Despite having hundreds—maybe thousands—of cookbooks—including a entire bookcase full of Christmas cookbooks—I don’t have a lot of Thanksgiving cookbooks.

Years ago, I gave up making a Thanksgiving dinner—because my then-husband never appreciated the nine or ten hours spent making a huge Thanksgiving dinner. He never complimented anything. If anything, he would say that the potatoes needed more salt. Well, then we became friends with Les and Neva. Les was a Hungarian refugee; he and other refugees escaped from Hungary during the Hungarian revolution. There were a group of Hungarian men who had married American women. Les was one of them, who married Neva.

Neva’s family all participated in a sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner, which was held at Neva’s parents’ home. Neva was from a large family and everyone participated—there would be, in addition to turkey, ham and roast pork. There would be many pies and cakes. You name it—it was spread out on the tables that were set up in their family room which led out to a lavish backyard filled with plants and trees. It became my job to make a lot of biscuits so I would make maybe 75 or 80 biscuits.

Those Thanksgiving dinners disappeared when Neva, then Les, passed away, as well as various members of Neva’s large family.

In 1986, I met Bob—and we began spending Thanksgiving holidays going up the coast, sometimes staying in San Luis Obispo, twice going to Hearst Castle , but exploring other areas too. Once we went to the well-known Madonna Inn for a Thanksgiving dinner that was sadly disappointing. When we discovered a   motel twelve miles south of San Luis Obispo in Pismo Beach, we also discovered their motel suite with a kitchen-ette. We spent a Thanksgiving there, with my sister and her husband and children. For Thanksgiving DAY my brother in law cooked hamburgers on a grill in the motel area. The next day I cooked a small turkey in a turkey roaster. We had instant potatoes and some instant made gravy, and some crescent rolls, canned cranberries and some canned vegetables such as corn. It was a fantastic dinner that we all remember fondly. The next day, I made turkey rice soup in the roaster and let it cook while we all went exploring in San Luis Obispo. It was drizzling and we walked around in the rain. We had the soup for dinner that night –and my sister and I filled gallon jars we had brought along with us with leftover soup. Until Bob’s health gave away, we almost always took off up the coast for Thanksgiving weekend.

In more recent years, I have participated in my daughter in law’s turkey dinners. I began making a turkey gravy recipe found on Epicurious in 2006 – Bob and I were invited to my friend Tina’s parent’s home for that Thanksgiving day dinner. Tina is from a large family and everybody participates in making the meal and then cleaning up afterwards. (it was reminiscent of Neva’s family dinners). I took the gravy in a crockpot to keep hot and had the rest in large jars—there was nothing left afterwards!

I have been making that Epicurious turkey gravy recipe ever since.

In my cookbook collection I found two Thanksgiving cookbooks – one is an All recipes “tried & true Thanksiving & Christmas top 200 recipes” ( is the very first cooking/recipe website I ever found). This cookbook was published in 2002. I also have Williams Sonoma Kitchen Library Chuck Williams’ Thanksgiving & Christmas originally published in 1993 and reprinted few times. I may have felt shortchanged not to have more Thanksgiving cookbooks – and is there one that doesn’t have Christmas tacked on with it?

I also have four turkey cookbooks—I have reviewed and written about THE TURKEY COOKBOOK by Rick Rodgers, posted on my blog, August, 2013, and WILD ABOUT TURKEY, a book published by the National Wild Turkey Federation, which I wrote about—and posted on my blog—in July, 2013. A greater search of my book shelves unearthed CHEF WOLFE’S NEW AMERICAN TURKEY COOKBOOK, a softcover cookbook published in 1984, and THE YEAR-ROUND TURKEY COOKBOOK, by Barbara Gibbons, also a soft cover cookbook published in 1980. But cookbooks about turkey – in a generic sense of the word – aren’t cookbooks about thanksgiving turkey.

A few years ago I realized that my women’s magazines were filled with Thanksgiving recipes every November – and I had stacks of magazines, some going back three or four years – to go through. I had a blank recipe book (actually, I have about half a dozen of those blank recipe books that I have filled out…two just with cookie recipes.

Anyway, I began going through my magazines and cutting out all the recipes for roasting turkeys, various types of stuffings and many different side dishes. My home-made Thanksgiving cookbook contains recipes for

Roast Turkey with Port Gravy

Roast Turkey with Sherry Butter

Rosemary Roasted Turkey

Orange Ginger Glazed Turkey

BBQ Glazed Turkey A La Orange

Sage Roast Turkey with Artichoke Stuffing

Roast Turkey with Spicy Chorizo Stuffing

Honey and Spice Glaze Turkey

Roast Turkey with Cranberry Fruit Dressing (oh, yum!)

Roast Turkey with Pomegranate Gravy

Traditional Roast Turkey

And The Simplest Roast Turkey

–plus many more, not to mention a lot of stuffing recipes, lots of sides and plenty of recipes for using up leftovers the day after Thanksgiving. I love my homemade Thanksgiving cookbook and never get tired of going through it looking for something new or unusual. Those blank recipe books turn up in various places – I know that one of mine came from Gooseberry Patch.

Actually, another one of the Gooseberry Patch cookbooks is a work in progress—I am collecting pumpkin recipes for that one. Another of my Gooseberry Patch cookbooks—believe it or not—contains all the fruitcake recipes I could find.

