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TIP OF THE DAY: Fiori di Sicilia, Fior Di Sicilia

Fior di Sicilia, an Italian essence that translates to “flower of Sicily,” was used by our friend Ruth’s mother to flavor almost everything she baked. Biscotti, brioche and sweet breads, cookies, cheesecake, angel/pound/sponge cake, pie, macarons, meringues, yellow and white cakes got the fior di sicilia treatment, especially during the holidays.

Ruth’s mom no doubt inherited the tradition from her mother and grandmother, who were born in the old country. Italians use it to add flavor and aroma to panettone, pandoro and ricotta cookies.

The essence is a combination of floral, citrus and vanilla extracts, with a lovely floral aroma. Some Americans might identify the scent and taste as an elegant take on “Creamsicle.” Most will find it beguilingly mysterious, and will ask you what the taste is. (Note that essences from different manufacturers may vary. One friend notes flavors of lemon, lime and strawberry in her brand.)
Is It Fiori Or Fior Di Sicilia?

The terms are used interchangeably. We see bottles with both the singular, fior di sicilia, and the plural, fiori.


Fiori Di Sicilia, Fior Di Sicilia

Fiori di Sicilia adds floral and citrus “mystery” to baked goods. Photo courtesy King Arthur Flour.

How To Use Fiori Di Sicilia

We like to use it to add something special to holiday baking. Add a half teaspoon of fiori di sicilia to a basic cookie or cake recipe. If that isn’t enough for you, use more next time. If the half teaspoon seems meager, it’s because the essence is potent, and should be used with light touch.

Other popular holiday uses:

  • Biscotti
  • Butter cookies and shortbread
  • Cream cheese and ricotta fillings
  • Hot tea, sparkling water
  • Pound cake and layer cake
  • Ricotta cookies
    We’ve been known to add it to a cup of warm milk (hot or warm milk is a better-for-you comfort food for us). You can add your sweetener of choice to create a cup of “hot fiori di sicilia.”

    In the summer, add it to iced tea and fruit soup.

    You can try it in a one-ounce size ($9.95) from King Arthur Flour; there’s also a 4-ounce size ($19.95). The smaller size is a nice stocking stuffer for people who bake.


    Christmas Butter Cookies

    Christmas butter cookies with fiori di sicilia. Here’s the recipe, from King Arthur Flour.



    Thanks to King Arthur for developing these delicious recipes:

  • Holiday Butter Cookies Recipe
  • Lemon Brioche Recipe
  • French Toast Recipe
  • Cranberry Nut Fruitcake Recipe
  • Lemon-Glazed Pound Cake Recipe
  • Meringues Recipe
  • Pandoro Recipe
  • Panettone Muffins Recipe
  • Panettone Recipe
  • Shimmer Cookies Recipe
  • Orange Shortbread Cookies Recipe
  • Springerle Cookies Recipe
  • Spritz Cookies Recipe

    There are 60 more fiori di Sicilia recipes at Enjoy the voyage of discovery.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Mulling Spice Sachets

    Mulling Spice Sachets


    TOP PHOTO: Individual sachets are best if only one or two people want a cup. Larger sachets are used to make a 6- or 8-cup pot. Photo courtesy McCormick. BOTTOM PHOTO:
    Empty tea bag “sachets,” used to fill with loose tea, are easier to make although less festive than muslin or netting. You can get them at specialty tea shops or online. Photo courtesy NiceShop. Put leftover mulled beverages in the fridge to enjoy chilled.


    In our last article, we suggested a cider party with a pumpkin layer cake. Here’s a related tip:

    Make mulling spice sachets for mulled cider or wine. They layer the flavors found in spiced tea on top of the base beverage, which is typically warmed cider or wine.

    Make them for family, guests and gifting. Individual sachets are better for gifting; large sachets are better for a pot of cider.

    For gifting and party favors, you can package the sachets in a holiday tin or a Mason jar with a red ribbon. Be sure to add the mulling instructions (below) on the gift tag or insert them into the package.

    To give two individual sachets as small party favors, find a small, colored cellophane bag, a clear or vellum envelope or other gift bag. Include the instructions.

    Prep time is 5 minutes to make an individual sachet, 15 minutes to steep the cider or wine. If you have nimble fingers and have organized your ingredients, you can make three individual sachets or two large ones in 5 minutes.

    Thanks to McCormick for the recipe.


    Ingredients For 1 Bag/2 Servings

  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 2 whole allspice
  • Optional: 2 cardamom pods
  • 2 cups apple cider, hard cider or wine
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Cheesecloth*, cut into 4″ squares
  • Kitchen string
    *The easiest option is to purchase drawstring filter bags, used for loose tea (photo at left). Another option: If you can find fine, flexible netting, it makes a prettier sachet but you need to wash it first, to soften it and eliminate any dust it’s picked up along the way.


