The Herbs and Spices of Thanksgiving!

By Susan Leigh AnthonyHappy Thanksgiving

If we are lucky enough, most, if not all, of us have sat down to an annual Thanksgiving feast with our loved ones in late November.  The house is filled with familiar aromas of the season that evoke a sense of warmth, coziness, and well-being. It is the ultimate comfort food meal!

Without the herbs and spices we associate with our traditional Thanksgiving spread the food would be rather dull.  What would the turkey be without incorporating sage (Salvia officinalis) in our stuffing?  Cinnamon is a must-have for apple pie.  For pumpkin pie we need cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. And I’d rather not drink my eggnog without a dash of freshly ground nutmeg. Many of us use the familiar Old Bay Poultry seasoning and often, along with sage, this herb and spice mix also includes nutmeg, thyme, marjoram, rosemary, and black pepper.

Kate Erd, manager of the Spice House on Old World 3rd Street in Milwaukee explains that “Herbs are the leafy part of the plant, like sage leaves, rosemary needles, and parsley.” “Spices are the hard part of the plant, so it’s the bark or the seed or the root. For example, cinnamon is bark, nutmeg is a seed, and ginger is a rhizome. Spices only grow about 15 degrees above and below the equator, where herbs, on the other hand, can be grown anywhere.” Erd says. “We grow them here in the Northern Hemisphere. There are some exceptions,” she adds. “Coriander and dill seed are spices from plants that are grown as herbs — cilantro in the case of coriander.”

Often, “pumpkin pie spice contains cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, mace, cloves, and allspice, and sometimes buds from the cassia tree from which cinnamon is produced.”

Below are three Thanksgiving recipes that I’ve made for years, which have now become a tradition in my family. And here is a great site with wonderful recipes to try as well.

Creamed Onions with White Wine and Herbs

  • 2 pounds small white boiling onions, peeled (you can use frozen– much easier!)
  • 1 (750 milliliter) bottle decent Chardonnay wine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • salt to taste
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream

Place onions in a 2-quart pot. Pour enough wine to cover half of the onions. Add the bay leaf, thyme, and salt. Simmer and stir for 25 minutes. Add the cream and bring to a boil; reduce heat and cook until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in the butter. Remove bay leaf and serve.

Adapted from

Cranberry Chutney

Makes about 4 ½ cups (Note–Makes the whole house smell wonderful– it’s a joy to make)

  • 2 oranges
  • 1 pound fresh cranberries, washed
  • 6 ounces dried cranberries
  • 8 ounces dried cherries
  • 3 or 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 4 good sized garlic cloves, minced well
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
  • ¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • ½ cup apple cider

Remove the zest of the oranges (a vegetable peeler works very well!) Cut the zest into fine julienne, and set aside a small amount to use later for garnish. Juice the oranges. Using a large non-reactive pot, combine all ingredients (except a few reserved orange juliennes) and give a good stir. Simmer the mixture for 25- 30 minutes over a medium /low heat, stirring occasionally, until all the liquid is evaporated and the chutney is thickened. You can garnish the finished chutney with the cinnamon sticks and reserved zest. Cool well before storing. I have found this freezes quite well in small batches.

Adapted from The Martha Stewart Cookbook : Collected Recipes for Every Day


Lemon – Ginger Cheesecake



  • 2 cups finely ground gingersnap cookies (about 9 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted


  • 4 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 4 teaspoons grated lemon peel
  • Lemon slices (for garnish)

FOR CRUST: Preheat oven to 325°F. Generously butter a 10-inch-diameter springform pan with 2 and  3/4-inch-high sides. Double-wrap outside of pan with heavy-duty foil. Blend ground cookies, sugar, and ginger in food processor. Add melted butter and process until moist crumbs form. Press mixture onto bottom and 1/2 inch up sides of prepared pan. Bake until crust sets, about 10 minutes. Cool. Maintain oven temperature.

FOR FlLLING: Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in sugar, scraping down sides of bowl occasionally. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in sour cream and whipping cream, then crystallized ginger, fresh ginger, lemon juice, and lemon peel. Pour filling into crust. Place springform pan in large roasting pan. Pour enough boiling water into roasting pan to come one inch up sides of springform pan. Bake cheesecake until filling is set and golden brown on top (cake will rise slightly above edge of pan), about 1 hour 25 minutes. Turn off oven and prop open oven door with wooden spoon. Let cake stand in oven one hour (cake will fall).

Remove springform pan from water bath. Remove foil and cool cheesecake completely on rack. Cover and refrigerate overnight. (Can be prepared ahead and refrigerated four days or frozen up to two months.) Defrost frozen cake overnight in refrigerator.) Release pan sides from cheesecake. Transfer cheesecake to platter. Arrange lemon slices decoratively around cake and serve.

TEST KITCHEN TIP: Use a processor to grind the gingersnap cookies finely for the crust. Adapted from Epicurious

 Susan Leigh Anthony is a longtime member of the New England Unit of HSA. She runs a garden design business named Doveflower Cottage and is a perennial buyer and expert at Kennedy’s Country Gardens in Scituate, MA.


4 thoughts on “The Herbs and Spices of Thanksgiving!

  1. Pingback: La’au Lapa’au | Herbs and Spices of Thanksgiving! – Hālau 'Aha Hūi Lanakila™

  2. Pingback: The Herbs and Spices of Thanksgiving! – Human Health

  3. Pingback: The Herbs and Spices of Thanksgiving! – The Herb Society of America Blog -

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