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The principals of Thanksgiving — Area principals share memories and recipes

Scott Merrell, Bogue Chitto Attendance Center

When The Daily Leader asked me to send them a favorite recipe and story from Thanksgivings past, I began to ponder through the 49 years of turkey days and bowl games that I’ve gorged my way through. I thought of peach cobblers, chocolate pies, pecan pies, sweet potato pies, fresh out-of-the-oven dressing and several other warm, fuzzy thoughts of my favorite foods at Thanksgiving. I was prepared to send in one of those guarded recipes when I chose to be brave.

Let me explain.

I was going to answer the newspaper’s request with my second favorite food at Thanksgiving, not my all-time favorite. Why? Because the fear of ridicule from my staff and community would be too much to bear.

But this food item, which is the source of my greatest Thanksgiving food memory, is often regarded by the culinary elite as not worthy to be in one’s cabinet, much less on a Thanksgiving table. An item so far removed from 4-star cuisine that the name dare not be uttered, much less considered, when preparing the feast. I was not prepared to defend myself against such embarrassment.

My mind was changed when speaking to my wife about this — she is the litmus test on many things I try out on those around me. If she’s not embarrassed for me to say it, then I’ll say it to the world without fear. She was only slightly embarrassed — my cue to let it rip.

So, without reservation for impending harassment or mockery, I proudly state that canned Jellied Cranberry Sauce is my favorite food memory of Thanksgiving. And we’re not talking about the fancy stuff like Ocean Spray or name brand sauce — oh no, we’ll have none of that. I’m talking about the 37-cent can of some generic brand of jellied sauce that you’ve never heard of before — those are always the best. The kind of sauce in a CAN that is purple, has a homogenous consistency and you SLICE to serve.

This stuff can turn the driest, most inedible dressing that your grandmother made into a juicy, sweet piece of culinary art. In fact, the worse the dressing is, the better it tastes with the jellied sauce — just like Thanksgiving magic. I’m not even sure that it contains real cranberry — but who cares when it’s so delicious, right?

So, here’s the recipe:

Buy one can of cheap, generic Jellied Cranberry Sauce. Open. Remove the entire contents onto a plate. Slice.

Place on any inedible piece of grandma’s cooking. Magic.


David Martin, Brookhaven High School

Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday since it brings family together. I love that at Thanksgiving the emphasis is on visiting and spending time with each other. Every year my son Eli and I cook the turkey for everyone. While the kitchen is bustling with several different dishes and projects we are all visiting and enjoying each other’s company.

Cajun Turkey

It is a great time to reconnect and share stories and memories.

Cajun Turkey, cooked in an oilless turkey fryer.

Open turkey and remove any interior bags or parts. Wash bird off in sink. Inject turkey with cajun butter creole injection — the more the better.

Wipe down exterior skin w/ cooking oil.

Coat exterior skin w/ poultry seasoning and second seasoning of your choice.

Put turkey in oilless turkey fryer for 45 minutes then flip and place back in cooker for another 45 minutes.


John Shows, West Lincoln Attendance Center

My mother and grandmother made this cake almost every Thanksgiving and Christmas. I always enjoyed getting a slice, because it reminded me of family, friends and the holidays. Even today, one bite of the cake brings back memories of childhood family gatherings that featured laughter and love.

Banana Split Cake

1 box of graham crackers

1 stick of butter

2 bananas

1 pint of strawberries

1 8-ounce can of crushed pineapples

1 12-ounce tub of cool whip

2 8-ounce packages of cream cheese

2 cups of powdered sugar

8-12 cherries

Crush enough graham crackers to cover the bottom of a 3-quart baking dish. Melt the stick of butter and pour over the crushed graham crackers pressing the crust firmly to create the bottom layer. Slice 2 bananas and place on top of the graham crackers. Pour the crushed pineapples on top of the bananas. Slice the strawberries and place them on top of the crushed pineapples. In a bowl mix the powdered sugar and cream cheese. Spread the mixture on top of the strawberries. Spread the whip cream on top. Place 8-12 sliced cherries on top of the whip cream. Chill in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours before serving.