    1. PLACE the spices in the center of a piece of cheesecloth. Tie tightly with long piece of string. Store in an airtight container. That’s it, until you’re ready to mull your beverage. Then…

    2. PLACE the spice sachet in small saucepan. Add the apple cider or wine. Simmer over medium heat 10 to 15 minutes or until fragrant.

    3. DISCARD the spice sachet. Stir in the vanilla. Serve warm or hot.

    Ingredients For A Party-Size Mulling Spice Sachet

    1. INCREASE the cinnamon sticks to 4, whole cloves to 2 teaspoons, whole allspice to 1 teaspoon and vanilla to 2 teaspoons.

    2. WRAP in cheesecloth and warm in a pot with 2 quarts (8 cups) of apple cider or wine. You can also use apple juice. The difference is that apple cider is a fresh-squeezed product that needs to be refrigerated; apple juice is processed and homogenized to be shelf stable (no refrigeration needed until after the package has been opened).



    RECIPE: Pumpkin Layer Cake & Easy Variations

    This recipe, from blogger Jaclyn at Cooking Classy, reminded us to substitute pumpkin for carrot cake during “pumpkin season.” When baking, we tend to focus too much on family favorites and not enough on new seasonal recipes.

    For this recipe, Jaclyn takes a carrot cake approach to pumpkin cake, adding a seasonal cinnamon accent to carrot cake’s traditional cream cheese frosting. She adds a third cake layer to make the cake more impressive.

    If you love raisins and nuts in a carrot cake, you can add them here, too, either in the batter or in or atop the filling between the layers (for the filling, plan for 1/2 cup of each). You can also add pieces of crystallized ginger in the frosting for a spicy crunch.

    An entertaining idea: Make the cake for a cider party, serving fresh cider and mulled cider with brandy and rum.

    Prep time is 40 minutes, Cook Time: 35 minutes, Total Time: 3 hours

    Find more delicious recipes at


    Ingredients For 16 Servings

  • 2-3/4 cups (390g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1-1/4 cups (270g) granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup (172g) packed light-brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil, divided
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1-3/4 cup (424g/15 oz) canned pumpkin purée
  • 1/2 cup milk

    Carrot Cake With Chopped Pecans

    TOP PHOTO: Serve pumpkin pie at a cider party, with regular and mulled cider. Photo courtesy BOTTOM PHOTO: You can garnish the sides of the cake with chopped pecans or walnuts, as shown in this carrot cake from

    For The Frosting

  • 12 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 3/4 cup butter, softened (Jaclyn used 6 tablespoons salted and 6 tablespoons unsalted butter)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4-1/2 to 5 cups powdered sugar
  • Optional inclusions: chopped pecans or walnut, crystallized ginger, raisins or dried cranberries or cherries
    Optional Garnishes

  • Chopped pecans or walnuts
  • Candy/marzipan pumpkins, acorns or leaves; pomegranate arils

    Pumpkin Layer Cake


    TOP PHOTO: This pumpkin layer cake adds
    raspberries for a festive effect. You can
    instead add dried cherries, cranberries or
    raisins, pomegranate arils, chopped
    crystallized ginger, or a combination.
    BOTTOM PHOTO: Food fun in the form of a
    deconstructed layer cake, with streusel
    crumble topped with ice cream, and
    decorated with meringue cookies and a
    ribbon of pumpkin pie filling (you can
    substitute caramel sauce). Photo courtesy
    Caviar Russe | NYC.



    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Butter three 9-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Butter the parchment and set the pans aside.

    2. WHISK together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger in a mixing bowl. Whisking for 20 seconds and set aside.

    3. USE the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and whip together the butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and 3 tablespoons of the vegetable oil, until pale and fluffy. Occasionally scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, throughout the mixing process. Mix in the remaining 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Blend in the eggs one at a time, adding the vanilla with the last egg.

    4. WHISK together the pumpkin and milk in a bowl or large liquid measuring cup. Working in three separate batches, beginning and ending with the flour mixture, add 1/3 of the flour mixture alternating with half of the pumpkin mixture and mixing just until combined after each addition.

    5. DIVIDE the batter among the three prepared cake pans and smooth the tops with a spatula. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of cake comes out clean, about 30-35 minutes. Cool the layers in the pans for 15 minutes, then run a knife around edge to loosen. Invert the layers onto wire racks to cool completely.

    6. PREPARE the frosting while the cake cools. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip together the cream cheese and butter until smooth and fluffy. Add the cinnamon, vanilla and powdered sugar and mix on low speed until combined. Then increase the speed to medium and whip until pale and fluffy.

    7. FILL the cake layers with frosting and then frost the top and sides. If you prefer the look of the three-tiered cake with raspberries, at the top of this section, you can save a bit of time with an unfrosted top and sides. If the frosting is runny, cover and refrigerate just until it no longer is runny before spreading on cake.

    8. STORE the cake in an airtight container such as a cake carrier, in the refrigerator; chill for 20 minutes or as long as you want to store the cake. Let it rest at room temperature to eliminate the chill before serving. Chilling the cake firms the frosting and allows for cleaner slices.




