A plump golden turkey surrounded by platters piled high with clouds of mashed potatoes smothered in pools of warm gravy, steaming green bean casserole, stuffing straight from the oven, and the deep red cranberry sauce — this is American Thanksgiving as we know it.
While quintessential Americana is on most Thanksgiving Day tables, with similar dishes utilized across the country, most would like to believe they have a unique dish or detail that sets their family’s dinner apart from the rest.
Professionals in the food industry across the North Fork each have their own ways of celebrating the holiday. It is easy to imagine that these individuals, skilled in the realm of cooking and understanding ingredients, have tables filled with more than just the standard holiday fare.
We asked some North Fork farmers and chefs what they consider their unique Thanksgiving dish that celebrates the bounty of this year’s harvest and showcases their family’s traditions.
Inheriting the holiday
Inheriting the responsibilities of Thanksgiving is an honorable tradition for many families during this season. Private chef and founder of Rustic Roots and Recipes Jesse Dunne will be taking on the tradition of hosting the holiday this year.
“This is the first year I get to host,” Dunne said. “My house is really cozy and since my daughter is young, I’m excited to create magical Thanksgiving memories in our home.”
As a home cook, Dunne is excited to facilitate the star ingredient of her family’s Thanksgiving: the turnip.
“Growing up my mom always boiled and mashed them with brown sugar, salt and pepper,” Dunne said. “Now, as I’ve become a professional in the industry, I’ve put my spin on them. I source them locally and go a more nutty and earthy route — with thyme and rosemary rather than sugar. I let them reach a nice golden brown in the oven before mashing.
While not on most Thanksgiving tables today, turnips were almost certainly consumed during the first Thanksgiving, according to an article from Smithsonian Magazine. Many Pilgrims packed the hardy root vegetable onto their ships before their journey to the New World and it was likely on the table during the now infamous feast. While Dunne is not exactly sure how turnips arrived on her family’s menu, they are a quintessential aspect of the holiday for her, one that she is excited to incorporate and add her own spin on during her own first Thanksgiving.
A tale of two turkeys
“We incorporate as many winter vegetables as we can that are grown on our farm,” said Peter Treiber Jr., owner of Treiber Farms in Peconic. “There are always a ton of root vegetables like sweet potatoes and plenty of winter squash.”
Treiber’s father, Peter Treiber Sr., began Treiber Farms in 2014 after retiring from the insurance industry. Treiber Sr. purchased a plot of farmland in Peconic and soon after, in 2016, Treiber followed his father out onto the North Fork to work on the farm full-time.
For as long as Treiber can remember, his home was open to those who may not have family nearby for the holidays. While Treiber’s childhood home in Sea Cliff has since sold; friends, family, and acquaintances make the journey out east to join in on the Triebers’ Thanksgiving.
“We are the place for everyone to gather even if you weren’t a part of the family,” noted Treiber. “There are always 30 to 35 people at the table, which meant a lot of food was passed around.”
The Treibers’ Thanksgiving always consisted of two turkeys to feed the vast number of friends and family gathering in their home. One is baked in the oven in the traditional sense, while the other is deep-fried.
“I can’t recall exactly when my father decided to start deep frying the second turkey, but it’s something we do every year,” Treiber said. “I’ve taken on the responsibility of watching the fryer the past couple of years. My dad and I get to sit outside all day together and drink a beer as the turkey fries.”
Deep frying a turkey may not be the most unique way of preparing a turkey, but for Treiber, it is the best way. He insists that this method of cooking the bird creates a deliciously golden brown crispy skin that is still juicy on the inside — a texture not attainable in the oven.
Treiber fills a tall pot, similar to a lobster pot, with peanut oil and heats it to around 200 degrees. Typically, the Treibers source a fresh bird, but Treiber recommends that if you have a frozen turkey, make sure it is completely defrosted otherwise catastrophe will ruin your holiday.
“We thread this hook and plate contraption through the turkey, which allows us to lower it in and out of the pot, which is fun to see,” Treiber said. “We fry it for 20 minutes per pound, so even if it is a decent-sized bird, we have it done in under two hours. Afterward, there’s always a spot of spilled oil, which is a treat for our dogs.”
A traditional Mexican feast
The quintessential traditions of Thanksgiving for chef Diego Garcia, head chef at Anker in Greenport, differ greatly from the standard American holiday. Garcia’s family moved to Mexico when he was 6, yet his family continued with the American holiday in their home. He recalls his extended family gathering in their house for Thanksgiving, however, turkey was never the centerpiece of his family’s table.
“My father would always buy a goat for Thanksgiving,” said Garcia. “We make a super traditional Mexican dish called barbacoa in the backyard.”
The process of making barbacoa consists of digging a hole in the ground, which is then filled with hot rocks. A whole marinated goat or lamb is added before the hole is covered with palm leaves and steamed and cooked for over eight hours. The result is soft and juicy braised meat and subsequent consommé to dip the meat back into.
