Earlier this year I travelled up to Bermuda as part of an America's Cup sustainability project aimed at raising awareness about the predatory and highly invasive lionfish species, which is threatening to destroy reefs and native fish stocks in the area.
The swashbuckling history of this remote outpost in the Atlantic still lurks in every nook and cranny, and many of the families who live here are direct descendants of early pirate raiders. But there is a part of Bermudian history beyond plundering privateers, linking it inextricably to the annual American ritual of Thanksgiving.
In 1609, a fleet of nine ships set out from Plymouth for Virginia, to establish the newly founded colony of Jamestown. Off the Azores, a hurricane separated the ship Sea Venture from the rest of the fleet. Drifting hundreds of miles from her scheduled course, listing heavily and about to sink, the boat's captain, Admiral George Somers, made the call to steer his ship into a visible reef on the dreaded Island of Devils, as Bermuda was then known. By sheer good luck the boat lodged safely between two reefs and the 150 men, women and children aboard were able to get ashore on to the island, along with all the cargo and crew. Incredibly, not one life was lost.
Nearly a year later, the castaways set sail from Bermuda to Jamestown in two newly built boats, Deliverance and Patience. Their arrival in Virginia was not to the utopia they imagined. Of the original 500 settlers, only 60 were alive. Many of those who had survived were sick or dying, and the colony was declared unviable. A decision had been made to abandon it, and to return everyone to England. But the arrival of the newcomers brought fresh hope and Virginia's first Thanksgiving (well before the later New England version) was held in celebration, spirited by the food the castaways had brought with them - a stash of wild hogs (likely left on Bermuda by earlier Spanish sailors), along with potatoes and onions that the shipwrecked survivors had grown during their 10 months in Bermuda. The passage was an easy one, and regular forays were made back to Bermuda over the ensuing months for more food. In such a manner the colony of Virginia was able to get on its feet.
While we don't generally celebrate Thanksgiving here in New Zealand, the sentiment behind this celebration of family and food is universal. In its ethos we can see the way that food connects us all to nature and its harvests, and to each other. It's a time of family and for us down here in the Antipodes, it's a great opportunity for today's extended families to take the pressure off December 25 and have a pre-Christmas gathering with one side of the family.
So this week I'm sharing a simple menu for a Thanksgiving dinner, including my famous brined roast turkey recipe. Brining is the key to tender turkey. Cook it for Thanksgiving on Thursday, November 23, or keep it somewhere safe for when you're cooking the Christmas feast.
Ready in 2½ hours + brining + resting
4kg whole turkey, including neck and giblets
2 Tbsp butter, at room temperature, or extra virgin olive oil
Fine white pepper, to taste
4 cups boiling water
1 cup salt
¼ cup sugar
Zest of 2 lemons, finely grated
¼ cup lemon juice
8 bay leaves
6-8 sprigs rosemary
2 Tbsp black peppercorns
12 cups cold water
To make the rosemary brine, place all ingredients except cold water in a very large, heatproof pot or bowl and stir to dissolve salt and sugar. Add cold water, then the turkey, reserving neck and giblets for gravy. Cover and chill for 12-24 hours. Preheat oven to 160C fanbake. Lift turkey out of brine and pat dry inside and out. Tie legs loosely and place in a roasting dish. Rub all over with butter or brush with oil for a dairy-free version. Season with pepper. Cook for 2 hours. If it starts to brown too quickly, cover those parts loosely with tinfoil. Transfer cooked turkey to a serving platter, breast-side down to allow the juices to run back into the breast, cover with tinfoil and a tea towel and rest for 15-30 minutes before carving.
Annabel says: Nothing says celebrate more than a roast turkey, in all its giant, golden grandeur. If a lifetime of dry, tough turkey has put you off, you'll find brining makes all the difference. With Christmas only a month away you may want to save this recipe for then.
The Ultimate Pumpkin Pie
Ready in 2 hours
1kg pumpkin, skin on, halved and deseeded
250g sour cream
½ cup soft brown sugar
2 Tbsp treacle or golden syrup
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cardamom
Zest of 1 orange, finely grated
A pinch of salt
Pecan nuts or walnuts and creme fraiche or whipped cream, to serve
250g packet wine biscuits
2 tsp ground ginger
140g butter, melted
Preheat oven to 180C fanbake. Grease the sides of a 25cm-diameter, high-sided, loose-bottomed pie tin and line the base with baking paper. (If you only have a shallow flan tin, make half the amount of filling mixture.) Arrange pumpkin cut-side down on a baking paper-lined oven tray. Bake until it is easily pierced with a fork (40-50 minutes). Remove from oven and increase temperature to 200C. Meanwhile, to make the ginger crust, finely crumb biscuits and mix in ginger and butter evenly. Press over the base of the pie tin and 4cm up the side. Chill. Scrape pumpkin flesh into a bowl or food processor and puree - you should have about 3½ cups. Add sour cream, brown sugar, treacle or golden syrup, eggs, spices, zest and salt to the puree and blend until smooth. Pour into the chilled crust and smooth the top. Bake until filling is set (35-40 minutes). Allow the pie to cool before serving at room temperature garnished with maple-glazed nuts and cinnamon honey creme fraiche. Leftover pie will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Annabel says: Pumpkin pie is often served at Thanksgiving and Christmas, which fall during the harvest season in the US and Canada. If you've never made pumpkin pie before, I warn you it's addictively good. This keeps for a few days in the fridge.
Kale and Cranberry Toss
Ready in 20 mins
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 large shallots or small onions, finely sliced
1 clove garlic, finely sliced
24-36 kale leaves
Zest of ½ an orange, finely grated
¼ cup water
¼ cup orange juice
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
¼ cup dried cranberries
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
¼ cup slivered almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
Heat oil in a large frying pan or pot and cook shallots or onions and garlic until soft (2 minutes). Discard kale stems, coarsely chop leaves and add to pan with orange zest and water. Cook 2-3 minutes then add orange juice, vinegar and cranberries and cook until liquid is almost evaporated (another 2 minutes). Toss through salt, pepper and almonds to serve.
Annabel says: Cranberry sauce is a traditional accompaniment to turkey, but to lighten your festive meal for a Kiwi spring, try tossing the dried cranberries through a tangy salad instead.