A Thanksgiving Table Set in Tennessee

November 10, 2015

The appeal of Thanksgiving lies mainly in its sweet simplicity. Not so much in the simplicity of preparation (who among us hasn’t gone overboard at least once?) but in the reason for the day—the coming together of loved ones, the retelling of family lore, the breaking of bread, the expressing of gratitude. This year, we’ve gotten into the spirit of the holiday a little early, thanks to native Tennessean and Local Milk photographer and author Beth Kirby, a gracious hostess who has invited us to share in some of her tried-and-true traditions—as well as her lovely pink apple tart. Read on for a celebration of past and present, inspired in equal measure by novelty and nostalgia.

Can you explain how your Thanksgiving traditions reflect your roots in the American South?
Thanksgiving will always be a nostalgic day for me. I like to mix it up, but I’m interested in doing the best version of the South I can: my grandmother’s biscuit and cornbread sage dressing, my other grandmother’s chocolate meringue pie, and my mom’s cola-basted ham with yellow mustard and brown sugar crust. I serve those memories alongside my own non-traditional fare, like roasted brussels sprout leaves in a mint-pepita pesto and fennel gratin. That way, you get the best of both worlds: comfort and creativity.

What were your favorite Thanksgiving traditions when you were young?
My mom’s pumpkin pie. The crust is Pillsbury and the filling is a recipe off the back of a can that involves condensed milk—but it’s still my favorite. Fancy can’t compete with nostalgia on that one. And my dad used to smoke our turkey, which seemed like an ordeal and felt very special. I don’t know that I remember the smoker being used on any other day.

What is a new tradition that you’d like to put into place this year?
Well, I’m a newlywed—this will be the first Thanksgiving that I spend with my in-laws. I can’t wait for us to share our favorite dishes. My new family is my new tradition.

What are some guidelines for planning (perhaps for the first time!) a multi-course menu?
I’d suggest making a cooking and prep schedule that spans a week—and sticking to it! Chop, cook and set up any and everything you can prior to the big day. I even measure out my salt, sugar and spices ahead of time and store them in little bowls. I’d advise choosing side dishes that are well-suited to being made ahead. And don’t be afraid to delegate! The conviviality of a family-filled Thanksgiving kitchen can’t be matched. It’s as fun as the table.

You use the music you love to set the mood on your blog. What will you listen to while you prepare your Thanksgiving meal? What music will you play in the background for the meal itself?
I love pop music when I’m cooking. We’re talking Top 40: the catchier the hook, the better. I have no shame. However, I don’t play music during dinner—I want the conversation to be the centerpiece.

Your tablescape is full of lovely muted colors, but still has an autumnal feel. How did you decided on that look, and what elements did you use to achieve it?
I’m a muted kind of girl; I love a simple color palette because it allows shapes, textures, and the color of the food and flora to shine. Small gourds in creamy white and dusty green bring an autumnal feel—so do the warm woods and coppers on the table. Lastly, family-style dishes and a golden-roasted bird will make any table feel like Thanksgiving.

Let’s say a hostess is running short on time. Any recommended shortcuts? Any go-to time savers that you return to again and again?
There’s a reason there are bakers, butchers and cheese mongers! There is absolutely no shame in buying a gorgeous pie and a loaf of bread from a good bakery and then swinging by the butcher or local grocery for some beautiful cheese and charcuterie. Everyone loves a cheese plate, it’s stunning on the table and it’s virtually no effort.

On the flip side, where’s the best place to “go big?”
Brine that bird. If it’s a turkey, spatchcock it—this flattens it for more even roasting, meaning less dry meat and maximum crispy skin. Go the extra mile to get fresh, seasonal produce. And if you’re going to make a pie, make that crust from scratch. Despite my nostalgic affinity for my mom’s out-of-the-box pie crust, homemade is a million times better.

Beth’s Pink Apple Frangipane Tart

For the pastry
1 cup all-purpose flour
8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced
½ teaspoon salt
2–3 tablespoons of ice water

For the frangipane
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon rosewater
2 eggs
¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup almond flour

For the apples
4–5 (about 2 pounds) mountain rose apples, pink pearl apples or any firm, tart apples, sliced into half moons ⅛”– ¼” thick
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon rosewater
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Make the crust. In a bowl combine the salt and flour. Work in the diced butter with your fingers until it looks like bread crumbs and no pieces larger than a pea remain. Stir in the ice water until a ball forms. Form into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge at least an hour before rolling out. Pre-heat oven to 350°F.

Make the frangipane. In a bowl, cream the eggs, butter, sugar, rose water and almond extract. Stir in the flour and almond meal until smooth. Set aside.

Roll out pastry crust on a floured work surface to about ⅛” thickness and place in a tart pan, trimming excess dough from the sides. Very gently, spread the frangipane evenly over the bottom of the crust. Store in the fridge loosely wrapped while you prepare the apples.

Place the sliced apples, sugar, rosewater and nutmeg in a pot and heat over medium heat for 5–7 minutes or until the apples are just flexible, but not mushy. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

Arrange the apples on top of the frangipane and bake the tart for 25–35 minutes until the pastry crust and frangipane are golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature, perhaps with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped crème fraîche.

For more Tennessee vignettes, stirring travelogues and delicious recipes, head over to Beth’s blog, Local Milk.