Shelley Riley, Brookhaven Elementary

My favorite Thanksgiving recipe as a child was Pear Salad. It is a simple recipe. Ingredients are canned pear halves, mayonnaise and shredded cheese. Directions: Add a scoop of mayonnaise, and sprinkle shredded cheese on top of each pear half. The reason this was my favorite is because I hate mayonnaise and mother always made one special for me without mayo!


Page Nelson, Brookhaven Academy Elementary

As a little girl, my fondest recipe makes cornbread dressing with congealed cranberry sauce. I remember crumbling the cornbread with my granny and watching her take hours to cut up onions and bell peppers!!!! She had many dishes being prepared at the same time, but the queen of the spread was the dressing!

Granny’s Cornbread Dressing

On Thanksgiving morning, I would be overly excited about being with family and playing until I couldn’t stand. My cousins were the best friends I could ever want, and our rough play made our tummies growl with hunger. When it came time to eat, our hands were washed and plates were prepared. With so many wonderful things to choose from, I would make sure I had dressing. The congealed cranberry sauce made my face smile, and I would eat it by the spoonful! This is the one time of the year that my mouth was exposed to the tart condiment. I still love my granny’s dressing with congealed cranberry sauce; along with my mama’s pineapple and clove ham! I thank God for blessing me with such great women to cook for me as a little girl, and the happy memories I share when I think about them.

1 pone of cornbread

1 pack of crackers

1 whole onion

1 whole bell pepper

3 stalks of celery

9 boiled eggs

6 raw eggs

3 cups turkey stock

Crumble the cornbread and crackers, dice the onion, pepper, celery, and boiled eggs. Mix together, with Granny’s hands, the raw eggs, and turkey stock, and salt and pepper to taste. Put into a baking dish and cook on 400 degrees until the edges are brown. The secret ingredient is love through every step!


Debra Henderson, Mississippi School of the Arts

I’m not a big cook and I don’t have any favorite recipes to share. The only favorite Thanksgiving food memory I have is of my grandmother’s, Rosie Lee Hunter, coconut cake.

She passed away in 2005. I don’t have the recipe for the cake, as she never shared it with us. I just knew that it was the finest, fluffiest coconut cake ever made and it was made with lots of love. She would only cook it three times a year: August (revival time at church), November (Thanksgiving) and December (Christmas).


Terry Brister, Enterprise Attendance Center

Of this Arkansas green beans recipe, Brister says, “The sauce is good enough to drink.”

Use five 15-ounce cans of green beans, drained. Seven slices of bacon. 2/3 cup brown sugar. 1/4 cup butter, melted. Seven teaspoons garlic powder. Add all ingredients to a 9×13 inch pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Arkansas Green Beans

Cook bacon in a microwave for two minutes until slightly cooked. Lay the bacon on top of the green beans.

Combine brown sugar, melted butter, soy sauce and garlic powder in a small bowl. Pour the mixture over the green beans and bacon. Bake uncovered for 40 minutes.


Rita Robinson, Lipsey Middle School

As a child, I loved helping my mother and grandmother make this cake during the holidays. It was labor intensive and I was in charge of grating the carrots, grinding whole nutmeg and cinnamon sticks, and chopping the nuts. I can still remember the smells of the kitchen and the fun we had, especially when it was time to lick the spoon.

