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Thanksgiving, and the food of love

CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO Real, not canned, pumpkin — and only the variety known as Long Island Cheese will do — is a crucial ingredient for Marie Manuella’s memorable Thanksgivings.

Real, not canned, pumpkin — and only the variety known as Long Island Cheese will do — is a crucial ingredient for Marie Manuella’s memorable Thanksgivings.

Is there a dish you must have on Thanksgiving?

While Shelter Islanders were preparing for the big day or on the way to family celebrations, the Reporter asked a few of them what foods they were looking forward to, thinking we’d discover some new twists on classic recipes, but for these Islanders, it’s not about the recipe. The dishes they put on the table tomorrow will preserve and adapt traditions, honor previous generations and say, “I love you.”

Marie Manuella makes pumpkin soup for Thanksgiving and over the years she’s become very particular about it. You could even call it obsessive.

Inspired by her mother’s use of real pumpkin in pie, not the canned pumpkin commonly used, she starts, she said, by baking a fresh, whole, Long Island Cheese pumpkin, the only variety that will do.

“The quality of the pumpkin is very important since the soup is the pure essence,” Marie said.

She purees the cooked pumpkin, combines it with finely chopped onions, (sautéed in unsalted butter only) and seasons it with nothing but salt and black pepper. The soup simmers for 15 minutes, and if it’s too thick she adds a bit of boiling water — never stock.

“Too much seasoning or flavored stock takes away from the pumpkin’s naturally mild sweet flavor,” Marie said. “My family and friends think that I added some secret ingredient to my soup to make it taste so good.”

Susan Cincotta’s favorite Thanksgiving delicacy is stuffed mushrooms, a dish made by her late father, Giuseppe Cincotta, an immigrant from Stromboli, Italy who learned it by watching his sister and their mother when he was growing up. Susan remembers sitting next to her brother at the multi-course dinners to score some extra mushroom caps. (He only ate the stuffing, and passed the rest to her.) Today, Susan carries on her father’s tradition, stuffing the mushrooms with sautéed sausage, onions, breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley, celery, and Parmesan cheese, and baking them in a low oven.

Mothers are often at the center of Thanksgiving food memories. Janet Culbertson loved her mother’s specialty, Waldorf salad made with apples, celery, grapes, nuts, raisins, a dressing of mayonnaise with lemon juice, and a touch of nutmeg.

Nanette Breiner Lawrenson’s mother, Ann Breiner, made a Thanksgiving salad of cauliflower, apple, red onion, and walnut. “I make it every year, and so she continues to have a place at the table,”Nanette said,

In Cindy Belt’s family, making the candied sweet potatoes is a delicious, and hazardous activity that used to require Cindy and her sisters to handle molten sugar. No wonder the dish was served only on Thanksgiving. “My mom melted butter — real butter, not margarine, a treat when we were growing up — and brown sugar in a frying pan,” Cindy remembered. “Sliced baked sweet potatoes were cooked in the super sweet concoction, then she removed them to let the coating harden. My sisters and I helped to ‘clean’ the frying pan by eating the leftover caramelized drippings. If we weren’t patient enough, we got burned fingers.”

When Jeanette Flynn’s family gathers for Thanksgiving, there is a very special dish on the table she and her mother share — mashed turnips with bacon. Jeanette’s mom cooks the turnips until they’re very soft, and mashes them with salt, pepper, milk and butter. Then she cooks bacon, breaks it into one-inch pieces, and adds it to the turnips. “My mother and I are the only ones who eat it,” Jeanette said, “and we love it.”

Peter Reich is having a left coast Thanksgiving with family in Astoria, Oregon, where some of his holiday traditions face adaptation. Since the majority of the tribe is vegetarian, the menu will include tofu turkey and meatless shepherd’s pie.

Peter, who apparently still eats meat said, “Luckily, we will still have some of my Reich family favorites like brussels sprouts sans the bacon bits! And pecan pie.”

Matt Johnson is gearing up to make his signature chorizo and cornbread stuffing for the Thanksgiving feast at his house which will include his parents, Peggy and Walter Johnson. Matt’s stuffing is a little spicy, with red onion, red pepper, and chorizo.

When he introduced it a few years back, “It definitely mixed it up,” he said. “They were a little off put but once they tried it they liked it.”

Full participation in the kitchen is the hallmark of Jacki Dunning’s Thanksgiving stuffing, just the way her mother did it. “In typical Italian mother fashion, she didn’t follow a recipe,” Jacki said of her mom’s technique. “She created it from the heart.”

Made with sausage, eggs, celery, onions, parsley, sage, butter and stock, and baked outside the bird, it develops a crispy top. It takes many small hands to tear apart the loaves of stuffing bread, “which was my job when I was a child,” Jacki said. “Some day I hope to have my grandchildren tearing bread.”