    TIP OF THE DAY: “Pumpkin Custard” & The First Thanksgiving

    We’ll soon celebrate Thanksgiving, a remembrance of a harvest feast that took place 394 years ago. Pumpkin may have been served at the Pilgrims’ first harvest feast, but it wasn’t pumpkin pie. The pumpkin pie we know and love first appears in cookbooks in the early 19th century.

    After a horrific first winter that saw their community reduced by half, the settlers had yet to construct ovens for baking. Even if there had been butter and shortening to spare, pie crusts wouldn’t have cooked evenly over an open fire.

    But there may have been a pumpkin custard, which could be cooked in its own vessel—the pumpkin shell. Our tip today is: See if you can fit it into your Thanksgiving menu; and if not, enjoy it in advance of the big day.

    Before we go on to the recipe, here are some tidbits from

    The website has a terrific account on the Pilgrims and the first “Thanksgiving” (it wasn’t called that until much later). It expands on snippets taught in school and follows the dual stories of both the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag natives who helped them. The re-enactment videos and photography bring the story to life in a fresh new way.

    If some family and guests have an hour to kill on Thanksgiving Day, send everyone to the site. It will make the feast so much more meaningful.


    The Pilgrims, 102 adults and children, set sail for Virginia on September 6, 1620. The Mayflower was thrown off course by storms, and landed at Cape Cod 56 days later, on November 11th. The party made their way to the settlement they called Plimouth as winter set in, arriving on Christmas Day. Already weakened by their travel voyage, half of the passengers failed to survive the first few months of a bitter winter.




    TOP PHOTO: Pumpkin custard baked in a pumpkin. Photo courtesy Souffle Bombay. BOTTOM PHOTO: A sugar pumpkin, the best size and shape for this recipe. Photo courtesy Art Of The Home.


    During those winter months, it was very difficult to find food and build shelter. Fortunately, the local native people, called Wampanoag, shared their knowledge and helped the colonists survive.

    Ten months after they arrived the settlers had constructed seven cottages, a common meeting house and three storehouses for the food from their first harvest. The Wampanoag Squanto taught the settlers how to plant native crops like corn and squash.

    Our national holiday commemorates the feast held in the autumn of 1621 to celebrate the colony’s first successful harvest. It was considered a harvest celebration, and was not called Thanksgiving. The “thanksgiving” concept was applied in the 19th century by scholars studying that period; and the Thanksgiving holiday, setting the last Thursday of November “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise,” was proclaimed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.

    What did they eat? There’s only one surviving written account of the feast, which mentions neither turkey nor pumpkin, although we know both were plentiful locally. There were no cranberries† and no potatoes, mashed or sweet. Here’s what we do know:

  • Waterfowl were plentiful in the Massachusetts Bay area. Men could go out and shoot as much duck and geese as they liked. The women would pluck them and roast them over the fireplaces in their cottages.
  • Children would grind corn into cornmeal which was then made into porridge called samp (think oatmeal made from corn).
  • For their first harvest feast, the Wampanoag leader, Massasoit, sent 5 warriors to hunt five deer as a gift to the colonists. Venison was a favorite Wampanoag food.
  • The duck and venison were likely accompanied by cabbage, corn, onions, squash (including pumpkin) and seafood. Mussels clung to the rocks along the shore—easy pickings.
  • The 1621 feast lasted about a week, spanning several meals and games for both children and adults. Sometimes the Wampanoag and Pilgrims dined together, sometimes apart.
    *The Native Americans probably couldn’t sweeten them enough to be tasty. Instead, they used cranberries for red dye.




    TOP PHOTO: A traditional pumpkin pie, made
    in a pie plate with a crust, didn’t appear until
    the early 19th century. TOP PHOTO: A
    traditional pumpkin pie decorated with small cookies in seasonal shapes. The cookie cutters are available at William-Sonoma.
    Photo courtesy Williams-Sonoma. BOTTOM
    PHOTO: You can also bake the custard in small individual pumpkins. Photo courtesy



    According to some accounts, the English settlers hollowed out pumpkins and filled the shells with milk, honey and spices to make a custard. They baked the filled pumpkin in the hot ashes of the fireplace. You, fortunately, have an oven.

    This recipe creates an impressive dessert that happens to be gluten free. You can also make a savory custard version to serve as a side. Here’s an assortment of savory custard recipes.

    Note that this isn’t “pumpkin custard” but a conventional custard baked inside a pumpkin. You can make a pumpkin custard by adding pumpkin purée to the custard recipe. Here’s one pumpkin custard recipe; there are many others online.
    Ingredients For 4-5 Servings

  • 1 small pumpkin*
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs plus 4 egg yolks
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon of cornstarch
  • Pinch of salt
    *The pumpkin should be 4-5 inches in height and 18 inches in diameter. Sugar pumpkins are ideal, but if you can’t find a small pumpkin, look for other winter squash in this size range (Hubbard, for example).

