By Ann Cipperly
Thanksgiving is a special time at the home of Sally and Rusty Sheehan, where family traditions are passed on each year. Sally brings out her mother’s fine china and crystal and her grandmother’s linens to create a lovely table setting. Favorite family recipes are selected to prepare the holiday meal.
When Sally was growing up in the small town of Goodwater, her family always went to her paternal grandparents’ home for Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone arrived in their Sunday best. Sally still remembers how wonderful the food smelled as she walked into her grandmother’s kitchen, and how lovely the dining room table looked with her grandmother’s beautiful china, crystal, silver and floral centerpiece.
Their Thanksgiving meal was always a formal southern dinner. Her grandmother served turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, green beans, corn, squash and homemade rolls, with ambrosia and pound cake for a delicious dessert. Her mother and grandmother were both excellent cooks. Sally treasures their handwritten recipes.
After Sally and Rusty were married, they rotated their Thanksgiving visits to each of their families. Rusty’s parents lived in Montgomery. When visiting there, the men would go hunting in the morning, and the Thanksgiving meal was served in the evening. Years later when both of their parents retired and moved to their lake homes, Thanksgiving meals became more casual.
Sally remembers an amusing Thanksgiving when she and Rusty decided to host her parents at a Lake Eufaula cabin, so the men could enjoy fishing. Instead of carrying prepared dishes, Sally packed all the ingredients to cook the meal. When they arrived at the cabin she was surprised by the kitchen’s size and tiny oven. It took all day to prepare the meal, as only one dish could be cooked at a time. As a result, they ate their Thanksgiving meal very late that night.
The Sheehans also have fond memories of their New England vacation, where they visited Plymouth Rock and the re-created Jamestown village. While at the village, they dined on foods that would have been served at the first Thanksgiving. Even though it was much simpler, they were still very much impressed by the meal which began the tradition we celebrate today.
As their parents aged, Sally and Rusty took over hosting the Thanksgiving meal at their home in Opelika. Sally returned to her grandmother’s tradition of setting a formal table.
“I wanted my children to experience Thanksgiving as I had growing up,” she said. “It is such a special day that deserves our best preparations.”
Sally gets a head start on her Thanksgiving meal by making the dressing days ahead. Like her mother, Sally cooks the dressing a little before freezing it. Her favorite roasted turkey recipe wraps the turkey in bacon slices to keep the meat extra moist. She will also make her mother’s recipe for ham with cranberries to serve at Thanksgiving or during the weekend.
Sally makes the sweet potato casserole the day before but waits to add the topping just prior to baking it on Thanksgiving. She alternates praline topping and miniature marshmallows in diagonal rows to please different tastes. Most of the other dishes are prepared ahead of time as well. Simple vegetables are cooked for the children.
For dessert, Sally prepares her grandmother’s ambrosia and pound cake recipes. She will also have pecan and pumpkin pies, fudge and brownies on hand for family throughout the weekend. “I came from a family of wonderful cooks,” Sally said, “and it brings joy to my heart when I can prepare my mother’s and grandmothers’ recipes.”
Sally and Rusty are excited to host their children and grandchildren this Thanksgiving at their new home overlooking the Saugahatchee Golf Course. The Sheehans’ daughter, Amy, and her husband, Charles Moore, live in Birmingham and have two children, Sally Elizabeth, 12, and Davis, 11, who is named after Sally’s father.
Their son Tim and his wife, Sarah, live in Black Mountain, North Carolina. They have one son, Hank, who is six months old.
On Thanksgiving morning, Sally will prepare a simple breakfast. Sometimes quiche ahead to easily reheat and serve with fresh fruit.
While Sally has a large oven and microwave, cooking Thanksgiving dinner can still be challenging. In order to keep everything hot until dinner time, she often places a few dishes in insulated carriers. Sally will serve the food on silver platters and place them on the dining room table and sideboard for easy serving. Rusty says grace, giving thanks for each family member, our country and the blessings of a wonderful meal.
While their family is home for the weekend, a big breakfast will be served each morning. Some of the grandchildren’s favorites are cinnamon rolls, pancakes, sausage and biscuit and fresh fruit. “Because my childhood memories are so precious to me,” said Sally, “I want to make wonderful memories for my grandchildren. Hopefully, they will remember the fun they had coming to Opelika at Thanksgiving.” On Saturday, Amy and her family will attend the Auburn-Alabama game, while other family members enjoy watching it at home.