I love fruitcake—and Bob did too. So did our family friend Luther who could be counted on to help Bob shell and chop all the nuts and dried fruits for a fruitcake. I think these homemade cookbooks are just about my favorites; I keep them in a little bookcase by my computer and I never get tired of going through them. So, if you find yourself in a quandary, trying to decide what kind of turkey to make for Thanksgiving—think about creating your own holiday cookbook. It’s also a good project for winter days when it’s too dreary to go out of doors.

Meantime, let me share my turkey stock recipe with you. This appeared in Gourmet magazine in November, 2006. This recipe makes a lot—but if you buy some of those 2- quart Glad-lock containers (the kind shaped like a loaf) – you can freeze the stock to have on hand for other holidays or special occasions.


Roasting the turkey and vegetables before simmering them results in a dark stock that takes you more than halfway to a rich brown gravy. The recipe yields enough for the gravy and then some, but you’ll be happy to have the extra when it comes time to make soup.


6 lb turkey parts such as wings, drumsticks, and thighs 3 medium yellow onions, left unpeeled, trimmed and halved 3 celery ribs, cut into 2-inch lengths 3 carrots, quartered 5 qt cold water 6 fresh parsley stems (without leaves) 1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf 10 black peppercorns 1 1/2 teaspoons salt Special equipment: a 17- by 14-inch flameproof roasting pan

If using turkey wings, halve at joints with a cleaver or large knife, then crack wing bones in several places with back of cleaver or knife. (Do not crack bones if using other parts.) Pat turkey dry. Put oven rack in lowest position of oven and preheat oven to 500°F. Roast turkey parts, skin sides down, in dry roasting pan, turning over once, until browned well, about 45 minutes. Transfer to an 8- to 10-quart stockpot with tongs, reserving fat in roasting pan. Add onions (cut sides down), celery, and carrots to fat in pan and roast, stirring halfway through roasting, until golden, about 20 minutes total. Add vegetables to turkey in stockpot. Straddle pan across 2 burners, then add 2 cups water and deglaze by boiling, stirring and scraping up brown bits, 1 minute. Add deglazing liquid to turkey and vegetables in stockpot, then add parsley, bay leaf, peppercorns, salt, and remaining 4 1/2 quarts water. Reduce heat and gently simmer, partially covered, 3 hours. Pour stock through a large fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl, discarding solids. Measure stock: If there is more than 13 cups, boil in cleaned pot until reduced to 13 cups. If there is less, add enough water to bring total to 13 cups. If using immediately, let stand until fat rises to top, 1 to 2 minutes, then skim off and discard fat. If not, cool completely, uncovered, then chill, covered, before skimming fat (it will be easier to remove when cool or cold). Cooks’ note: Stock can be chilled in an airtight container 1 week or frozen 3 months. Makes about 13 cups. Thirteen cups is a little over three quarts stock. From Gourmet magazine, November 2006. Recipe also appeared in Epicurious.

To make gravy from your turkey stock, cornstarch will blend better than flour. For two cups of turkey stock, add 2 tablespoons cornstarch. Do not add cornstarch to hot liquids; it should only be added to cold water or turkey stock. Whisk and heat gently until the gravy has thickened.


–Sandra Lee Smith



  1. Richard Grupenhoff

    Thanks, Sandy. Always enjoy your posts, especially the stories behind the cookbooks! — Richard Grupenhoff

  2. Looking through my own cookbook collection, Sandra, I find that I have at least four books devoted solely to Thanksgiving. One of my favorites is “A Southern Thanksgiving” by Robb Forman Dew from 1992. I like this one because of its practical approach to putting together the dinner with a job and without a large family supporting the effort. She lays out a plan to prepare much of the feast in advance during preceding weekends and freeze components for Thanksgiving day.

    I also like “The Thanksgiving Ceremony” by Edward Bleier from 2003 though it has no recipes. Instead it has historical information including the Mayflower passenger list, a script for a formal ceremony with readings, and section of inspirational Thanksgiving material from which one could choose greetings, toasts, prayers, or poems to incorporate into a personalized ceremony. As an aside, it also identifies a 1539 translation of the Bible as the first use in English of Thanksgiving as one word. I think of this book as my food for the mind for the occasion.

    In 2012 Sam Sifton, a former restaurant critic for the New York Times wrote “Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well”. This book covers everything from what to have in your pantry to what to do with turkey remains in chapters entitled Getting Started, The Turkey, Side Dishes, Gravy & Cranberry Sauce, Setting the Table, Serving the Food, & Some Questions of Etiquette, Drinks & Drinking, Dessert, and Cleanup & Leftovers. Sam has a definite view of how things should proceed and presents an expert’s approach to the day.

    Finally, “Giving Thanks” by Kathleen Curtin, Sandra L. Oliver, and Plimouth Plantation was published in 2005. The first part of the book looks at the development of the day from the first Thanksgiving in 1621 to a national holiday to the varied food traditions that contribute to the bounty. The second part is recipes from Bell’s stuffing to a green bean casserole to dishes from Chinese and Portuguese heritage, for 2 cultural examples. The book is enhanced throughout with photographs and illustrations about the holiday from the archives of Plymouth Plantation, the living history museum.

    Here’s wishing a bountiful Thanksgiving to you and your readers,
    Susan Betz

    • Thanks for taking the time to write, Susan – I will write down some of your titles to look for when I go on cookbook searches. I am greatly interested in the first title you listed. Giving Thanks is another to look for. Many thanks and happy thanksgiving to you and your family. – Sandy

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