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 400°F. Prepare the pumpkin as if preparing a jack-o-lantern: Cut off the top leaving the stem intact and scoop out the seeds and pulp. Scoop out enough pulp (pumpkin flesh) for the custard, while leaving a border of pulp to serve along with the finished custard. Place the large bottom portion on a baking sheet. Reserve the top (stem end) for later.

    2. COMBINE the sugar, eggs and vanilla in a mixing bowl and whisk until combined. Add the heavy cream, cornstarch and salt and whisk until fully combined. Pour the mixture into the prepared pumpkin, leaving a 3/4-inch space between the filling and the top of the pumpkin. Bake for 15 minutes; then cover the top of the pumpkin loosely with foil and bake another 15 minutes.

    3. LOWER the oven temperature to 375°F, place the top of the pumpkin on the tray and continue to bake for another 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake an additional 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the custard comes out almost clean.

    4. TURN off the oven, allow the pumpkin to cool for an hour, then place it a refrigerator or in your cold garage, loosely covered with plastic wrap or foil. Allow the custard to set 6 hours or overnight. This is a good recipe to assign to a guest, since if you’re making the rest of the dinner, you (a) have your hands full and (b) your fridge is packed.

    5. TO SERVE: Scoop the custard into dessert bowls, scraping the sides to include some of the baked pumpkin.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Apple Cider Salted Caramels

    We love salted caramels: plain sea salt, fleur de sel, gray sea salt, smoked sea salt (see the different types of sea salts).

    They aren’t inexpensive: A box of seven smallish squares, chocolate coated and garnished with salt, is $14.00 at Fran’s.

    So how about a project for a lazy Sunday: homemade salted caramels? It can also solve holiday gift-giving needs.

    This recipe, which adds the seasonal touch of apple cider, was developed by P.J. Hamel for King Arthur Flour. Here are additional photos and tips.

    This recipe is made in the classic French style: Salted butter is used and more salt can be added to the caramel, instead of the current vogue for sweet butter with a salt garnishing on top. We prefer the latter, so if you prefer, use unsalted butter in the recipe and garnish the top with sea salt or other fine salt.

    The boiled cider that flavors the caramels is simply reduced apple cider or juice. You can make it (instructions are in the recipe that follows) or buy it (King Arthur Flour sells it). If you’re making your own, you can make it up to three months in advance.

    Use the extra boiled cider to add flavor to:

  • Baking: Add to baked recipes that use apples: cakes, crisps, crumbles, pies, turnovers. Replace the honey or molasses in recipes for apple cake, gingerbread, spice muffins and similar recipes.
  • Breakfast: Drizzle over French toast, oatmeal, pancakes, waffles; stir into plain yogurt.
  • Condiment: Add a teaspoon to vinaigrette or barbecue sauce; drizzle over baked apples, crêpes, grilled fruit, ice cream, sorbet or frozen yogurt; spread on toast or cornbread; give better flavor to store-bought applesauce.

    Apple Cider Caramels

    Apple Cider Salted Caramels

    Try your hand at making caramels. Photos courtesy King Arthur Flour.

  • Dinner: Glaze grilled vegetables or poultry (brush it on) or add a bit to marinades.

    Ingredients For 64 Caramels

  • 2 cups (1 pint) heavy cream or whipping cream
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 6 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted
  • 1/2 cup boiled cider*, purchased or made (recipe follows)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon apple pie spice†
    For The Boiled Cider

    Prep time is 10 minutes, cook time is 1 hour. The yield is 1-1/2 cups.

  • 8 cups fresh apple cider or apple juice
    See the difference between cider vs. apple juice, below.
    *You can buy ready-made boiled cider from King Arthur Flour and other baking supply retailers.

    †Substitute 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ginger and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg or allspice.



    Chocolate Covered Salted Caramels

    TOP PHOTO: Homemade boiled apple cider. Photo courtesy Midwest Living. Here’s their
    full recipe. BOTTOM RECIPE: Feeling
    ambitious? Dip your caramels in melted
    chocolate. Photo courtesy Alma Chocolate.



    1. MAKE the boiled cider. BRING the cider to boiling in a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven. Reduce the heat to medium and boil gently, uncovered, for 1-3/4 hours. Stir occasionally, until the cider has reduced to 1-1/2 cups. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.

    2. TRANSFER the boiled cider to a screw-top jar with a mouth at least wide enough to insert a spoon. Cover and store in the fridge for up to 3 months. The boiled cider will thicken in the fridge. Bring it to room temperature to use in this recipe.

    3. LIGHTLY GREASE an 8″ x 8″ baking pan and line with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on opposite sides.

    4. COMBINE the cream, corn syrup, sugar, butter and boiled cider in a heavy-bottom, deep saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce to medium-high heat and cook until the mixture reaches 248°F on a candy thermometer, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat; stir in the salt and spice.

    5. POUR the hot mixture into the prepared pan. Let it stand for 12 to 18 hours at room temperature before cutting into 1″ squares.