Sally and Rusty met and married while they were students at Auburn University. While Rusty was finishing school, Sally taught first grade at Scott Preparatory. They moved to Columbus, Georgia, where Rusty began his career with State Farm Insurance. In 1974 the Sheehans moved to Opelika and Rusty opened his office as a State Farm Agent. Although he retired in December 2017, Rusty has remained active in the community.
“We thank God for our many blessings and the privilege of carrying on the beautiful traditions of Thanksgiving,” Sally said. “We are so thankful for our family, our beautiful country and for those who paved the way for the freedoms we enjoy today.”
Ann Cipperly can be reached at email@example.com.
Bacon Wrapped Roasted Turkey
13 lb. whole turkey, uncooked
Kitchen twine (to tie turkey)
1 lb. bacon (uncooked)
1 onion, cut into large wedges
4 cloves garlic
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 cups butter (softened)
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
½ tsp. paprika
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove giblets and neck from turkey. Rinse turkey with cold running water and drain well. Blot dry with paper towels. Stuff cavity with onion, garlic cloves, and fresh herbs. Tie legs and tuck wings in. In a medium bowl, stir together softened butter, salt, pepper and paprika. Rub butter mixture under the skin and over the skin of turkey.
Place turkey in a roasting pan. Starting at one end, place bacon strips horizontally over the turkey until it is fully covered. Then weave bacon strips vertically through the horizontal strips, leaving no space between. Continue until the entire turkey is covered.
Surround the turkey with additional onion and garlic cloves as desired. Roast at 350 degrees for 3 hours, or until an instant read thermometer inserted into the thigh registers 165 degrees. Check after 2 hours, and cover with foil if bacon gets too dark.
Granny’s Cornmeal Dressing
6 Tbsp. melted butter or bacon drippings
1 cup cornmeal
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. soda
¼ tsp. salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 ½ cups buttermilk
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly grease an 8” baking dish or skillet. In a large bowl, mix eggs, buttermilk and butter. In a separate bowl mix together cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, soda and salt. Pour the buttermilk mixture into the cornmeal mixture and fold together. (Batter will still be lumpy.) Pour into baking dish.
Bake until the top is golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool at least ten minutes or until cool enough to crumble.
Bake a can of five biscuits per package directions. While biscuits are baking, simmer the following: 1 cup chopped celery and 1 cup chopped onion in 1 ½ cup chicken broth until vegetables are tender. Melt ½ stick of margarine in the onion and celery mixture. When breads are done, crumble cornbread and 2 to 3 biscuits into a large bowl. Pour onion and celery mixture over breads. To this mixture add:
1 cup chicken broth
5 well beaten eggs
Salt & pepper to taste
Enough milk to make a thin batter
1 can cream of chicken soup
Pour this mixture into a greased (9 x 13) pan to 2 (8 x 8) pans and bake at 375 degrees until the top is lightly brown and the texture fairly firm. For a 9×13 pan bake 45 to 60 minutes. If needed, continue to bake, checking every 10 minutes until dressing is done. Cover lightly if starting to brown too much. If pre-cooked, store in refrigerator and reheat (350 degrees) 30 to 45 minutes. Recipe freezes well.
Cranberry Baked Ham
2 slices (½ to ¾ inches thick) center cut ham
½ cup honey
2 tsp. prepared mustard
1 can whole cranberry sauce
1 to 2 cups fresh cranberries
In a saucepan combine honey, mustard, and canned cranberry sauce. Add fresh cranberries and cook over medium heat until sauce thickens and cranberries begin to pop, 15 to 20 minutes. The original recipe recommends placing one slice of ham in a foil lined roasting pan, covering with ½ of prepared cranberry sauce mixture, then placing the second ham slice on top and covering with remaining cranberry sauce mixture. Cover with foil.
Bake in a 325 degrees oven for 45 minutes to one hour. For a quicker recipe, I have also baked the ham slices side by side in a large roasting pan, adding ½ cranberry sauce mixture over each slice, covering with foil, baking at 325 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.
Amy’s English Pea Casserole
2 cups canned English peas, drained
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 ½ cups grated cheese
1 small can sliced button mushrooms
I small jar diced pimentos
3 hardboiled eggs, sliced into thin rounds (opt)
Gently combine peas, mushroom soup, grated cheese, mushrooms, and pimentos. Pour ½ of the mixture into a greased casserole dish. Top with a layer of sliced eggs. Pour the remaining mixture over the eggs.
