The other day I asked my sister what was on the menu for our family Thanksgiving dinner. She responded, “How about you make the suggestions, family chef.”
I guess I took that role on long ago as the oldest child in our family. I had some good dining role models. All four of my grandparents were adventurous eaters.
I was occasionally in tow as they dined on shrimp from the
gulf or oysters from all coasts. We had mountain oysters during branding season and tripe when someone had the hankering. I loved when my grandmothers made liver and onions.
Mom and Dad’s expectations were that we ate what was available. And we ate well. Mom was an excellent cook and she learned from her mom who was a pro.
As a result, Holidays were wonderous feasts. Yes really, I did say wonderous. At some point in my adulthood I started adding to the menu — smoked turkey, tamales, scalloped corn, roasted vegetables. We have even had full out gourmet Thanksgiving meals with everyone assigned a dish according to their skill.
It’s with this in mind that I started thinking about what we could do with the local options of the Mid-South. Almost every single main ingredient for Thanksgiving dinner is grown in at least one of the five Mississippi Mid-South states including some items not identified as traditional Thanksgiving fare.
Turkeys are raised in every state in the Mid-South and Arkansas leads the way in production with 32.7 million birds sold, according to the 2017 USDA ag census.
If you have a hankering for mushrooms in your turkey stuffing, all Mid-South states grow a few. According to the census, Tennessee leads the way in commercial green bean and sweetcorn production among the Mid-South states.
I had the best sweet potato casserole of my life one day for lunch at Yalobusha County Gin in Coffeeville, Miss., which is appropriate given that Mississippi is the largest sweet potato producer in the Mid-South. Mississippi grows between 28,000 and 30,000 acres of sweet potatoes each year, according to the Mississippi Farm Bureau.
You can find old pecan groves just about everywhere you go in the Mid-South. The trees are huge and some of the old groves are well-suited locations for scary stories. Louisiana and Arkansas run hand in hand for commercial production numbers — 14,066 acres and 15,736 acres respectively, according to USDA — and supply a good number of pecans for good ol’ pecan pie.
For pumpkins, Missouri and Tennessee lead the way producing over 1,000 acres each.
My Grandma Howard made a scalloped corn dish that was amazing. It never lasted long. Maybe it was because of the oysters she put in it. Our Thanksgivings were never complete without it. And, you know where those wonderful Gulf oysters come from; if not, you should. I love Louisiana for that reason.
We’re just missing the cranberry bogs.