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Cooking up a throwback North Fork Thanksgiving

Chef and author Will Horowitz of the Green Hill restaurants wants you to feast like a native this Thanksgiving by serving smoked duck, grilled oysters & other heritage dishes.

Frosty mornings and freshly tilled fields. My grandfather would drive us up and down Narrow River Road to spend hours sifting and searching his local Orient farmlands for arrowheads. As a child, climbing the dirt mounds felt like marching over a mountain of quicksand. Those mornings stretched on like an eternity. An avid collector, he knew there was no better time to dig up these treasures than late fall or early spring. Somehow, we would return home at the perfect tide to rake up clams, scallops, periwinkles and mussels or to search the back bays for renegade stripers and blues left over from the fall run.

Anything found went directly to Granny, the resident chef. You could count on our bounty making its way onto the dining room table throughout the day, alongside her fresh baked slightly-too-yeasty — but irresistible — bread, homemade jams and a plate of butter that had never once seen the inside of a fridge. These were my family’s traditions. But growing up in a house covered from floor to ceiling with my grandfather’s collection of old arrowheads, fishing hooks and pipes, I have always been interested in the culinary heritage of the people who had preceded us here. Had they smoked their bluefish and eels as we did? Did their families gather around a clambake, slurping up every mollusk and bivalve in sight, or get into fights over lobster roe? As a child, I felt connected to North Fork history through the native foods we ate. A simple bay scallop became a creature of mythical proportion, transporting me through time.

We each bring our own stories to the tables we share, especially at Thanksgiving, a day for us to gather and celebrate the harvest. The holiday marked a family’s ability to survive the upcoming winter, based on the food it had grown, harvested and preserved during the earlier, warmer months. It was a way to hail the promise of another harvest and a festival of gratitude to the bounty of the land and the sea.

Studying and appreciating heritage cooking is what led me to write “Salt Smoke Time” and to return to the North Fork, a place I’m proud to call home. For this throwback menu, I explored old cookbooks, some at the Southold Historical Museum, which revealed that those original North Fork Thanksgiving dinners were more like my grandparents’ meals than I ever imagined, leaning heavily on seafood, as well as waterfowl like duck.

Though the North Fork has changed dramatically through time, last year’s pandemic was a reminder of the fragility of life — and of our food supply. It’s within that vulnerability where we can hopefully begin to appreciate and learn from the people and traditions of our past that have helped us get here. 

Great food is the common denominator that connects different peoples, communities and generations. I wrote this menu inspired by both the history and beauty of the local ingredients found here on the North Fork. As we come together to celebrate Thanksgiving with our loved ones, I hope these recipes bring as much joy and togetherness to your dinner table as they do to mine.


Serves 7-9 people

The indigenous groups of the North Fork led the way for the appreciation of the oyster and also the mouth-watering simplicity of cooking seafood in seaweed over an open fire. The Gullah communities of the Carolinas roasted their oysters under a burlap sack, which I emulated here. Many of the North Fork’s early African American communities brought similar traditions with them. With the North Fork oyster’s resurgence, it’s never been a tastier time to eat a local oyster and in as many possible ways as you can fashion.

Long Island oyster roast 

5-6 dozen cleaned wild oysters (large farmed oysters work fine, too) 

5 pounds fresh rockweed seaweed (this knotted kelp is easily harvested on local beaches) 

1 large burlap sack, soaked in water ahead of time

Fire up a big, old charcoal grill ahead of time until you have a very hot coal bed roughly 1 ½ to 2 feet wide. Place the seaweed down over the grill grate and gently spread it out; this will protect the oysters from being directly exposed to the fire. Immediately pour the cleaned oysters over the roasting seaweed and place the soaked burlap sack on top, covering all of them. Typically, I allow the oysters to steam about 12 to 15 minutes, but I like to cheat and begin peeking under the burlap at about the 10-minute mark. I’m looking for the oysters to open just slightly, a few millimeters. 

While cooking, I like to set up our backyard table with newspaper, a handful of shuckers, small oyster forks or spoons, fresh lemon and the warmed apple butter as dip. As soon as the oysters are ready, you can either transfer them with a big scoop or flat-head shovel, or grab some dry kitchen towels and a friend to help you pick the whole grill plate up and pour it right over the newspaper-covered table. With just a squeeze or two of lemon and a slather of apple butter you’re ready to dive in!

Of course, don’t forget a well-placed shell bucket and a few of your favorite fall beers.

Rosemary apple butter 

5 Honeycrisp or similar apples, cored and quartered 

2 teaspoons kosher salt 

1 tablespoon garlic powder 

2 ½ cups cold water 

1 cup white wine 

1 lemon, zested and juiced 

3 tablespoons unsalted butter 

2 sprigs rosemary, picked and finely chopped

Throw all the ingredients in a small sauce pot, place over low heat and allow to cook from morning till night. Mix every so often and add more water if dry. The apples will break down into a sauce and slowly begin to caramelize throughout the day, becoming apple butter.


