Thanksgiving Traditions, New and Old

Blair Mattei tackles her first Thanksgiving as a newlywed with the help of her two sisters-in-law and the perfect combination of everyone’s family traditions and recipes.

Left to right: Mary Lucy Mattei, Blair Mattei and Beth Mattei warm up with some spiced cider, a recipe from an Oxford, Mississippi, chef they all love. “Making this cocktail on the stove top makes the house smell incredible and it really sets the tone for the holidays,” explains Beth. A slice of homemade cheesecake never hurt the upbeat mood, either. Photo by Elizabeth Gelineau

Thanksgiving prep can leave you wishing you had a double oven, a second fridge, a few extra hours and another pair of hands. All of this family feasting can make seasoned entertainers overwhelmed and exhausted, not to mention those who have never hosted the troops at their own house before! Luckily, newlywed Blair Mattei has two sisters-in-law and a mother-in-law — Beth, Mary Lucy and Meg Mattei — who are fabulous cooks and full of energy, ready to help make her first time hosting the big day go super smoothly.

Everyone grows up with their own holiday traditions — the dishes that are always prepared just the way grandmother did, the bowl game that has to be on, the holiday rituals that make being with family so special. When you marry, you often leave behind some of these traditions and lose just a bit of that time with the ones you grew up with, while at the same time starting new traditions of your own. The Matteis seem to have perfected the art of bridging that gap between old and new traditions and recipes.

While the three Mattei brothers, Peyton, Ryan and Kirk, along with their dad, Bo, gather in the backyard to fry the holiday bird, hoping not to catch the yard on fire, the wives set out to construct a melding of holiday recipes. Soups, sides and desserts from their own childhoods and those of their husbands are recreated with love, while a few modern twists and some good cocktails spice things up.

It helps that a good percentage of this crew went to Ole Miss, so when it’s time to turn on the Egg Bowl, there is little debate about who to cheer for.

- Sponsors -

“Thanksgiving at the Matteis also comes with a lot of activity since there are children running everywhere,” says Blair. “It’s really fun for me and Kirk to spend time with our nieces and nephews in that way.” Memories that will last a lifetime.

“My mom had us write down something we were thankful for and put the notes
in a box that she taped up. The next Thanksgiving, she would open the box
and we would read the messages. It’s always something to look forward to, and, given the way my family operates, it’s always good for a big laugh.
You never know what people will put in there!”  
Blair Mattei

Meg’s Oyster Stew

Meg’s Oyster Stew. Photo by Elizabeth Gelineau

11 tablespoons butter, divided
3 pints oysters, drained
1 tablespoon Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning, plus more to taste
9 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup white onion, finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
1 tablespoon dried parsley
4 – 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 gallon whole milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
chopped green onion, for garnish
oyster crackers, for serving

1. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan over high heat and add oysters. Season with Tony Chachere’s.
2. Cook quickly over medium heat, stirring just until oyster edges are curled. Set aside.
3. In another large saucepan, melt remaining butter over medium heat. Add flour and stir constantly, cooking 3 minutes until flour is cooked but not browned. Add all vegetables and cook in roux until softened. Add milk, 1 1/2 cups of cooked oyster liquid and oysters. Discard any remaining oyster liquid. Season with salt and pepper and Tony Chachere’s to taste.
4. Serve hot, sprinkled with chopped green onion and oyster crackers.

City Grocery Spiced Cider

City Grocery Spiced Cider. Photo by Elizabeth Gelineau

Beth Mattei makes this cocktail in honor of her husband’s alma mater, Ole Miss, and the Egg Bowl, played every Thanksgiving. Recipe from “Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey” by John Currence.

4 cups apple cider
Peel of 1/2 medium orange
Peel of 1 lemon
1 cinnamon stick
4 whole cloves
3 allspice berries
2 cups bourbon
Lemon twists, for garnish
Freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish

1. Combine cider, orange and lemon peels, cinnamon, cloves and allspice berries in a large saucepan and bring to a boil.
2. Decrease the heat to a simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let steep for 7 – 10 minutes.
3. Strain the liquid into a coffee pot, discard the solids and add the bourbon. Serve warm  with a twist of lemon and grated nutmeg.

“When I was growing up, my dad would mix up V8 juice and add all kinds of spices the night before, and we would wake up Thanksgiving morning and have that and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. And I would play Christmas music starting that morning.” Mary Lucy Mattei

Lee Bailey’s Corn Pudding

Lee Bailey’s Corn Pudding. Photo by Elizabeth Gelineau

Meg Mattei makes this corn pudding recipe every Thanksgiving in her adorable tree stump pottery dish. The recipe comes from her mother’s good friend, Lee Bailey, with whom she grew up in Bunkie, Louisiana.