2 Tbsp. margarine
2 Tbsp. flour
2 cups milk
Melt 2 Tbsp. margarine in a saucepan, add flour, stirring until smooth. Gradually, add milk, stirring constantly to achieve a creamy white sauce. Cook over medium heat until thickened.
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. Worcestershire Sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
To prepared white sauce add lemon juice, Worcestershire Sauce, salt and pepper. Pour over pea mixture.
2 Tbsp. margarine, melted
1 ½ cups Ritz cracker crumbs
Toss melted margarine with cracker crumbs. Sprinkle over casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until bubbly. Yield 6-8 servings.
Fresh Cranberry Relish
1 large orange, quartered with peel
1 lb. cranberries
1 ½ cups white sugar
½ cup apricot preserves
8 oz. can crushed pineapple, drained
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
Finely chop orange in a food processor. Combine cranberries and sugar in a heavy saucepan. (A little water on the cranberries will help the sugar melt.) Cook and stir over medium heat until cranberries begin to pop, about 10 minutes.
Transfer cranberries to a bowl. Add apricot preserves and mix until melted. Stir in pineapple, lemon juice and chopped orange. Chill until ready to serve.
Perfect Mashed Potatoes
3 lb. Yukon gold potatoes
2 tsp. salt, divided
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup half and half
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
¾ tsp. coarsely ground pepper
Garnishes: shredded cheddar cheese, crumbled bacon or chives
Peel potatoes and cut into 1-inch pieces. Bring potatoes, 1 tsp. salt, and cold water to cover to a boil in a medium-size Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook 16 to 20 minutes or until fork-tender; drain. Return potatoes to Dutch oven. Cook until water evaporates, and potatoes look dry.
Mound potatoes on one side; add butter, next 3 ingredients and remaining 1 tsp. salt to opposite side of Dutch oven. Cook 1 to 2 minutes or until butter is melted and mixture boils.
Remove from heat, beat at medium speed with a hand-held electric mixer 30 seconds to 1 minute or to desired degree of smoothness. (Do not overbeat.) Serve immediately. Garnish with shredded cheddar cheese, crumbled bacon or chives to taste.
Green Beans Mediterranean
2 lbs. green beans, trimmed and broken into pieces
2 large tomatoes, coarsely chopped, or grape tomatoes halved
½ cup chopped onion
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup sliced mushroom buttons
3 tbsp. olive oil
¼ cup tomato juice
½ tsp. dried oregano
¼ tsp. each dried basil, salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine green beans, tomato, onion, garlic and mushrooms in a bowl and mix well. Spoon into a baking dish and drizzle with olive oil and tomato juice. Sprinkle with oregano basil, salt and pepper and toss gently. Bake 30 to 45 minutes until beans are tender.
Spinach Salad with Honey Dressing and Honeyed Pecans
1 (10 oz.) pkg. baby spinach
1 cup quartered, fresh strawberries
½ cup thinly sliced red onion
½ cup fresh blueberries
Honey Dressing (recipe follows)
3 to 4 cooked bacon slices, crumbled
¼ cup crumbled blue cheese
Honeyed Pecans (recipe follows)
Toss together first four ingredients and 1/3 cup dressing. Sprinkle with bacon, cheese and pecans.
Whisk together 1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar, 2 Tbsp. honey, 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard, and ½ tsp. each salt and black pepper. Add 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly until smooth. Makes about 1 cup.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Microwave ¼ cup honey in a bowl at high for 20 seconds. Stir in 1 cup pecan halves. Coat a parchment paper-lined jelly-roll pan with cooking spray; spread pecans in a single layer on pan. Combine 1 Tbsp. sugar, ¼ tsp. kosher salt, and a pinch of ground red pepper; sprinkle over pecans. Bake 15 minutes or until toasted, stirring after 8 minutes. Cool.
Old Fashion Ambrosia
9 oranges, peeled, seeded, and sectioned
2 (20 oz.) cans of chuck or crushed pineapple, drained
2 cups coconut
1 small jar well-drained cherries or halved red seedless grapes
1 to 2 tsp. almond extract
1 cup honey (optional)
½ cup orange juice
Combine oranges, pineapple, coconut, cherries, almond extract, and honey. Pour orange juice over mixture. Place in refrigerator to chill 8 hours. Halved red seedless grapes can substitute cherries. Makes 5 to 8 servings. Serve with your favorite Pound Cake!