“The flavors are smoky and rich because we add a lot of dry chilies and herbs like oregano, thyme and Mexican cinnamon,” added Garcia. “In Mexico, I grew up all around indigenous food. My father was a chef and his side of the family herded sheep, cows and pigs, and my mother’s side harvested vegetables.”
Garcia has memories of watching his grandfather slaughter the goat for the barbacoa. Although he was initially scared, it taught him to treat animals with respect and dignity, something he maintains in his own kitchens today. The celebration of the Garcia’s Thanksgiving emphasized treating the animals well and feeding as many people as you can.
“The last time I visited Mexico, my dad and I prepared barbacoa that fed over 400 people,” Garcia said. “Preparing this meal led to me falling in love with farming and the history of food.”
Vegetarian on the menu
Many chefs have a deep-rooted appreciation for the food systems they depend on, which is reflected in the meals they serve in their restaurants. Chef John Fraser of North Fork Table & Inn in Southold decided to go mostly plant-based several years ago — a decision that respects the animals and climate his menu depends on. While meat is served in his many restaurants across the country, he always maintains at least one just as delicious vegetarian dish on the menu.
“I arrived at the decision to eat plant-based by the process of elimination — I began to recognize that I don’t need the bacon on my sandwich,” Fraser said. “However, I still taste meat while I’m working in the kitchen, but you won’t see me sitting in front of a steak dinner.”
Fraser’s own Thanksgiving is different from the norm, although not due to his dietary restrictions.
“I don’t have a family Thanksgiving dinner,” said Fraser. “Some people have the tradition of traveling and others just want to take the year off. I give them that Thanksgiving experience [in my restaurant]. Thanksgiving is one of the busiest days of the year for us.”
Although he spends the holiday with his kitchen staff instead of family, Fraser delivers his own spin on a Thanksgiving classic for vegetarian patrons who visit North Fork Table & Inn during the holiday. He notes that one of the hardest parts about vegetarian stuffing is maintaining the umami flavor that comes from the turkey or chicken stock the dish is typically cooked with.
“In a lot of vegetarian food there’s a weight missing due to the lack of protein,” Fraser said. “Our stuffing recipe is vegetarian, not vegan, as we do use a lot of butter to achieve a bit of that flavor profile back.
We sweat onion, garlic and celery in a pan with a ‘sausage spice,’ which consists of black pepper, fennel seed and star anise. We then add mushrooms and sourdough bread — which balances the dish with an acid flavor.”
For Fraser, his goal as a chef is to change people’s minds about plant-based cuisine, even on a holiday that is generally heavy on protein.
“Thanksgiving dish or not my preference is to create delicious things and hopefully that changes people’s minds,” Fraser said. “I want to show people that they have options in this world — even if they make the change to only eat plant-based one day a week, there are delicious options.”
Being a part of a farming family often goes hand in hand with feeding many individuals during the holidays. For the Peconic-based Krupski family, the four generations of family equate to over 50 people at the dinner table each year. Like the Treibers, the Krupskis incorporate as much farm-grown produce as they possibly can.
Their farm, like most on the North Fork in the early 20th century, began by growing potatoes. Krupski Farms soon diversified their crops to include cauliflower and zucchini; however, it was not until the mid-’70s that Al Krupski sowed the seeds for what the farm is most known for — pumpkins.
“It is really lovely having a farm family because it stops people from moving away,” said Kim Krupski, daughter of Al and part of the fifth generation to farm on the land. “There have always been about four generations of our family around during the holidays, but Thanksgiving especially is one where we all come together.”
Much of what feeds the masses at the Krupski dinner table sticks to the traditional American Thanksgiving menu. However, the method by which things appear on the table is quite different and the tradition of churning their own butter began when Kim was in preschool.
“I think it was a school project for one of the kids and it evolved from there,” Kim said. “We take a jar and fill it with heavy cream and salt and pass it around to shake while we’re having hors d’oeuvres. It’s become a bit of a competition to see who can finish making the butter first. Some of the in-laws thought we were hazing them at first because we really get into it.”
The Kruspkis’ homemade butter complements the wide array of farm-fresh vegetables on the table. As time passed, the tradition of who makes each dish is inherited from generation to generation. Kim was bestowed the important responsibility of baking the pies by her grandmother, Helen Kreps.
Kim learned how to make her great-grandmother’s crust recipe in addition to all of the homemade fillings that were carefully curated over the years. Of course, pumpkin pie made with Krupski Farms cheese pumpkin is on the table for everything Thanksgiving.
“She was an incredible baker,” noted Kim of her grandmother. “She would have weekly babysitting sessions with me, my sister, and my cousins where she would teach us how to bake. I always loved those days.”