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Andrew Essley stocks bags of stuffing while setting up a Thanksgiving display at A Market in Manchester on Monday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Sampling a varied menu of Thanksgiving dinner traditions

Though the Thanksgiving feast has long been a tradition in America, there are lots of different definitions for what a traditional Thanksgiving meal should be.

Local farmers like Julie Whitcomb at Julie's Happy Hens in Mont Vernon have plucked their broods and prepared them for the harvest meal, while grocery stores are offering piles of fresh and frozen birds.

Roasting turkeys the old-fashioned way is still in vogue, and frying them is also popular, but there are other methods, too. At Whitcomb's table on Thursday, guests will find two small turkeys; one of them will be smoked.

At the Stocked Fridge in Merrimack, owner Chris Kerchmar said her customers like their birds brined, stuffed and ready for the oven.

"Brining a turkey makes it the most moist, delicious turkey you've ever had," she said.

The turkeys are soaked in a sweet-salty solution for 24 hours and then stuffed with apples, cinnamon sticks and sage, Kerchmar said.

For some folks, like Toni Thompson of Brookline, the bird is not the word.

"I don't really like turkey," said Thompson. "When I used to make the Thanksgiving meal, I'd always cook a capon or a chicken."

Other folks like their turkey not to be turkey at all, said Michelle Glines of the Dover Natural Marketplace.

"Tofurkeys (turkey made of tofu) are still walking out of here, and we're selling a lot of Field Roasts which are along the same line as Tofurkeys but with different stuffing," Glines said.

Things get really interesting with the side dishes.

At Barbara Tortorelli's home in Milford on Thursday, she'll be serving stuffing made with cranberries, apples, cider, celery and chicken stock. At Mary Katherine McNamara's home in Mont Vernon, she'll be using cornbread and oysters, but don't ask this southern belle to pass the stuffing.

"In the South we call stuffing 'dressing,'" she said.

Guests at her table can find other southern delicacies such as shrimp and grits and yeast rolls with butter and honey.

Cathy Kuliga, whose family has owned Belmont Hall in Manchester for three generations, said a must-have at Thanksgiving is the pork pie, a French-Canadian delicacy made with ground meat and potatoes. Salmon pie is also a favorite.

"We still make them using my grandmother's recipe," said Kuliga. "We make over 200 of them during the holidays."

In Hollis, Barbara Ruescher's family always has a basket of fruit, nuts and figs the children love to sample, and at Amy Wyman's house in Mont Vernon, the search is always on for foods that are gluten- and dairy-free.

"A few years back I made a really nice side dish with diced sweet potatoes and diced apples that were mixed with chopped walnuts, spices and some olive oil, all baked together in the oven," she said. "I've been thinking about making that again this year."

Dan Addiss of New Ipswich said he was looking forward to sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top, but the thing he's going to miss the most this year is his mother's apple pie.

"She passed away last year," he said. "But my mom made the best apple pie."


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Holiday Happenings

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