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Hoosiers’ Thanksgiving Foods Depend Heavily On Heritage

family table at dinner

Photo: Kate Hiscock (Flickr)

A family eats dinner together.

As families around Indiana are gathering this week to make and eat their favorite family recipes for Thanksgiving celebrations, Hoosiers’ holiday cooking traditions have a lot to do with where they grew up.

When Martinsville folklorist Joanne Stuttgen was writing a book about food traditions in Indiana, she discovered, your definition might depend on where you live. Stuttgen says if there are chicken and noodles or chicken and dumplings on your Thanksgiving table, you might play into what she calls the state’s dumpling divide.

“North of the line you’re going to find chicken and noodles, but south of the line, you’re far more likely to find chicken and dumplings,” she says. “And you kind of draw that line across the state, the national road, U.S. 40, and again it kind of is defined by where the people lived before they came to Indiana.”

Stuttgen says many southern Indiana families had roots in the south, where dumplings were popular.

Harriet Armstrong, a food educator at the Purdue Extension office in Bartholomew County, says her idea of a Hoosier Thanksgiving is using the yield of local harvests. She says, growing up, her family’s Thanksgiving was linked to whatever her family was growing on their White County farm.

“We had lots of vegetables, and one of the customary ones was turnips,” she says. “My father would have this desire to grow the largest turnip possible, and we would have turnips and peas. And a lot of the other things on the table were also homegrown.”

With more Indiana residents becoming interested in accessing local harvests, some local food movement leaders say being ahead of the times is something Hoosiers can be proud of.

To learn more about Indiana’s food traditions, listen to WFIU’s Noon Edition from Nov. 16.

Persimmon Pudding Recipe:

Noon Edition listener Rita Drescher sent us her recipe for persimmon pudding, a food many Hoosiers consider their favorite. Here’s her story and recipe she emailed us.

I’m also a folklorist–but not about food (but I could be). My Grandma always made her noodles right on the work bench, cracking an egg into a mound of flour. We’ve been Hoosiers (Monroe, Brown, and Greene) since 1830 and have a lot of food traditions. This recipe comes from my great, great grandma, Sarah Baxter.


2 cups persimmon pulp
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 cups flour
2 cups milk (not full)
2 tbsp. butter (melted)
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans


Mix all ingredients together. Bake 1 1/2 hours at 350 degrees. Fills a 13 x 9 inch pan.

Hungarian Turkey Recipe:

Charlotte Zietlow also sent us a recipe for what she calls “a rather exotic turkey.” She notes that the original recipe is from “Magic of Herbs,”   Leonie de Sounin, 1945.

This is a book that does not always specify amounts—use your cooking judgment! The author was Hungarian, and presumably was dealing with lean birds, raised in the farmyard, and thus not bred to be chubby, like ours. This turkey is marinated for twenty-four hours, then stuffed under the skin and in the cavity with two separate dressings, and roasted in a medium oven. This is not your traditional turkey, and it’s a bit of work, but well worth it if you are after some interesting flavors and culinary challenges.

Ingredients for Turkey Marinade:

Chopped carrots
Olive oil
Lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Marinate turkey for 24 hours, turning frequently. Remove from marinade and empty cavity of marinade.

Ingredients for Under-Skin Stuffing:

1 lb. mushrooms
1 glass Madeira wine
The turkey liver
1 lb. chestnuts
1/4 lb. chopped bacon
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. chervil
1/2 tsp. parsley
cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, salt, and pepper for seasoning

Clean one pound of mushrooms and steam with a glass of Madeira wine. Allow to cool.  Grind with the liver of the turkey and refrigerate for several hours.

Boil, peel and puree one pound of chestnuts.

Mix chestnuts, mushrooms and liver with: on fourth pound chopped bacon. one half teaspoonful each of oregano, chervil and parsley.  Season with cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger (ca. one teaspoonful all together). Salt and Tellicherry pepper.

With your clean hands gently lift the skin of the turkey from the meat and insert the stuffing under the skin, smoothing to disperse it evenly.

Ingredients for Cavity Stuffing:

2 lb. firm apples
1/2 lb. butter
Marjoram, salt, and pepper for seasoning

Chop two pounds of firm apples, add one half-pound butter, raisins and nuts and add a good dash of sweet marjoram, salt and pepper.  Insert in cavity.

Roast until juicy and 185 degrees internal temperature.

Use juices from the turkey to make gravy, to which is added sweet paprika and sour cream.

Serve the stuffing from the cavity as compote, accompanying the turkey.

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