    6. WRAP the caramels: Use 6″ squares of parchment paper. (We had 5-inch squares. The difference is shorter twisted ends.) Place one caramel in the center of each square; wrap the opposite edges of the paper around the caramel and twist the exposed edges to close. If you don’t have parchment paper you can use wax paper, but you need to be careful when twisting the edges because it tears more easily.

    Here’s a very helpful video on how to wrap caramels.



    Since Prohibition, which began in the U.S. in 1920, “cider” has referred to the unfermented, unpasteurized apple juice. “Hard cider” is used to indicate the alcoholic beverage. In the U.K. it is the opposite, with “cider” indicating the alcoholic drink for which special cider apples are used.

  • Hard cider is a fermented alcoholic beverage made from the unfiltered juice of apples. The alcohol content varies from a low 1.2% ABV* to 8.5% or higher—some imported ciders can be up to 12% ABV, an average level for table wines. It does not need to be refrigerated until the container is opened.
  • Fresh apple cider is raw apple juice, typically unfiltered. Thus, it is cloudy from the remnants of apple pulp. It is also typically more flavorful than apple juice—although of course, the particular blend of apples used in either has a big impact on the taste. It needs to be refrigerated.
  • Apple juice has been filtered to remove pulp solids, then pasteurized for longer shelf life. It does not need to be refrigerated until the container is opened.


    RECIPE: White Chocolate Pumpkin Fondue

    For pumpkin season, treat everyone to this White Chocolate Pumpkin Pie Chocolate Fondue from The Melting Pot, with a few modifications from THE NIBBLE.

    Why not make it this weekend? Don’t like to cook? Find the nearest Melting Pot.


    Ingredients For The Fondue

  • 8 ounces white chocolate, chopped (look for Green & Black’s, Lindt or other premium brand)
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • 1 heaping teaspoon pumpkin purée (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons Bacardi 151 Rum*
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • Optional: chopped graham crackers or white chocolate shavings
    *Bacardi 151 is a brand of highly alcoholic rum, named for its alcohol proof level of 151 (75.5% alcohol by volume or A.B.V.). This is about double the alcohol of conventional rum (35%–40% A.B.V.). You can substitute a liqueur instead; see Step 3 below.


    White Chocolate Pumpkin Fondue

    White chocolate pumpkin fondue, garnished with white chocolate shavings. Photo courtesy The Melting Pot.


    For The Dippers

  • Cake cubes: blondies, brownies, doughnut holes or pieces, loaf cakes (carrot, chocolate, pound)
  • Cookies: amaretti, biscotti, graham crackers, granola bars, lady fingers, meringues, shortbread fingers, tea biscuits
  • Dried fruits: apples, apricots, dates, figs, mangoes, prunes
  • Fresh fruits: apples, bananas, grapes. mandarins/oranges, pears, pineapple, strawberries

    1. PLACE the chocolate and cream in the top of a double boiler pot over medium heat, stirring constantly so as not to scorch the chocolate. Alternatively, melt in the microwave in 45 second increments, stirring after each one.

    2. POUR the melted chocolate into a fondue pot. Add the pumpkin purée, blending gently. Taste and add more pumpkin if you like.

    3. ADD the rum to the pot and light with a long match or fireplace lighter. As the rum burns away, carefully stir the mixture together. If you don’t want to purchase 151 rum or flambé, stir the equivalent amount of orange liqueur into the melted chocolate and blend.

    4. SPRINKLE the nutmeg into the pot and gently fold in. The Melting Pot garnishes the top of the fondue with chopped graham crackers, but we prefer to use the graham crackers as dippers.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Thanksgiving Turkey Varieties


    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01 data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/larryprice natwildturkeyfed 230

    TOP PHOTO: Broad Breasted White,
    America’s supermarket turkey. Photo
    courtesy Porter Turkeys. BOTTOM PHOTO:
    What the Pilgrims ate: the original wild
    turkey, a streamlined physique. Photo by
    Larry Price | National Wild Turkey


    The turkey is a native American bird. As everyone who went to grade school here knows, it was enjoyed by the Pilgrims and their Wampanoag Native American neighbors at a dinner at the Plimouth Plantation, Massachusetts in 1621.

    (Plimouth is how the Pilgrims spelled it. In the 17th century, there was no standardization of spelling. The modern town is spellled Plymouth, but the historical site retains its original spelling.)

    A celebration of the settlers’ first harvest, this harvest feast was later called “The First Thanksgiving” by 18th-century scholars. The name stuck. Check out more about it below.

    Fast forward almost 400 years, and we’re consuming 400 million turkeys a year. Ninety-nine percent of them are Broad Breasted Whites, a breed with short legs and a huge breast, bred to meet Americans’ overwhelming taste for white meat.

    As much as we gobble up those big birds, there’s been rumbling that they’re dry, tasteless, and bear no relation whatsoever to that enjoyed by our forefathers (or even our grandparents).

