Thanksgiving may strike most people as a uniquely American holiday, but virtually every culture celebrates some sort of harvest festival. Not surprisingly, harvest days feature the most quintessential grain, fruit, vegetable and herb crops of the gathering season. To create an herbal Thanksgiving, consider the herbs and spices typically associated with autumn—warm, zesty spices like ginger, cardamom and caraway, earthy fresh herbs such as sage, oregano and marjoram, and for desserts and beverages, the so-called sweet herbs, including mint, salad burnet and pineapple sage.
Appetizers and Punch
Blend an autumnal red wine herbal punch featuring two dozen sprigs of delicate, cucumber-like salad burnet, along with 2 qts. claret, 2 cups orange juice, 1 cup granulated sugar, 6 peaches, 2 bunches red grapes, 1 bunch purple grapes. Steep the burnet in the wine and juice for 4 hours; arrange the separated grapes and the peaches over ice at the bottom of the punch bowl; pour sugar on top, then add the wine mixture.
Serve a tangy herb-cheese cracker spread. Heat in a saucepan 1 lb. cheddar cheese, ½ cup beer or ale, 2 tbsp. butter, 2 crushed cloves of garlic, 1 tbsp. caraway seeds, and several tbsp. of a combination of your choice among chopped fresh chives, parsley, sage, thyme and rosemary. Cook until the entire mixture is melted, remove from heat and whisk until it's smooth. Pour it into a crock or serving bowl to chill.
Use your favorite stuffed mushroom recipe for canapes, but add finely chopped tarragon to the stuffing.
Main and Side Dishes
Add fresh chopped rosemary and oregano to your favorite roll recipes. Cheddar cheese also adds a savory touch.
Give fresh interest to your usual sweet potato or yam casserole by sprinkling it with oregano and caraway before it goes into the oven.
Tweak the traditional lasagna or pasta entrée with a marigold cream sauce. Make a classic Alfredo sauce but first infuse fresh marigold petals, also known as calendula petals, in the cream. Heat and strain the cream and proceed with the recipe, Pour it over the pasta of your choice, or use it instead of a red sauce when baking lasagna.
Keep alive the tradition of the sage-onion turkey dressing. In addition to using chopped sage in the dressing, surround the turkey itself with fresh springs of the earthy herb.
Use sage again, this time in the form of pineapple sage added to fruit salad. This whimsical cousin to traditional sage really does have a pineapple zing, and the variegated kind will add beauty as well as flavor to your fruit composition.
Present pears poached in red wine as a sophisticated addition to the groaning board. Give your traditional recipe a minty twist by dotting the finished pears with mint jelly, and decorating the serving platter with sprigs of mint leaves.
Use fresh grated ginger for your pumpkin pie and gingerbread recipes, or any other recipes calling for dried ginger.
Create an herbal whipped cream for pie or cake by infusing the cream for several hours with lemon balm, mint, rose petals, bergamot, sweet cicely, scented geranium leaves, or angelica. Strain the spent herbs before whipping, and garnish the dessert with additional sprigs or leaves if you like.