not having cranberries. From a can, sliced and artfully arranged on a platter.  I'd like to wean you from cranberries, even though I love them. Here are a couple recipes with them - and one lovely, traditional Southern fruit substitute.

Whole Cranberry Sauce - the Real Deal

Seriously, you can make this stuff!  It's much better than canned, and it has the addition of one local ingredient: the pecan. Make it the night before to give it a chance to cool and you one less thing to do on Thanksgiving morn. 

One pound bag of fresh cranberries
One bottle maple syrup
One cup chopped pecans

Wash cranberries and place in large pot, cover with maple syrup.  Bring to a boil, stirring regularly. Cranberries will begin to pop open. You can help the process along by crushing some with the spoon. Add chopped pecans and put in lovely dish. Refrigerate till ready to serve.

Cranberry Orange Relish

This traditional recipe introduces our most famous regional fruit, and it's uncooked. Another step out of the Cranberry Kingdom.

One pound bag of cranberries
Three oranges, unpeeled, without seeds
Sugar to taste

You have to use a food processor (or Champion Juicer) for this one. Process cranberries and oranges (peel and all). Add sugar - et voila!

The Realest Deal - Southern Ambrosia aka Fruit Salad

Now we're talking. This is THE fruit concoction for the holidays. I remember as a little girl the delicious smell of a pile of peeled oranges and seeing my dad (who wasn't much for food preparation) stationed at the table, bent over a large pot, carefully removing the white orange pith with his pocket knife. Ambrosia was his job. He did it very well.

Juicy naval oranges (or any sweet orange), peeled, seeds removed, cut into spoon-sized chunks
A few bananas, sliced and a little flaked coconut (not local, but very traditional)
As many chopped pecans as possible
Chopped apples, esp. if you are from the part of the upper south that can grow them well

If it seems like it needs it, add a little orange juice (from extra oranges). Serve in a pretty bowl. It's not quite as tangy as cranberry sauce, but it's awfully good.

You can find local (or at least regional) oranges at the farmers markets and Ward's right now. 'Tis the season for pecans too. Save money and buy them in the shell; invite friends and family to contribute to the meal by cracking and picking. While maple syrup definitely comes from afar, organic, dehydrated cane syrup (sugar) can be purchased at Ward's or a health food store.

Eight servings.











Part 3: Modestly-Breasted Turkey and Other Main Dishes

Someone wrote to me this week and asked if I knew where to find locally-raised turkeys; she was specific about what she was looking for: "...heritage turkeys, and not those terrifyingly big-breasted supermarket ones." Our family doesn't eat meat for a number of reasons, one of which is the scarcity of humanely raised, justly-processed local meat. But if we did, I would buy it from someplace like this, although they're apparently sold out of turkeys for this season.

As a family, we've traditionally eaten an alternative, yet still festive, main-dish for Thanksgiving. For the most part this has been well-received by the kids (except Ben who, once after a week of drawing turkeys, reading about turkeys, and singing songs about turkeys at his elementary school, announced: "I'm just going to get myself a gun and go kill myself a turkey so we can have a HAM for Thanksgiving!") 

For years, I stuffed acorn squash with my family's recipe for southern-style cornbread recipe. I think all of us (most anyway) craved the stuffing more than the turkey, and it was fairly simple:

Thanksgiving Stuffed Acorn Squash

Use your family’s traditional stuffing/dressing. For southerners, that would be cornbread dressing.


½ acorn squash per person
Your favorite family recipe for stuffing

Cut acorn squash in half and dig out the seeds. Do not peel. Place on jelly roll pans or other large pans. Pour about ½ - 1” water around squash. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes – one hour, until squash are soft.

Meanwhile, prepare stuffing. When squash are soft, place a rounded scoop of stuffing into hollowed-out center. Put back into oven a few minutes before serving to brown the stuffing. Leftover stuffing can be served as “dressing” if you bake it in a casserole for 15-20 minutes at 350.

A few years ago, though, I started serving roasted autumn veggies on polenta. It has the same "festive flair" as the individual stuffed squash I think. It is delicious and beautiful, and I plan to serve it again this year.

Roasted Autumn Vegetables on Polenta (serves 6)

Marinade for veggies:

1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar or fresh lemon juice
5 garlic cloves
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 -2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary or sage


1 large onion, peeled and thickly sliced
medium carrots, cut lengthwise into halves, the crosswise into 2-inch pieces
2 sweet potatoes, cut into generous bite-size chunks or wedges
3 medium zucchini or yellow squash, cut into two-inch pieces
2 red and/or yellow bell peppers, cut into two-inch squares
6-8 fresh plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise

Preheat oven to 450. Lightly oil two large baking pans

In a bowl, mix together all of the marinade ingredients. Toss onions and carrots with marinade, place on one of the baking pans and roast for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile prepare the rest of the vegetable for roasting. Toss with marinade.

When the onions and carrots have roasted for 30 minutes, stir them and lower the oven temp to 400. Place the newly prepared veggies on the second large pan. If there isn’t enough room, push the onions and carrots to one end of their pan and add the remaining new vegetables to the hot pan.

Roast all the vegetables for 15 minutes, stir well, and continue to roast for another 10 – 15 minutes, until tender and slightly carmelized. Add salt to taste.