Family Favorite Pound Cake
1 cup margarine
3 cups sugar
3 cups plain flour, sifted
½ tsp. salt
½ pint whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla, or almond, or coconut, or butternut flavoring
Grease a heavy tube or bunt pan, sprinkle with sugar, and dust with flour, set aside. Cream margarine until fluffy, add sugar gradually, add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift flour and salt together, add gradually to mix, alternating with whipping cream. Add flavoring. Pour cake batter into prepared pan.
Place on middle rack in a cold oven. Set temperature at 325 degrees. Cook 1 hour 15 minutes. Do not open oven. After baking, remove from oven, allow to cool in pan for 30 minutes. Invert on wire rack to complete cooling.
Southern Pecan Pie
1 cup pecan halves
1 9-inch unbaked pastry shell
1 cup dark corn syrup
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. margarine, melted
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. salt
Place pecan halves in bottom of unbaked pastry shell. Beat eggs slightly; mix in corn syrup, sugar, margarine, vanilla, and salt. Gently pour into unbaked shell. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes; lower temperature to 350 degrees and bake an additional 30 to 35 minutes. (Filling should be slightly less set in center than around edge.)
Rita’s Squash Casserole
4 cups sliced yellow squash
½ cup chopped onion
35 buttery round crackers (Ritz) , crushed
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
2 eggs, beaten
¾ cup milk
¼ cup butter, melted
1 tsp. salt
Ground black pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. butter
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place squash and onion in a large skillet over medium heat. Add a small amount of water. Cover, and cook until squash is tender, about 5 minutes. Drain well, and place in a large bowl.
In a second bowl, mix cracker crumbs and cheese. Stir half of the cracker mixture into the cooked squash and onions.
In a small bowl, mix eggs and milk, then add to squash mixture. Stir in ¼ cup melted butter and season with salt and pepper. Spread into a lightly greased 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining cracker mixture, and dot with 2 Tbsp. butter. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes, or until lightly browned.
Sally’s Brownies with Chocolate Frosting
1 ½ cups coarsely chopped pecans
1 (4 oz.) unsweetened chocolate baking bar, chopped
¾ cup butter
2 cups sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake pecans in a single layer in a shallow pan 6 to 8 minutes or until lightly toasted and fragrant.
Microwave chocolate and butter in a large microwave-safe bowl at high 1 to 1 ½ minutes or until melted and smooth, stirring at 30 second intervals. Whisk in sugar and eggs until well blended. Stir in flour. Spread batter in a greased 9 x 13-inch pan.
Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out with a few moist crumbs.
½ cup butter
1/3 cup milk
6 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa
1 (16-oz.) pkg powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
Cook first 3 ingredients over medium heat in a large saucepan, stirring constantly, 4 to 5 minutes or until butter melts. Remove from heat and beat in powdered sugar and vanilla at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth.
Pour prepared frosting over warm brownie; spread to edges. Sprinkle with toasted pecans. Let cool one hour on a wire rack. Cut into squares.
*A favorite option is to sprinkle 3 cups miniature marshmallows over warm brownies, in place of or in addition to the toasted pecans, then frost.
Sweet Potato Souffle
3 cups sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed
1 cup sugar
½ cup butter or margarine
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
½ cup milk
¼ tsp. salt
Mix above ingredients together and put in greased baking dish. Top with the following praline mixture:
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup flour
1/3 cup softened butter
1 cup chopped pecans (optional)
Mix well and sprinkle on top of sweet potatoes. To satisfy the marshmallow lovers, I alternate diagonal rows of marshmallows and praline mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. Double for large casseroles. This can be prepared the day before.
3 cups sugar
¾ cup margarine
2/3 cup (or a 5 oz. can) of evaporated milk
12 oz. pkg semi-sweet chocolate chips
7 oz. jar marshmallow cream
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
1 tsp. vanilla
Combine sugar, margarine, and milk in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly.
Continue boiling for five minutes (or 234 degrees on a candy thermometer). Continue stirring to prevent scorching. Remove from heat, stir in chocolate chips and marshmallow cream (slightly warming marshmallow cream in microwave will help in removing it from jar).
Stir well until chocolate chips and marshmallow cream are thoroughly blended. Stir in vanilla and nuts. Pour into a lightly greased pan (7 x 11 or 9 x 9.) Cool to room temperature and cut into squares. Makes three pounds.
(I usually boil a little less time as my family likes the fudge a little softer and creamier.)