New Thanksgiving Desserts: Rethinking Tradition

With Thanksgiving just days away, many are struggling this weekend with what to prepare. Thanksgiving dinner's menu is hard to change, but maybe we can get away with reconsidering dessert. Guest host Linda Wertheimer gets recommendations from chef Frank Stitt, author of Southern Table.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

With Thanksgiving just days away, many of us are struggling this weekend with what to prepare. The Thanksgiving dinner's menu is, in my view at least, imprisoned by tradition. Marshmallows go on the sweet potatoes, gravy goes on the mashed potatoes, and then there's the stuffing in the turkey. Now, this menu is hard to change but maybe we could get away with reconsidering dessert.

Chef Frank Stitt joins us a few recommendations. He's the author of "Southern Table," recipes from his restaurant Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, Alabama. The restaurant has been nominated for the James Beard Award, the Oscar of the food world. He joins us from NPR member station WBHM in Birmingham.

Frank, welcome to the program.

CHEF FRANK STITT: Well, it's great being with you, Linda. I love hearing your voice.

WERTHEIMER: Thank you. Now, here's the deal. I'm bringing a pie to a friend's house because I'm working that day. I'm not going to throw a whole big dinner. But still, I'm hoping for some help with my pie.

STITT: Well, Linda, you know, for me right now pears and apples are kind of what I love to go to. And, you know, there's something that I like to do is to poach the pears. And it can either be in a red wine spice syrup, or it can be in a white wine with lots of vanilla. And then, you can simply - like the French do - serve the pears with that reduced syrup for a super healthy, wonderful.

But if you're dead-set on pie, then transform that by making this pear and almond tart. And it's basically just this wonderful mixture of ground almonds and sugar and egg that make like a custard, and you put the poached pears down into. Top it with some slivered almonds - or you can use pecans if you'd rather - and then bake that. And it's this wonderful pear and nut flavor that I think is just perfect for this time of year.

WERTHEIMER: It sounds like it would be perfect and it would that little bit of crunch, and it would be a sort of a bright flavor and not mushy. I mean I think that mushiness is what I can't deal with about Thanksgiving.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

STITT: Well, but you know one of things that from a local farmer that has this incredible fruit operation, and we're getting cumquats and orangequats and lemonquats, and dough in those citrus marmalade. We're making this little shortbread pies with a cumquat marmalade that is really bright with acidity and, you know, a little texture that I think could be a good thing, too.

WERTHEIMER: Now, are we talking things that are horribly complicated to do? I mean 'cause I'm a working woman, I need something simple.

STITT: Well, you know, with this shortbread dough, I think that's pretty simple. You can make that and then just by cutting up the citrus - in this case, cumquat or orangequats - and cooking that just with some honey and sugar down until it's just reduced and jam-like. And that's pretty and you spread that on and bake that. And so that's pretty easy, I think.

WERTHEIMER: Shortbread is your basic butter, sugar and a little bit of flour, right?

STITT: That's...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

STITT: ...right. That's right.

WERTHEIMER: So well, I will be at the farmers market on Saturday. Now, I have not seen any kind of cumquats there yet. So what else should I look for?

STITT: Pardis, my wife, what she loves are quince and pomegranates this time of year, in the kind of Persian influence. But, you know, ripe pomegranates just as a dessert is a pretty wonderful kind of thing, as well. And, you know, I wouldn't be opposed to doing, you know, just some comice pears with some blue cheese. But again, you know, to me one of my favorites is that pear tart. So I hope you'll consider doing that one.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WERTHEIMER: Well now, when I go to the farmers market I'm looking at may be 15 different kinds of apples.

STITT: Yeah.

WERTHEIMER: Any special favorites for our friends who will bake apple pies?

STITT: You know, one of the things that I talk about - there's another recipe for an Apple Charlotte, about combining tart and sweet apples. You know, a Granny Smith kind of tart with also a sweet one, you know, like Fuji or any of the other kind of sweet apples. So I think that's kind of nice to combine the two.

But, you know, I would rely on those farmers to kind of tell you what are their favorites for cooking, for making apple butter with applesauce. And then the other ones that will keep their texture for eating out of hand.

WERTHEIMER: That's Frank Stitt. He is the author of "Southern Table" and he joined us from NPR member station WBHM in Birmingham, Alabama.

Thanks.

STITT: Have a good Thanksgiving.

WERTHEIMER: You, too.

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