3 Thanksgiving Cookbook Authors Dish on Their Craft

 Books
Nov 222010
 
It’s an exciting time of year to be the author of a Thanksgiving cookbook. I spoke to three veterans about what kind of media they do to boost book sales, what they like about being an expert, and what they’ll be serving on Turkey Day. They are:
1. How far ahead do you plan your writing and promotional events for Thanksgiving?

Diane Morgan

Diane: Magazines come the earliest with articles typically due by the middle of May. I am often asked to write stories in the early spring for the coming year’s publication. Newspapers are typically thinking about Thanksgiving stories in July, though pitching in June isn’t unheard of.

For my own website, I plan my blog featured recipes with coordinating video in August. This year, I was a judge on the Food Network Thanksgiving Challenge. That request came early last March. Interviews for Turkey Day stories happen in September or October. Radio interviews come right after Halloween. I was just on Martha Stewart Living radio talking about easy holiday appetizers.

Kristine: During my long tenure as food editor at Bon Appetit magazine, we started working on our Thanksgiving issue about six months before it was published. I created the recipes for my Thanksgiving book a year before publication. I did a book signing and demo at Williams-Sonoma at the end of October. With my blog, I work a week or two ahead, so I am planning and creating in the season when the food will be cooked and enjoyed.

Rick: It depends on the deadlines. Some magazines have six month leads, so I am testing turkeys in April. A newspaper may call me a couple of weeks ahead, or even a few days ahead for an online article. Certainly cooking schools are working earlier than ever to meet mailing deadlines, and I can be developing menus in January.

2. What might they include? Feature articles, interviews with you, guest posts, a newsletter, cooking classes, new website material, video…?

Diane: I had several requests for guest posts on blogs, but that is mostly asking to re-purpose existing material.That just happened on the AARP website. They were re-purposing material from Cookstr (See Talking Turkey, with both Diane Morgan and Rick Rogers). Epicurious.com re-purposed recipes from my article last year.

Kristine Kidd.

Kristine: Now that I have a blog, I write stories with recipes for the holidays. They are linked to the ingredients I find at local farmers’ markets. I announce the new posts on Twitter and Facebook.

Rick: All of the above, adding television appearances (I did a promotional holiday cooking satellite media tour for a group of products for which I was paid as spokesperson and online talent) and my own blog. This year, I am doing “A Turkey A Day” online. I used to teach over 20 Thanksgiving cooking classes a year, but this November I got it down to only six at my favorite schools, and my anxiety level has dropped a few points.

3. How many emails a day do you get about Thanksgiving cooking questions? When do they start?

Diane: It depends. As the time gets closer to Thanksgiving, say, two weeks before, I can tell there is way more activity on my website: folks searching for recipes, watching videos, etc. Direct e-mails come in fits and starts, especially the week before.

Kristine: Most of the questions are posted as comments on my blog or on Facebook. The blog is new, so I get only a few a day.  The questions started with my first posting about Thanksgiving.

Rick: That changes every year, too. I reach a lot of people in person at my classes (I had over 100 people at each of my demonstrations at a local cookware chain last week.) I can get anywhere from 25 to 100 emails from Halloween to Thanksgiving and another bunch for Christmas.

4. What do you like most about being an expert go-to cook on Thanksgiving?

Rick Rogers

Diane: It is my favorite holiday of the year, so being an expert just adds to the fun because I get to offer up useful advice. I love getting comments about recipes of mine that readers have tried and enjoyed. It is very inspiring.

Kristine: I enjoy creating recipes for the feast. And, I love helping people produce a delicious meal.

Rick: Everyone needs help at this holiday because it is tough to orchestrate all of the food. And cooks have to use resources they rarely tap into. It has been 364 days since most people have cooked any of these dishes, or made dinner for such a huge crowd. I like to be the voice of reason. I just had a student email me about roasting a whole pig on Saturday for his gathered clan. I don’t know what kind of energy this guy is going to have after cooking Thanksgiving! I convinced him to roast a large fresh ham and shoulder instead of digging a hole in his backyard.

5. What do you like least?

Diane: Honestly, really nothing. I’m thrilled to have been given the opportunity to write two Thanksgiving books. I never tire of the food.

Kristine: While at the magazine, once Thanksgiving got here, I always felt as though I had already celebrated, because of the many testings of Thanksgiving food during the months before the big meal. It was confusing.

Rick: Having to constantly remind people of their limitations: If you only have one oven, why do you want to bake eight casseroles? (In that case, I tell them to use their gas grill as an auxiliary oven.) If you don’t have an ice cooler, then why do you insist on brining a bird? (P.S.  I HATE wet-brined turkeys anyway. Almost as much as deep-fried turkeys.)

6. What are the pros and cons of doing a holiday cookbook?

Diane: The pros: Being a sought-after authority on the subject, the go-to person for that particular holiday. I don’t think there are any cons.

Kristine: The pros: I create many recipes I love for the holiday, and have them in a beautiful book I can come back to over and over again. The cons: Testing the recipes out of season.

Rick: The pros: I get to produce an attractive book that can be a perennial, and that the sales all happen in a large burst.  The cons: The book can age as new trends appear. I don’t think any of us (Diane, Kristine, nor I) foresaw the surge in heritage turkeys, which I had to research and write about in my new edition.

7. You are incredible producers of cookbooks. What is the secret of your success?

Diane: Creating a workplan and blocking out time to write everyday. Structure is really important to me. There are always crunch times as a book deadline looms, but the many months before require a steady output of writing. Darn, the basic rule for success is discipline.

Kristine: Doing what I love to do, cooking food that I want to eat.