2 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels, cut from the cob of 6 large ears
1 cup cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
3 tablespoons butter, melted
5 eggs, well beaten
3 cups milk
a pinch of nutmeg
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon cold water

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 2-quart baking dish and set aside.
2. Place corn and cream in a double boiler. Heat over medium-low for 20 minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking.
3. Remove 2 1/2 cups of corn mixture and set aside to cool. Save any leftovers for another use.
4. Add sugar, salt, pepper, butter, eggs, milk and nutmeg to corn. Dissolve cornstarch in water and add to corn.
5. Pour into baking dish and bake 1 hour or until custard is firm.

Go-Go’s Turkey Stuffing

Go-Go’s Turkey Stuffing. Photo by Elizabeth Gelineau

Blair Mattei says, “I always associate Thanksgiving with my maternal grandmother, Barbara Blackwell, whom we called Go-Go. She had a few staples in her cookbook that we always looked forward to on Thanksgiving. Her stuffing is simple, perfect for a beginner-level cook like me!”

1 1/2 sticks butter
1/2 sweet onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 loaf white bread
1 14-ounce bag stuffing mix, such as Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned Classic Stuffing
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 tablespoon butter

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add celery and onion and saute until soft.
2. Tear white bread into small pieces and add to a large mixing bowl. Add stuffing mix, then add onion and celery. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Using your hands, combine all ingredients well.
3. Insert as much stuffing as will fit into the cavity of your turkey, if cooking one, and finish according to directions. Place the remaining stuffing in a casserole dish coated with cooking spray. Pour chicken broth over stuffing in casserole and dot with butter.
4. Bake for 30 minutes, adding more chicken broth to stuffing if needed.

“We always put marshmallows on our sweet potato casserole. I know that is a great debate, but if my mom or I ever did anything besides marshmallows on top, we would have a Thanksgiving mutiny!” Beth Mattei

Green Beans with Artichoke Hearts

Green Beans with Artichoke Hearts. Photo by Elizabeth Gelineau

Mary Lucy Mattei’s maternal aunt, Betty Brown Edgar, always makes this recipe for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon salt
4 cans whole green beans, drained
2 cans quartered artichoke hearts, drained

1. Combine vinegar, water and oil in a large saucepan. Dissolve sugar and salt into liquid mixture.
2. Add green beans and artichoke hearts. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 3 hours.

Lola’s Sweet Potato Casserole

Lola’s Sweet Potato Casserole. Photo by Elizabeth Gelineau

Beth Mattei’s mother makes these sweet potatoes every Thanksgiving. The original recipe calls for streusel topping or chopped nuts, but her family insists on mini marshmallows instead. Recipe from The Cotton Country Cookbook, Morgan County Junior League.

5 sweet potatoes
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup milk
Juice and rind of 1 orange
4 eggs
mini marshmallows, optional

Alternate toppings:
1 cup of nuts, chopped and mixed with melted butter

1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup butter

1. Stew sweet potatoes in jackets. Skin and mash.
2. Add butter, sugar, milk, orange juice, rind and eggs. Put in buttered casserole.
3. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cover top with mini marshmallows. Return to oven for 10 minutes or until marshmallows are lightly toasted.

Mary Lucy Mattei’s Cheesecake

Mary Lucy Mattei’s Cheesecake. Photo by Elizabeth Gelineau

Mary Lucy not only made this recipe for family every Thanksgiving, when she was in high school a neighbor paid her to make them for him as well! The recipe comes from family friend Carlyle Wolfe.

3 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 1/2 sticks plus 1 tablespoon melted butter, divided
2 cups plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons vanilla
3 eggs
24 ounces cream cheese
4 ounces sour cream
1 tablespoon milk

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. In a medium mixing bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs, 1 1/2 sticks melted butter and 1 cup sugar. Using your hands, press mixture into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Bake for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with cinnamon.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine 1 stick plus 1 tablespoon melted butter, vanilla and eggs. Add cream cheese and 1 cup sugar and beat on medium until smooth.
4. Pour mixture into crust and bake for 55 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool 10 minutes.
5. In a small bowl, combine sour cream, milk and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar. Pour on top of cheesecake and return to oven for 5 more minutes to set. Cool completely.

Get the best of Mobile delivered to your inbox

Be the first to know about local events, home tours, restaurant reviews and more!