Written By Michael Vyskocil

Each year, more than 75 million American families celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. From apartment buildings in midtown Manhattan to cattle ranches in Colorado, the holiday brings together the best of regional recipes, highlighting local cultures and cuisines. Maryland, too, has its unique blend of regional specialties that reflect the tastes native to the Chesapeake Bay region.

Seafood (such as the ubiquitous oysters and crabs) is, of course, one of the most obvious ingredients in Chesapeake Bay cuisine. But, curiously enough, so, too, is sauerkraut and cornbread, apples and sweet potatoes. Situated south of the Mason-Dixon line, Maryland cuisine borrows from Southern kitchens while incorporating the ethnic flavors of Europe: foods introduced by Italian, German and Polish immigrants of the 19th century.

Beth Andresini, owner of Thyme for You, LLC (a personal chef service operating in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties), works year-around preparing meals for clients who want home-cooked meals but do not have time to spend in the kitchen. Although she admits she enjoys preparing food for everyday occasions, the holidays are a special time of year for her.

“Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday,” she said. “It’s a festive time; it’s about sharing traditions with those that you love. Family members have an opportunity to gather around the table.”

And at this holiday time, most people appreciate a little help in the kitchen. This year, Beth Andresini worked with Carroll Magazine to put together a Maryland-based Thanksgiving dinner. From savory oyster pie to baked pecan sweet potatoes, family and friends gathered around dinner tables throughout Carroll County can be treated to dishes that celebrate the culinary traditions of the Old Line State.

Maryland Cornbread Stuffing with Apples

Cornbread is a staple of Chesapeake Bay cooking. It is often served with soups, stews, poultry and ham. Serves 8
? cup (? stick) unsalted butter, plus more for buttering baking dish
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped Granny Smith apples
4 cups Vegetable Cornbread (recipe follows), crumbled
2 slices toasted white bread, crumbled
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
? teaspoon poultry seasoning
2 cups homemade turkey stock, or homemade or canned, low-sodium chicken broth

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish.
In a medium skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. SautŽ the celery and onion until the vegetables are tender, about 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the cooked vegetables to a large mixing bowl and combine with the chopped apples, cornbread and toasted white bread. Toss the ingredients together until combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the poultry seasoning to the stuffing mixture and blend the seasoning evenly into the stuffing.
Add ? cup of turkey stock or chicken broth at a time to the stuffing mixture. Check the consistency of the stuffing after each addition (you may not need the full 2 cups of liquid). The stuffing should be moist but not sticky.
Transfer the stuffing mixture to the buttered casserole dish and bake, uncovered, for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the stuffing is cooked through.

Multi-Vegetable Cornbread

To incorporate different flavors into the cornbread mixture, Beth Andresini suggests adding other vegetables into the mixture, such as whole corn, olives, scallions and herbs.
Makes either two, 8-inch squares or one, 9-by-13-inch rectangle
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 medium onion, diced
1 small red bell pepper, diced
1 box packaged cornbread mix
2 eggs, lightly beaten
? cup sugar
8 ounces (1 cup) cottage cheese
8 ounces (1 cup) grated cheddar cheese
1 10-ounce box frozen chopped broccoli or spinach, thawed and drained

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Melt the butter in a sautŽ pan and sautŽ the onion and pepper until tender, about 5 to 7 minutes.
Stir together the cornbread mix, eggs, sugar, cottage cheese, cheddar cheese and the chopped broccoli or spinach; mix well. Add the sautŽed onion and pepper, and mix until combined.
Lightly spray either two 8-inch-by-8-inch pans or one 9-inch-by-13-inch glass baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Pour the cornbread mixture into the pans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Oyster Pie

Next to blue crabs, oysters are the second most popular culinary delicacies of the Maryland Chesapeake Bay region. Oysters can be served raw, steamed, fried, barbecued, or baked into a hearty casserole, as in this recipe. Serves 8.
14 tablespoons (1 ? stick) unsalted butter, plus more for buttering baking dish
1 ? quarts shucked oysters, liquid reserved
7 medium scallions, white and light green parts only, finely chopped
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
? teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 cup finely chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon coarse salt
? teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 cups saltine crackers, crushed by hand
3 tablespoons half-and-half

Butter a shallow 9- to 10-inch baking or pie dish. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F with a rack centered in the oven.
Drain the oysters, reserving ? cup of oyster liquid in a bowl; set aside. Examine the oysters for shells, discarding any shell fragments as necessary.
In a medium skillet, melt 3 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add the scallions, and cook until the scallions become soft, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the Worcestershire and Tabasco sauces. Transfer the scallion mixture to a bowl and allow to cool.
Once the scallion mixture is cooled, stir in the oysters, ? cup chopped parsley, salt and pepper. In a medium bowl, combine the cracker crumbs and the remaining ? cup chopped parsley.
In a small skillet, melt the remaining 11 tablespoons butter. Once melted, add the butter to the cracker crumb mixture and stir until the crumb mixture is moistened.
In another small mixing bowl, combine the reserved ? cup of oyster liquid and the half-and-half.
Spread a thin, even layer of the crumb mixture in the bottom of the baking dish. Cover the crumb mixture layer with ?/? of the oyster mixture. Cover the oyster layer with ? cup of the crumb mixture, followed by ?/? of the oyster liquid. Repeat the layering process two more times, ending with the crumb mixture.
Bake until golden brown on top, about 25 to 30 minutes. Serve warm.

Baked Pecan Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are an essential ingredient in kitchens of the Chesapeake Bay region. Although these sweet potatoes don’t feature the traditional marshmallow topping, they are an equally sweet ending to the Thanksgiving meal. Serves 8
4 large, orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, about 3 ? pounds, scrubbed
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 ? cups (2 ? sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for buttering baking dish
1 teaspoon coarse salt
? teaspoon paprika
1 cup firmly packed light-brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prick each potato several times over the skin with a fork. Place the potatoes in a small baking pan, and bake until the potatoes are tender, about 1 to 1 ? hours. Remove potatoes from the oven; set aside until cool enough to handle.
While the potatoes are still warm, remove their skins. Transfer the potato flesh to the bowl of a food processor. Add the cream, 4 tablespoons butter, salt and paprika to the sweet potato flesh. Process until the potatoes are smooth.
Butter a 3-quart casserole dish. Transfer the potatoes to the casserole dish. In a medium skillet, melt the remaining 16 tablespoons butter and brown sugar over low heat, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and immediately stir in the pecans. Pour the pecan mixture over the top of the sweet potatoes.
Bake for 25 minutes, or until the potatoes are hot and bubbling. If the top is getting too brown, cover the pan with aluminum foil. Serve warm.

Sauerkraut with SautŽed Apples

Sauerkraut is one of the local favorites in Baltimore. It is commonly served with smoked sausage, another specialty among native Baltimoreans. Serves 6.
6 tablespoons (? stick) unsalted butter
? small onion, thinly sliced
4 tart cooking apples, such as Jonathan or York, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1 pound sauerkraut, drained and lightly rinsed
1 cup apple cider
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon caraway seeds

In a heavy pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and apple slices, and sautŽ for 4 to 6 minutes. Place the sauerkraut in the pot with the onion and apples. Add the apple cider; season with salt and pepper. Add the caraway seeds to the pot. Toss the onion, apples and sauerkraut together, and bring the mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer for 40 minutes. Serve warm.