Rick: I pay attention to trends. If a new ethnic cuisine or technique goes mainstream, it is my job to learn about it.  Lately, I’ve been working on improving my fluency with Middle Eastern and Latino cuisines and professional kitchen equipment like sous vide so I can incorporate them into my books.

8. What will you be serving this Thanksgiving, and to how many?

Diane: I will have 10 around the table. I am roasting a 16-pound turkey, brining it with my apple cider brine. I’m making chanterelle mushroom gravy. The stuffing will be my sourdough stuffing with roasted chestnuts and apples. My husband loves my fennel gratin. My friends want my praline sweet potato casserole and I love shredded Brussels sprouts with chopped hazelnuts and bacon. My close friend Roxane makes incredible apple strudel following her mother’s recipe for the dough, stretching her dough see-through thin and wide over her linen-tablecloth-covered kitchen table.

Kristine: Cider-Glazed Turkey with Cider Gravy and Sausage, Apple and Chestnut Stuffing, both reprinted from my Thanksgiving book in Williams-Sonoma Cooking at Home. And from my Thanksgiving book: Sweet Potatoes with Brown Butter and Parmesan Cheese; Mashed Potatoes with Basil and Chives (but I will probably replace the basil with thyme); Sautéed Carrots, Parsnips and Onions; Cranberry Sauce with Mustard. Also a green bean and fennel salad (this recipe does not yet exist because I just made it up in my mind. I like the idea of doing the green beans as a salad because they can be made ahead of time). Friends will be supplying nibbles and dessert.

Rick: We have settled into our annual group of seven or eight, a very manageable number. Remember, I had to serve 100 Thanksgiving dinners twice last Saturday; yes, on the same day. My family wants the traditional dishes with tweaks to give the recipes resonant flavors. I can experiment with more complex recipes in my work, but at Thanksgiving, I am all about nostalgia and honoring the important cooks from my life.

I will be serving my usual appetizers of hot crab salsa dip; five-spice candied walnuts; and a pork, veal, and cranberry terrine.  First course will be light: Baby spinach salad with persimmons, ginger vinaigrette, and toasted pumpkin seeds.  I’ll roast my herb-salt turkey with Calvados gravy ( but delete the mustard and add 1/4 cup Calvados or Cognac) and a dried apple-sausage stuffing inspired by Mom’s. Sides will be cranberry-lemon chutney; haricots verts with chanterelles and shallots; my make-ahead mashed potatoes (with disgusting amounts of butter, sour cream, and cream cheese), scalloped sweet potatoes; and yes, Dad’s Jell-O salad, with a basket of warm homemade dinner rolls.  Dessert will be Berkshire pumpkin pie (with whipped eggs to make it very light) and my grandma’s steamed persimmon pudding with egg nog sauce.

What’s next for these authors? They have Christmas books as well!

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  9 Responses to “3 Thanksgiving Cookbook Authors Dish on Their Craft”

  1. I don’t really like turkey. It’s a bit blasphemous to say, but I don’t. The only one I remember that was out of this world was the one I had from an imu. Smoky, moist, and falling off the bone. Hard to get that any other way, unless you have a secret for me.
    I can’t believe there’s a 6 month ahead plan for the magazines. Crazy.
    I’m truly impressed you all seem to like Thanksgiving after all of this! It’s the biggest meal to prepare and it sounds like you do it a lot. Kudos.

    • Have never had a smoked emu, but it does sound good, Mariko.

      You need a 6-month lead time because it takes a long time to conceive, assign, edit, design, paste-up, print and distribute the publication, which always comes out the month before. Ex. the December issue of national and international magazines has probably already hit newsstands and mailboxes.

  2. I love this interview – just reading their personal Thanksgiving menu is inspiring and fun. (And tasty) The lead time always amuses – I know their figuring out the holidays in the heat and height of spring/summer.

    • I got tired just reading their proposed menus, but each of these authors has so much energy!

      Finding produce out of season used to be more of an issue than it is now. Now we have imports from Chile and other countries so we can have produce that looks good all year long. Never mind about the taste.

  3. This is the year that we go to my sister-in-law’s house, which means I don’t get to cook and I hate that. I know on Wednesday I will feel like a cook without a kitchen. I am bringing a luscious pumpkin cake with caramel frosting, garnished with bacon from Cuisine at Home. The sweetness of the frosting and saltiness of the bacon make for a different, but taste-popping combination. The table will be set beautifully and we’ll have a cocktail of the day, but my SIL doesn’t make gravy which drives my nuts-how can you have turkey and dressing without gravy? BUT, having said that, it’s the people and togetherness that count, so it will be a day of laughter and sharing.

    • Sounds like an amazing cake, Carol. Maybe next year you’ll have Thanksgiving at your house, and you can cook up a storm.

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  5. Happy Thanksgiving, Dianne. Actually, what I would find fascinating is the creative possibilities for such a traditional meal. I mean, people tend to want to prepare the same main meal every single year, so a cookbook would have to start with all of those basics (turkey, sweet potatoes, etc) and go somewhere really creative while retaining that traditional edge. That must be so exciting for these authors, yet it could be somewhat limiting as well. And the danger would be, I would think (and none seem to mention this), that it may be a rather limited market. I mean, How many cookbooks only about one single holiday – and one really limited to the American (and maybe Canadian) market – could one sell? I know that all of these recipes are very seasonal and fitting for not only Thanksgiving but Christmas and really any autumn meal as well, but in that case is it best to title it a Thanksgiving cookbook?

    • Thanks Jamie. I guess if you love Thanksgiving, you see only possibilities of what to make, versus limitations. I think their books do well. Then they have to come up with a different theme and dishes for the Christmas cookbooks.

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