While vegetables are roasting, prepare and cook the polenta.


6 cups water
1 tsp. salt
2 cups cornmeal
4 tablespoons butter
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup grated sharp cheese (optional)

Bring water to a boil in saucepan. Add cornmeal in a thin, steady stream while whisking briskly. Stir in butter and crushed red pepper. Simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring often till thickened. Remove from heat, stir in cheese, and place in large fancy bowl. Top with roasted veggies (or surround polenta with them if your platter is large enough).

Eight servings.

Bon Apetit! If you know of a local source for modestly-breasted turkeys, let us know!

Part 2 - Greens

CollardsAnother reason it's great to be a Southerner! Southern greens - collards, turnip, mustard - love the mild cold weather we have here. Ours are doing fine even after it dipped into the 20s last night. In fact, most growers think a little frost improves their flavor. Greens are ideal for family gatherings since they're a tad labor intensive if you buy them whole from the farmer.  Today at our community center garden, the kids were taking note of both how their collards have grown and how their mamas and grandmas prepare them: Wash, cut out the spine, roll 'em up and cut 'em up and put 'em in a pot with a chicken neck (or ham bone or bacon grease). Because the greens cook down quite a bit, the volume for a family feast can be a little overwhelming; so put the family to work, and start a new generation of happy people who remember how their mamas (and daddies) cooked greens.  

Besides the good old way of cooking greens above, there's the new, slightly more nutritious way of cooking them more quickly and with less meat fat.  Both are delicious.  You've got to serve greens for a true southern Thanksgiving.

Part 1 - Sweet Potatoes

Volunteer sweet potato

'Tis the season for celebrating with food!  Shorter days draw us in earlier, family time brings us together around the table, traditions remind us where we came from. Depending on your family and the depth of their attachment to your particular traditions, you may have the menu set in stone already for the upcoming holidays. But if you haven't yet, I've got some ideas for you. Over the next nine days leading up to Thanksgiving, I want to share with you some tasty recipes from the past and present that dress up the delicious harvest available here in our region of the country. See the sidebar for location and operating times of our wonderful local farmers markets, or check out the Local Harvest website for a source for local food near you. If you get a chance, you might stop and give thanks to the folks who feed us so well from their family farms.


Where to begin? I've written before about the virtues of these humble tubers which will grow like crazy here in North Central Florida without even planting them. Just drop a piece of sweet potato in or near fertile soil and you will have the lovely vine (related to a morning glory) springing up each spring and the goodness of its subterranean tubers all summer and fall.  And they are, by the way, not yams - regardless of color (some people call the orange fleshed ones sweet potatoes, and the pinker fleshed ones yams) For that matter, the canned "candied yams" found on grocery store shelves and your grandmother's table are actually sweet potatoes too. The true yam has brown to black bark-like skin, and can grow up to seven feet long. Now there's a Thanksgiving feast for you. Unless you bought it in a Caribbean food market, chances are what you've got on hand is a sweet potato.

I thought I didn't like them when I was a child. One side of my family's recipe of choice - served only at Thanksgiving and Christmas - involved opening a can of "candied yams" into a casserole dish, covering it with marshmallows and baking till the potatoes were hot and the marshmallows were melted and brown. I did like the marshmallows.  The other side of the family uses an older southern recipe that, according to most of them, is to die for - and could literally kill you it is so full of fat and sugar. Everyone in my family LOVES this - except me. I do appreciate its use of fresh sweet potatoes and our local nut, the pecan, though.  The recipe below for the stout of heart (literally) traditionalist among you. Indulge at your own risk.

Me, I like savory sweet potatoes, preferably cut in wedges, roasted in olive oil on a baking sheet at 450 and served with aioli.  For something a little fancier, I like this recipe for warm sweet potato salad a lot.  Served on a bed of local lettuce leaves, it  is quite festive. And delicious.

Sweet Potato Salad - 8 servings

  • 8 large sweet potatoes, cut into 1/4 inch cubes.
  • 1/3 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/3 cup Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 1 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 cup diced celery (optional)
  • 2 cups diced red or green bell pepper
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 4 scallions thinly sliced or a bunch of garlic chives, cut
  • Salad greens
  • ½ cup ricotta cheese


Steam sweet  potato cubes for 6-8 minutes until just tender. Take care not to overcook them. While the potatoes steam, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, and honey in small bowl. Slowly add oil in thin stream, whisking till dressing emulsifies. Place diced celery and red pepper in serving bowl. Add steamed potatoes and dressing. Stir gently, add salt and pepper to taste, set aside for a few minutes. When the salad has cooled a little, toss with parsley and scallions (or chives).  Serve on salad greens, topped with dollop of ricotta if you like.

Great Aunt Foy Mae's Sweet Potato Casserole

  • 3 cups mashed sweet potatoes
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • ½ stick butter
  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ tsp. vanilla



  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup white flour
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • ½ cup butter


Combine first seven ingredients in large casserole dish. Combine topping ingredients and put on top of casserole. Bake for 35 minutes at 350 degrees.


8 Servings.


Inspiration: "One of the powerful things about the food issue is that people feel empowered by it. There are so many areas of our life where we feel powerless to change things, but your eating issues are really primal. You decide every day what you're going to put in your body -- and what you refuse to put in your body. That's politics at its most basic." - Michael Pollan