    Is that true? We share our notes from a tasting test in the next section. But the choices become confusing, and we’ve addressed them: heirloom versus heritage, wild versus heirloom, and supermarket turkey versus the world.

    More than 10 breeds are classified as heritage turkeys: Auburn, Buff, Black, Bourbon Red, Narragansett, Royal Palm, Slate, Standard Bronze and Midget White. These were bred long ago from the original wild turkey.

    Much of the ancient breeding stock survived on family farms, kept as show birds, consumed by the farm families and available in tiny quantities in the locale.

    But it’s not all deliciousness in Heritage Turkeyland. According to, the Jersey Buff and Midget White are on the critical extinction list; the Narragansett is on the Threatened list; and the Bourbon Red, Royal Palm, Slate and Standard Bronze are on the Watch list. However…

    Over the past two decades, as heritage breeds have been “reclaimed” by chefs, expansion of certain heritage breeds has ensured that there’s enough heritage turkey for everyone who wants one.

    Does that mean you should reach for the Butterball and forget heritage breeds? Not at all!

    Thanks to Whole Foods for helping to explain these choices. All of Whole Foods Markets’ turkeys come from farms that have been certified by the third-party verified 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating System. They are raised with no antibiotics, no added hormones and no animal bi-products in their feed.

  • Classic Antibiotic-Free Turkeys. These are Broad Breasted Whites (see top photo above) raised with no antibiotics. They are the perennial customer favorite at Whole Foods Markets. “They offer a trifecta of flavor, quality and value,” says Whole Foods.
  • Organic Turkeys. In addition to being raised without the use of antibiotics, organic turkeys are raised on farms that have been certified organic according to USDA Organic Standards (only certified organic feed, processing and packaging allowed).
  • Heritage Turkeys. These birds are raised slowly and traditionally. They’re old breeds with a more robust turkey flavor, and are typically a bit smaller (usually up to 14 pounds) than classic antibiotic free birds. One reason for their smaller size is that, unlike the majority of today’s commercial breeds, heritage turkeys are single breasted like their wild ancestor.

    Our mother was a Butterball loyalist, and made terrific turkey with moist breast meat, using her various techniques that included brining and covering the breast with foil. If you want an ultra moist turkey, but don’t want to do the brining at home, buy a hand-brined bird that’s ready to roast. (NOTE: Remember not to stuff a brined bird because the stuffing will be too salty.)

    A few years ago, we were invited to a tasting of different roast turkeys at a prominent culinary school. Except for the Butterball, which was frozen, the birds were fresh.

    We liked Butterball the best! Here are our tasting notes, with the counsel that it isn’t truly scientific since we didn’t repeat the test. And, birds from different farms could easily yield different results.

  • Organic Turkey. The white meat was pebbly, papery. The dark meat was pink, moist, very tasty.
  • Butterball Turkey. The meatiest breast and drumsticks. Excellent texture and taste, a very “birdy” flavor (what we have come to recognize as great turkey flavor) and classic white meat. The dark meat is darker in color and a little chewier than the organic turkey, but a lovely, pure, excellent flavor. The interesting thing about this bird is that the white meat and dark meat flavors are not at extremes: White meat lovers should enjoy the dark meat, and dark meat lovers should enjoy the white meat. Note that Butterball is a brand, and not all Broad Breasted White turkeys are branded.
  • Heritage Bourbon Red Turkey. A smaller, broad breast with lots of breast meat but smaller drumsticks. The meat was chewy all over without a lot of flavor. The dark meat is very dark; moist but just too chewy with no other payoff.
  • Heritage Standard Bronze Turkey. The meat was chewy, but not as chewy as the Heritage Bourbon Red. The dark meat was moist, the white meat O.K.
  • Wild Turkey. This scrawny, elongated bird looks like a champion marathon runner (see the photo above). There was almost no meat on the upper breast, but it had big thighs. Surprisingly, both white and dark meat were very tender. I wish it had more “birdy” flavor.
    The next two varieties were included in our taste test; but to be fair, they were at the end of the tasting, and we were all turkeyed out. We were stuffed and predisposed not to like anything else.

  • Heirloom Turkey. Dating back to the early 1920s-1930s, heirloom turkeys were bred to strike a balance between the wild, robust flavor of the heritage breeds, and the mild flavor then (and still) preferred by consumers. They were bred to be double breasted, to provide more white meat than heritage turkeys.
  • Kosher Turkeys. Rabbinical inspectors check each bird to ensure that it is of the highest quality and processed in accordance with the kosher standards of cleanliness, purity and wholesomeness. You can find both conventional and organic kosher birds. TIP: Hold the salt! Kosher turkeys have already been salted. And don’t brine or you’ll have an overly salty bird.
    So what should you do? The decision is yours. You can go with what you enjoyed last year, or try something new.

    Tip: If you’re feeding a large group or want white meat leftovers, pick up an extra organic turkey breast to make sure you have plenty of white meat to go around.




