By Sarah Kuper
Born on the Bayou
Although Jeremy Downey has had oysters on the brain for the past few weeks, (see story nearby) he’s always thinking about seafood, especially when it comes to the holidays. It reminds him of home.
Downey hails from Bayou La Batre, so shrimp, crab and oysters are as traditional as turkey at his Thanksgiving table.
“We take it in more of a gulf coast direction – gumbo, oyster dressing, boiled shrimp cocktail, my grandma’s squash casserole with crab in it,” he said.
Turkey and oyster gumbo is a family favorite. Downey credits his grandfather with the origin of the dish.
“We pull the turkey and make gumbo. By using the turkey carcass for the stock, plus the oysters, it makes it a very rich gumbo.”
Downey said it is a good way to utilize the whole bird and, while it is an involved recipe, a family can get several meals out of it and it is well worth the effort.
Downey said the gumbo would be a hit at any “Bayou Thanksgiving.”
“We are all pretty miserable after the Thanksgiving meal, but in a way, that’s a good sign that it was delicious,” he said.
Chef Jeremy Downey’s Turkey and Oyster Gumbo
2 cups oil or butter
2 cups flour
8 celery stalks
3 bell peppers
2 teaspoons Gumbo file
Pulled turkey, about half of a 20-pound turkey
2 bay leaves
1 quart shucked oysters
Start by making stock with bones of turkey. Boil with carrots, celery and onion for five hours. This should yield two gallons of stock depending on the size of the turkey.
Combine oil and flour to make a roux. Stir for 45 minutes until dark brown.
Dice eight celery stalks, three onions and three bell peppers, then add to the roux and stir for ten minutes until tender.
Combine the stock with the roux and vegetable mixture. Once it has thickened, add salt, pepper and 2 teaspoons gumbo file to the pot.
Add pulled turkey (Downey suggests at least half the meat of a 20 pound turkey).
Simmer all ingredients, adding a touch of hot sauce and two bay leaves.
Now add a quart of shucked oysters. Cook until they curl and turn burner down to low. Add Cajun seasoning to taste. Serve with rice.
All in the Family
Orders for seasonal favorites have been pouring into Savage’s, a bakery in Homewood, since before Halloween, but Margaret Scott isn’t stressed or anxious. She’s got the holiday rush down pat. After all, she’s been a part of it since she was 12.
“I grew up working here with my dad, my parents and my sisters. Since I was 12, I worked the holidays,” she said.
Savage’s Bakery first opened in 1939 and was bought by Scott’s father, Van, in 1979. Now, Scott has joined her father in operating the business.
“Dad is very hands-on. He is the eyes and ears of the business and I’m the young one learning and learning and learning,” she said.
The Scott family still bakes with the original recipes from the ‘30s.
“Everything here is made by hand and made from scratch,” Scott said, “It is so much more work because you have to make the recipe, make the product, it’s a lot of hands, but it is worth it because we are staying true to the original recipes.”
Savage’s prides itself on being a family business, and for Scott and her father, “family” means more than just sharing the same last name.
Scott said there are bakers who have been mixing up family recipes at Savage’s for more than 30 years.
“Ben, one of our bakers, has been here since dad bought the business. What sets us apart is that when we say a ‘family owned business’ we don’t just mean me and my dad.”
And, as with any family, nothing brings them together like soft dinner rolls or flaky pastries.
Scott said that, this time of year, she and the staff are at the bakery in the wee hours of the morning prepping for the day’s customers and getting holiday online orders ready to execute.
“Now, we are just getting really ready for the rush. Thanksgiving is early this year, so we are preparing lots of rolls, cookies, coffee cakes are very popular. It’s thousands and thousands of pieces,” she said.
There is no time to waste because Savage’s reputation doesn’t come easy or quickly.
“We don’t take shortcuts. We want the person who came in 20 years ago to taste that cookie and have the same experience today,” Scott said, “Our goal is to just keep continuing those products for our loyal customers and hopefully new customers.”
Scott said that, for many, having a cake or pie from Savage’s at Thanksgiving has become a tradition.
While the family keeps many of Savage’s beloved recipes proprietary, Scott will share her grandmother’s recipe for cheese cookies because they are such a favorite.
She said the cheese cookies are similar to a traditional cheese straw, but her grandmother called them cookies and the name stuck.
Savage’s Family Favorite Cheese Cookies
(These are technically cheese straws, but the Scott family has always called them Cheese Cookies)
½ pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated
½ pound butter, softened
2 cups flour
2½ cups Rice Krispies cereal
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Mix cheese and butter. With your hands, mix in remaining ingredients until uniformly mixed. Roll into walnut-sized balls. Flatten each a little and place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Cool on racks. Store in fridge or freezer. From fridge, reheat to 400 degrees for 5 to 7 minutes. If frozen, defrost in fridge before reheating.
Slice up the Leftovers
The popular Lakeview pizzeria and brewhouse Slice serves both traditional and unusual oven-fired pizzas.
Chef Terrill Brazelton has been dreaming up unique pizzas since the restaurant opened in 2011.
Since then, Slice has become known as a hip place for beer and pizza in the revitalized Lakeview District.
For the past six years, the pizzeria has put on Slice Fest, Birmingham’s largest food and music block party. A percentage of the proceeds go to area nonprofit organizations. Plans are in the works to open a suburban location in Vestavia Hills in 2018.
Brazelton’s expertise crafting tasty pies is what makes him able to make a pizza out of almost anything – even turkey and green bean casserole.
He said a good way to make the most of a traditional holiday like Thanksgiving is to reincarnate the meal as a pizza the next day.
“Pizza is such a good vehicle for foods. When we first opened, my goal was to get people to eat foods they might not normally eat but they may try it on a pizza,” Brazelton said.
It’s that kind of thinking that gives Brazelton the idea of a Thanksgiving leftovers pizza.
“The last thing you want to do is spend another day in the kitchen or go to the store,” he said, “Use leftovers—things like leftover pimento cheese balls or cheddar from a casserole. If you need to, just pile on more green beans. Don’t worry too much about it.”
Although Brazelton talks like throwing a pizza together is easy, the pies at Slice are carefully crafted after being created by trial and error.
“I play back and forth with the guys in the kitchen. We might see something on TV and wonder how we can turn it into a pizza,” he said, “We break it down and build it back up. The idea is to have over the top but delicate flavors.”
But, Brazelton said, a day-after-Thanksgiving pizza is all about keeping it simple and not overthinking it.
He said that, if a cook just can’t handle another moment in the kitchen, Slice is open the day after Thanksgiving.
Chef Terrill Brazelton’s Thanksgiving Leftovers Pizza Suggestions
Traditional pizza or cornmeal crust
Base or sauce (choose one):
Cream of mushroom soup
Layer of leftover sweet potatoes
Cheddar or pimento
Any leftovers you want!
Brazelton emphasizes the importance of keeping ingredients fun and easy. Use what you already have, don’t make a trip to the grocery, and get creative.