So it’s Monday night and you haven’t prepped one bit for Thanksgiving or you’ve been nominated at the last minute to host Thanksgiving dinner ( yes, this can happen to you). Don’t fret! You can still have an authentically southern/soul food-inspired Thanksgiving celebration that your guests will love. The key to a successful Thanksgiving, especially in a Black household, is to have music, alcohol, and great side dishes! Let’s face it, we wait all year on the macaroni and cheese and candied yams anyway!
Below are some suggestions and tips for your Thanksgiving celebration:
For starters decide on the main protein you’re going to serve. Cornish hens are small and great, but can also dry out quickly. I suggest getting the Cajun Turkey from Popeyes. Don’t let the hype of the chicken sandwich discourage you from going to Popeyes and getting that turkey. They’re sold frozen and all you have to do is safely thaw and heat to serve. It’s deliciously seasoned and tender. It’s a New Orleans style seasoning blend so expect some spice along with hints of garlic, thyme, paprika, and cayenne pepper. Bojangles’ Seasoned Fried Turkey has received great reviews. I’ve never tried the turkey from Bojangles’, but I love their chicken and biscuits, so it’s worth a try.
Do not let anyone shame you into thinking that collards in a bag are bad or in some way cheating. Companies such as Glory Foods specialize in recreating that authentic southern taste in their prepared foods and produce. I prefer their fresh shredded collard greens in the bag. The collard ribbons are sliced thin and the stems are removed! Give them a good secondary rinse and you’re well on your way. You can either braise the collards with some fried fatback/bacon grease or slow simmer in a pot with smoked ham hocks or neck bones.
Now let’s tak about cornbread dressing. In the North, the terms are used interchangeably, but a majority of us are not stuffing our turkeys. Served on the side, cornbread dressing can be as simple as preparing a box of Jiffy cornbread combined with Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix, sautéed celery and onions, butter, Bell’s poultry seasoning, and chicken stock. The recipe on the back of the Pepperidge Farm stuffing gives a quick blueprint to follow with the ingredients listed above. If you are a veteran cook and can finesse some stovetop, then please share your recipe. But, for a more authentic Southern taste, please do not use a boxed stovetop stuffing.
Sweet potatoes, when cooked on the stovetop with sugar, butter, and spices magically turns into candied yams. In the US, we use the terms sweet potato and yam interchangeably, but they are not the same. According to the North Carolina SweetPotato Commission, sweet potatoes with their smooth skin ranging from yellow, orange, brown, to the purple are almost always sweeter than yams. Yams are starchier and more potato-like with a dry, bark-like brown skin. Most yams are imported from the Caribbean with West Africa having the most yam crops worldwide. The most authentic and best candied yam recipe I’ve come across is from Danni Rose also known as @StovetopKisses on YouTube and Instagram. Her recipe ( “How to Make Southern Candied Yams !!”) uses brown and white sugar, butter, sweet potatoes, vanilla, and cinnamon! That’s really all you need, your yams will not be swimming in a sugary water bath, but coated with a sweet and buttery syrup.
Finally the baked macaroni and cheese! Although it hasn’t always been a historically “Black” dish, baked macaroni cheese has become synonymous with soul food and if left off the menu IT will incite a riot! According to Adrian Miller author of, Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time,
“Over two centuries, macaroni and cheese became “mac ’n’ cheese,” a soul food favorite, because African American cooks have been called on to make the dish in wealthy and poverty-stricken kitchens alike. For soul food cooks, mac ’n’ cheese had multiple identities as rich people’s food, a special occasion food, a convenient comfort food, a meal-stretcher, and a poverty food. In addition, mac ’n’ cheese is part of a larger, ongoing noodle craze that African Americans have had” (Miller ch. 8).”
It’s tradition and somethings you just don’t mess with! Everybody will have some sort of variation to the recipe, but for a southern baked macaroni and cheese, the ingredients will include: milk and other dairy products such as sour cream or heavy cream, eggs, elbow macaroni (long macaroni in South Louisiana) salt, pepper, and cheese. A rich and foolproof recipe I followed last year comes again from Danni Rose (@Stovetopkisses). Her recipe on YouTube ( “How to Make “Ole Skool” Southern Baked Mac n Cheese!!!”) was featured on the “OMKalen” segment of The Ellen Show. I omitted the onion powder and garlic powder, but you can follow this recipe as is and your guest will love it! It’s so good!
For the sake of time, if you can find a Patti LaBelle Sweet Potato pie or peach cobbler, grab it! Once you heat these desserts in the oven they will take on a new identity. These desserts are honestly the next best thing to homemade. Your guest will appreciate it and probably won’t know they’re store-bought. An alternative would be an Edward’s frozen Georgia Style Pecan Pie. Catch them quick because they sell out fast. Add a little melted butter on top when baking in the oven and you’re set!
I like the idea of keeping it simple and self-serving when it comes to drinks. In episode 89 of the podcast Hot Grease, hosted by Thrillist’s Executive Food Editor Nicole Taylor, she and her guest, Beverage Director and author of Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails, Shannon Mustipher suggest a rum punch or Dark and Stormy cocktail for a Thanksgiving gathering. Taylor and Mustipher, born and raised in the South have both written a cookbook and cocktail recipe book that offers great cocktails and punch options for Thanksgiving. My choice, “New Age Church Punch,” comes from Taylor’s book, The Up South Cookbook: Chasing Dixie in a Brooklyn Kitchen. This punch features roasted pineapples, white rum, hibiscus, and ginger beer.
You must have music! I grew up in a home with a music producing father and host of uncles that Dj so music is always in the air. I suggest making a playlist that starts off festive and lively for when you’re cooking and when your guest arrives. A transition to some contemporary R&B and Afrobeats will provide background music while dining, and rhythmic soul, hip-hop, and Motown classics on for after dinner and dancing. My playlist can feature Jidenna, Kirk Franklin, Teddy Riley, and The Migos. It’s all about variety and knowing you’re guest! If grandma doesn’t appreciate the spicy lyrics of Cardi B, please wait until she leaves to crank it up.
Most importantly don’t forget to put on something nice and easy, greet your guest with a cocktail, and have fun! It’s easy to get overwhelmed and stressed with the workload, but remember to take it easy, have fun, and don’t sweat the small things. In all things, give thanks!