    It is a little-known fact that the three-day feast celebrated by the Pilgrims and Wampanoag natives, which we purportedly replicate on the fourth Thursday of each November, was never again repeated in Plimouth Plantation; nor was it deemed by the colonists to be a “Thanksgiving feast.”

    In fact, days of thanksgiving observed by the Pilgrims were devoted to prayer, not feasting. So we are not replicating the Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving Day each year.

    That term was bestowed by academics researching the topic in the 18th century.

    We know that in 1621, the governor of Plimoth Plantation sent four men fowling, and “they four in one day shot as much fowl.” Perhaps it was turkey, perhaps duck, which was also plentiful in the area. The one written record dies not specify.

    We also know that the native Wampanoag guests killed five deer. About ninety of them attended, and the feast lasted for three days.
    A Treasure Trove Of Thanksgiving History

    There’s much to know about the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag People that we never learned in school. But has the best site we’ve seen on the history of Thanksgiving. We love it!

    If people are waiting around for dinner, send them here.

    President Abraham Lincoln declared the first national Thanksgiving Day in 1863, and created the holiday observed since on the fourth Thursday of November.




    Platter garnishing ideas: TOP PHOTO. Add some veggies to the plater. We raw prefer cherry tomatoes and baby pattypan squash, which add color, don’t take away from the cooked fare and can be enjoyed the next day. Photo courtesy iGourmet. BOTTOM PHOTO: Keep it simple with kumquats and whole uncooked cranberries. Photo courtesy National Turkey Federation.



    PRODUCTS: Biscotti & Ice Cream In Holiday Flavors

    This time of year, supermarkets are filling with limited edition seasonal items, from Red Velvet Oreos to Starbucks Holiday Blend to Pumpkin Spice Coffee-Mate.

    We don’t indulge in any of them; but here are some of the treats we look forward to each holiday season:


    At Ciao Bella, you can sink your spoon into three holiday flavors.

  • Honey Almond Nougat Gelato blends honey almond torrone and roasted almonds in a base that does approximate torrone flavor. It’s great idea, but our pint seemed to be lacking in the almond torrone. There were plenty of almonds, however.
  • Mulled Apple Cider Sorbetto is a very cinnamon-imbued apple cider sorbet. This tasty sorbetto called out to us to be made into some kind of cocktail. We took the easy way out and scooped it into glasses of hard apple cider—a hard cider float.
  • White Chocolate Peppermint Gelato churns crushed peppermint candies into white chocolate Gelato. Peppermint ice cream is one of our favorite seasonal foods. We could have wished for more crushed inclusions; although those who like a less heavy dose of peppermint will be satisfied.
    Discover more a

    From Talenti, get your fill of:

  • Pumpkin Pie Gelato: brown sugar, pumpkin and pumpkin pie spices with real pieces of pie crust. It inspired us to spoon the gelato into tartlet shells for even more crust. (Ice cream tartlets is a good idea for any of these holiday flavors.)
  • Old World Eggnog Gelato is pretty close to a frozen eggnog experience, laden with nutmeg. We enjoyed it from the pint, spooned into hot chocolate, and in a cocktail made with rum and ginger beer, a kind of Dark & Stormy Eggnog. Did we mention it tastes great with hot fudge?
  • Peppermint Bark Gelato puts all the peppermint into the gelato, and studs it with flakes of semisweet Callebaut chocolate. It’s so refreshing, we ate the whole pint.


    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01 data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/egg nog pint 230

    TOP PHOTO: Holiday sorbetto from Ciao Bella. BOTTOM PHOTO: Peppermint Bark gelato from Talenti. Talenti has styled the top of the gelato with tiny edible evergreens and sleds.

    Discover more at



    Pumpkin Spice biscotti are a seasonal hit.
    Photo courtesy Nonni’s.



    Nonni’s Biscotti, which produces delectable seasonal biscotti in limited edition Gingerbread and Pumpkin Spice, has added two new holiday flavors this year.

  • Caramel Apple Biscotti is a bit on the sweet side. We’ll stick with the Salted Caramel Biscotti, a year-round flavor and a favorite.
  • Cranberry Cioccolati Biscotti adds bits of dried cranberry to the year-round chocolate-dipped Cioccolati Biscotti. We’re a fan, but next year, Nonni, please add more or bigger cranberry pieces.
    You can give eight-piece boxes as holiday gifts, enjoy them with your holiday ice cream, or with a cup of coffee, tea or hot chocolate. We won’t put into print how many we’ve polished off in the writing of this article.

    Discover more at




    TIP OF THE DAY: Cinnamon Pecan Topping

    For holiday season, it’s good to have a trick up your sleeve that quickly turns everyday food into festive food.

    We nominate homemade cinnamon pecan topping, which can be used to garnish both sweet and savory foods. See our list of uses below.

    You can use any nut, but pecan goes particularly well in this type of topping.

    We adapted this recipe from McCormick. It makes 12 servings, 2 tablespoons each. You can make a double batch and keep it in the fridge.

    Although the McCormick version uses rum flavor, feel free to substitute real rum or whiskey.

