Maggie Heyn Richardson's Lemon Charlotte. Photos by Sarah Ward Weddings.

Food writer Maggie Heyn Richardson talks her go-to Thanksgiving dishes, recipes and more

For food writer Maggie Heyn Richardson and her family, Thanksgiving Day involves a dash of helping hands, a pinch of preparation and a heap of loved ones to top it off. And although the big day will encompass a feast for the eyes as well as for the stomach, it will also be filled with little messes, dirty hands and laughter. Curious for a glimpse at her own plans for this year, we sat down with Richardson to learn more.

“It’s great because it’s a food-centric holiday, which is really fun,” says Richardson, who is a longtime contributor to inRegister through stories including her monthly “Dish” column. “There’s no stress over gift-giving or card-sending, so it’s centered around the meal. I try to get my kids to chip in and do part of the meal with me and my husband, as well as on the fried turkey.”

Maggie Heyn Richardson.

As a mother of three, Richardson knows a thing or two about juggling tasks–especially during the holidays.

“It’s the time of the year when you’re forgiven for spending hours in the kitchen making a big mess,” says Richardson. “I like to allow myself that time to do complicated dishes because I just don’t usually as a working mom with three kids. I don’t labor during the week so it’s nice to be able to do it during the holidays.”

And although Thanksgiving Day might be entrenched in tradition, Richardson is still able to mix things up and bring something new to the Thanksgiving table.

“Last year for the first time, I did a third turkey for just the broth and gravy, which was a great idea,” says Richardson. “A couple of days in advance I took a small turkey and boiled it to make broth. With the broth, I made the cornbread dressing, and it’s what I use to make the gravy instead of using the pan drippings. It was great because I could make those things in advance.”

The spread at Thanksgiving may look a little different for every family, but it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without cornbread dressing for the Richardson family.

“The cornbread dressing is a total labor of love, but it’s everybody’s favorite dish,” explains Richardson. “My husband’s family and my family have traditionally made it similarly, so it’s great. They all have the same taste bud expectations for what it’s supposed to taste like.”

Using only cornbread as her base, Richardson enhances the flavors of her dressing with sausage, aromatic vegetables like onions and celery, turkey broth and dried poultry seasonings. Other staples for her family include fresh green beans, canned cranberry sauce (great for sandwiches the next day, recommends Richardson), Spinach Madeline and a yellow squash casserole–an ode to her Georgia roots.

“For dessert, the Lemon Charlotte is great because it’s light and fruity,” says Richardson, who made the dish for inRegister’s November cover feature and filled readers in on the recipe. “We have a lemon tree, so we use the fresh lemons.”

While a few of Richardson’s fresh ingredients may only be an arm’s length away, she still makes it to the grocery store in advance without the mad dash to scramble up every item on the shelf.

“The things that are shelf stable like alcohol or canned items, I try to buy probably a week or even two before because I go to the grocery store all the time,” explains Richardson. “I don’t really go do a huge grocery shop, I just kind of get things along the way.”

Once the day is over, nothing goes to waste–including the devoured turkey.

I use the carcass the next day to make turkey bone gumbo,” says Richardson, “the recipe for which is in my book, Hungry for Louisiana, An Omnivore’s Journey.” 

Thanksgiving has a special place in everyone’s heart for many reasons, but for Richardson it is a day to be surrounded by loved ones.

“We’re the only ones in our family that live in Baton Rouge,” explains Richardson. “So when we host, it’s great because we get to visit with people and they come to us, which I love.”