Old Fashioned Carrot Cake

2 cups flour

4 eggs, at room temperature

1 cup canola oil

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup white sugar

3 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1/4 tsp. ginger

1/8 tsp. cloves

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

2 cups freshly grated carrots

1 cup pineapple crushed, lightly drained

1/2 cup golden raisins


1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

2 (8 oz.) containers cream cheese, softened

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

4 Tbsp. heavy whipping cream

3 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar

1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped and lightly toasted

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Prepare (2) 9 inch cake pans by greasing and flouring them.
  3. In your mixer, combine the sugars, eggs and oil well.
  4. Sift the flour, spices, baking powder, soda and salt.
  5. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.
  6. Stir in the carrots, pineapple and raisins.
  7. Pour the batter evenly into the 2 pans.
  8. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted into the cakes comes out clean.
  9. Cool the cakes for 15 minutes and then remove them from the cake pans and place on a wire rack to finish cooling.
  10. Cool completely before frosting.
  11. For the frosting:
  12. In your mixer, whip together all ingredients except the heavy cream and confectioner’s sugar.
  13. When combined, slowly add the sugar a little at a time on low-or you will have a mess.
  14. Slowly add the heavy cream.
  15. When all sugar and heavy cream is incorporated, whip everything together well until it is a creamy frosting like texture.
  16. Frost the first cake with a generous amount left on top (which will be the middle frosting in the cake), layer with the other cake and frost even and smooth with a spatula.
  17. To toast nuts- place the nuts in a small saucepan on low and stir around for about 5 minutes.
  18. Cool completely before placing them on the top of the cake.
  19. Cover and chill cake until ready to serve.


Robin Case, Loyd Star Attendance Center

It would not be Thanksgiving without the scent of my mother-in-law’s homemade dressing wafting through the house. When my husband and I met, almost four decades ago, this rapidly became one of my favorite things she cooked. In the early days my failed attempts at duplicating her dressing left me with a husband who told me just let his mom make it.

Mamaw Rita’s Dressing

Once his mom was going through her freezer and found some dressing. She brought it to our house and told me to add some chicken broth and it would taste great once it was heated up. That night my husband had dressing for supper. When I asked him how it tasted, he responded, “It is close, but not as good as Mama makes.”

Fortunately, now he thinks mine is just as good as what his mom made!

Cornbread :

3 eggs

2 cups buttermilk

2 cups cornmeal mix

1 Tbsp. sugar

2 sticks melted butter (not margarine)

MAKE A DAY AHEAD. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place greased cast iron skillet in oven to heat. Mix ingredients in a large bowl. Pour batter into preheated skillet and for 40 -45 minutes until done.

Tear cornbread into pieces on a tray. Tear 5 slices of bread and add to cornbread. Allow to “dry out” overnight, turning over a few times for maximum drying.

Pre- Dressing:

1 small onion, minced fine

2 ribs of celery, minced fine

2 cups of chicken broth

¼ to ½ tsp. poultry seasoning

MAKE A DAY AHEAD. After preparing vegetables, place in a sauce pan with chicken broth and poultry seasoning. Cook over low heat until vegetables are tender and translucent. Store in a covered container in the fridge.

Dressing Day:

Stale Cornbread & Bread

½ lb. of pork patty sausage, raw

Vegetables and broth

5 raw eggs

Chicken broth

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a large baking dish with cooking spray. Mix bread, sausage, vegetables & broth and eggs in a large mixing bowl. Work the sausage thru the mixture with your hands. It adds great flavor and helps prevent dressing from being too dry. Add more chicken broth as needed to keep the mixture from being too dry. Bake until lightly browned, approximately 50 – 60 minutes.

This dressing freezes well and can be divided into smaller portion for that purpose.


Danny Rushing, Mamie Martin Elementary

Mama Helen’s cornbread dressing was a must at my family’s Thanksgiving dinner table when I was growing up. Even though my grandmother Helen Robinson Rushing passed away in 2008, her recipe has continued to bless our family during the holidays.

Mama Helen’s Cornbread Dressing

Prepare the cornbread the day before.

Cornbread Ingredients:

8-inch cast iron skillet

3/4 cup of self-rising yellow corn meal

1/4 cup of all-purpose flour

1 egg

1 cup of milk

1 tablespoon cooking Crisco shortening

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease the skillet with Crisco. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Pour batter into the skillet and bake for 20-25 minutes. Once baking is completed, let the bread sit out and stale before using for the dressing.

Dressing Ingredients:

Day old cornbread, crumbled

2 cups turkey stock (Mama Helen always used the drippings from the roasted turkey to make her own stock)

1/2 cup sliced green onions

1 cup diced onions

1 cup diced celery

4 tablespoons butter

2 diced boiled eggs

1/2 cup pulled turkey meat

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Crumble the cornbread into a large casserole dish. Mix the onions and celery along with the turkey stock in a sauce pan over medium heat until softened. Add this mixture along with the green onions, salt, and pepper to the cornbread. Stir together adding more stock if needed. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, stir and add more stock if needed. Return to the oven and bake for an additional 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately add the butter, egg, and pulled turkey. Bake for 5 minutes. Serve and enjoy!