    Plan ahead: You can bring a jar of topping as a house gift, or give it as holiday gifts.

    Prep time is 5 minutes, cook time is 12 minutes.


    Ingredients For 1-1/2 Cups

  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon rum flavor

    Pecan Topping


    TOP PHOTO: Top a Brie with homemade cinnamon pecan topping Photo by Caroline Edwards from Chocolate and Carrots | BOTTOM PHOTO: Turn a plain scoop of ice cream into a sundae. Photo courtesy


    Pecan Topping

    Keep it in the fridge to pull out whenever you need it. Photo courtesy McCormick.



    1. MIX the brown sugar, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg in small bowl until blended. Set aside.

    2. MELT 2 tablespoons of the butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add the pecans and toast for 5 to 7 minutes or until golden brown, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to low.

    3. STIR the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, corn syrup, water, vanilla extract, rum flavor and the brown sugar mixture into the skillet. Cook, stirring until the butter is melted and the mixture is heated through.

    4. REMOVE from the heat. The mixture will thicken as it cools. Serve at room temperature.



  • Breakfast: Top French toast, pancakes, waffles.
  • Desserts: Use as a cake topping or filling; fill crêpes and tartlets; top ice cream, ice cream cake or ice cream pie; garnish blondies/brownies or pie; mix with mascarpone or ricotta to spread on biscotti or shortbread.
  • Hors d’oeuvre: Top regular or baked Brie.
  • Sides: Top a baked sweet potato with pecan topping and Greek yogurt or sour cream.
  • Snack: Mix into yogurt, stir into coffee or tea.


    RECIPE: Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie

    This fall and Thanksgiving dessert from King Arthur Flour has the wisdom of Solomon. When you can’t decide between pumpkin pie or pumpkin cheesecake, go zebra* and combine them into one dessert!

    Prep time is 25 to 33 minutes, bake time is 40 to 45 minutes.


    Ingredients For A 9-Inch Pie, 10-12 Servings

    For The Crust

    Make your favorite pie crust or purchase a deep 9″ prepared crust. You can also use a cheesecake crust of graham crackers or gingersnaps.

  • Cheesecake crust variations
  • Gingersnap crust
    For The Cheesecake Layer

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Optional: 1/4 cup crushed crystallized ginger (photo below)
    For The Pumpkin Layer

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin purée
  • 1 cup light cream or evaporated milk
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten

    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01 data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/pumpkin pie cheesecake kingarthur 230L1

    The bottom layer is cheesecake, the top layer is pumpkin pie. Photo courtesy

    *A zebra is a cheesecake bottom and a brownie top, or vice versa. Here’s a recipe.



    Crystallized Ginger

    TOP PHOTO: A slice of Pumpkin Pie
    Cheesecake. Add a pinch of ground ginger
    from the whipped cream. Photo courtesy BOTTOM PHOTO:
    finely diced crystallized ginger. You can buy it at in a small dice for baking. Photo courtesy King Arthur Flour.


    For Serving

  • Optional garnish: candied pecans (recipe)
  • Whipped cream (recipe)

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 425°F.

    2. REMOVE the crust from the refrigerator and allow it to rest at room temperature until it’s warm enough to work with (10 to 30 minutes, depending on how long it’s been refrigerated).

    3. FLOUR your work surface, and roll the crust into a 13″ round. Transfer it to a pie plate that’s at least 9″ wide and 2″ deep. A giant spatula works well for this task. IMPORTANT: Be sure the pan is 2″ deep or all the filling won’t fit. If you find yourself with too much filling, pour it into a ramekin and bake it until the center is set. You’ll have an individual dessert or snack.

    4. GENTLY SETTLE the crust into the plate, and crimp the edges.

    5. MAKE the cheesecake filling: Combine the room-temperature cream cheese and sugar, beating slowly until the mixture is fairly smooth. It may appear grainy, or a few lumps may remain; that’s OK.

    6. STIR in the egg, vanilla and optional ginger. Spoon the filling into the pie crust.

    7. MAKE the pumpkin filling: Whisk together the sugar, salt and spices in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add the pumpkin, cream or evaporated milk and eggs, and whisk gently until smooth. (You don’t want to beat a lot of air into this mixture; just be sure it’s thoroughly combined.)

    8. GENTLY SPOON the pumpkin filling atop the cheesecake layer, filling within 1/4″ of the top of the crust. NOTE: Do this carefully at first, so as to not disturb the cheesecake layer. Once you’ve covered the cheesecake, you can be less careful.


    9. BAKE the pie for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and continue to bake for 40 to 45 minutes, covering the edges of the pie with a crust shield or aluminum foil if they seem to be browning too quickly. The pie is done when it looks set, but still wobbles a bit in the center when you jiggle it. If you have a digital thermometer, the pie will register 165°F at its center when it’s done.

    10. REMOVE the pie from the oven, allow it to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate it until serving time. Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream flavored with a pinch of ginger and teaspoon of vanilla.



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