Serves 7-9 people


2 bunches Tuscan kale 

⅔ cup buttermilk dressing 

½ pound good aged sharp cheddar 

1 pound fresh or dried persimmons 

1 large red onion, peeled and julienned 

4-5 thick-cut slices of day-old sourdough bread 

1 ½ cups olive oil 

1 tablespoon kosher salt 

2 tablespoons flake salt or Maldon salt

Buttermilk herb dressing 

1 cup fresh buttermilk 

1 cup mayo 

1 tablespoon roasted garlic paste 

1 tablespoon onion powder 

½ tablespoon kosher salt 

3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley 

3 tablespoons chopped scallions 

2 tablespoons chopped basil 

1 whole lemon, zest and juice 

1 ½ teaspoons ground black pepper

Whisk together all ingredients until smooth. Taste and adjust for salt if needed.


Slice sourdough bread into roughly 1-inch squares. Place in a medium saucepan and cover with 1 ½ cups of olive oil. Over medium-high heat, slowly allow breadcrumbs to heat up and begin to fry in the oil. Once the oil bubbles, let them fry for 2-3 minutes until crispy. Remove the breadcrumbs from the oil and season with kosher salt. If any are still soft, or soften up over time, just refinish in a 300-degree oven until they’re crunchy again all the way through.

Chop the cleaned kale into 2- to 3-inch strips and place in a large mixing bowl. Add 1 cup of dressing and mix well so that the kale is lightly coated and has broken down a little bit. Add more dressing if needed, until nicely coated and tasty.

Place the greens in a serving bowl and top with breadcrumbs, cheddar chunks, slices of persimmon and red onion and sprinkle on the flake salt to finish.


Serves 7-9 people

Succotash is practically as old as East End pines. Originating, in one form or another, with just about every indigeenous group in America, it quickly became a staple dish for New England colonies and still is popular on the North Fork. Though in historic recipes, whelk is not commonly seen on many dinner tables today. It is one of the most under-used and delicious secrets the North Fork has to offer right now. The original communities knew it well, and I believe it’s only a matter of time until we do, too. 

1 ½ cups butter beans, cooked 

1 ½ cups cranberry beans, cooked 

2 cups pickled corn (This can be purchased at many local farm stands, or make your own from the recipe below.) 

12-15 cloves fresh peeled garlic, roughly chopped 

1 large red onion, roughly chopped 

2 pounds Brussels sprouts, cleaned and shredded 

2 tablespoons kosher or sea salt 

1 ½ pounds good quality bacon, cut into large cubes 

1 pound cooked whelk, roughly chopped (can substitute local squid) 

2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper 

1 stick good unsalted butter 

3 sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped 

2 fresh lemons

Place half the butter in a big cast iron pan and turn to medium-high heat. Once the butter begins to melt, add the bacon, allow it to render and cook for 3 minutes. Once it begins to brown, throw in the pickled corn, garlic and onion and sauté. After 3-4 minutes, add the Brussels sprouts both kinds of beans, salt, pepper and rosemary. Keep mixing or tossing for 8-10 minutes, until the Brussels sprouts have begun to lightly brown. Turn off the heat and add the rest of the butter along with the lemon juice and zest. Finish by adding the whelk slices and enjoy!

Pickled corn

Shuck a few ears of late-season corn and cut them in half or, to save room, cut the kernels from the cob. Whisk together 2 cups of white vinegar, 1 tablespoon of honey, ½ cup of water, a pinch of salt and a teaspoon or two of garlic powder. Add the corn to the liquid and store in a jar, refrigerated, for up to two months, keeping the corn submerged. For long-term dry storage, you can pressure can and seal the mixture. Drain corn before using. 


Serves 7-9 people

Where there will be corn, there shall always be cornbread — at least in some shape or form, whether it be baked in a cast iron pan, fried as a hush puppy or griddled like a johnny cake or hoe cake. There are many native ingredients here on the North Fork whose existence we are only now acknowledging, from the fields of autumn olives, bayberry and beach plums to wild mushrooms. Maitake mushrooms, also called Hen of the Woods, are not just one of the world’s choicest culinary mushrooms, but this time of year they can be found all over Long Island at the base of oak trees. With professional and safe instruction they’re free for the picking! 

1 ½ pounds maitake mushrooms, cleaned and cut into medium pieces. (Can substitute shiitake mushrooms.) 

2 pounds fresh cornbread, cut into cubes and either left out to go stale or toasted lightly in the oven 

12-15 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and roughly chopped 

1 large yellow or Spanish onion, roughly chopped 

1 bunch fresh sage 

1 bunch celery, diced 

3 cups chicken or duck stock 

1 stick unsalted butter 

3 tablespoons kosher salt 

1 tablespoon ground black pepper 

1 tablespoon dried oregano 

3 eggs 

3 tablespoons olive oil 

½ cup heavy cream 

¼ cup white wine

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large cast iron or enamel pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and begin by sautéeing the mushrooms, garlic and onions. Once lightly browned, add in the stale cornbread, pepper, salt, celery, sage and oregano. Mix gently over heat for 2-3 minutes until evenly distributed. In a bowl, whisk together the stock, cream, wine and eggs. Turn off heat under the pan and pour the stock-egg mixture over the stuffing in the pan. Chop the butter and spread evenly on top. Cover the pan with foil and place in the oven for 35 minutes, then remove foil and continue to cook for 35-45 minutes until the stuffing is no longer loose and is beautifully golden brown on top. Remove from oven, allow to cool and enjoy!


Serves 7-9 people

Now in its fifth generation, Crescent Duck Farm is the oldest duck farm still operating here on Long Island — last stronghold of what was once an island steeped in the tradition of duck. This recipe edges into the realm of duck “ham” in flavor; it’s something I’ve been doing in my restaurant kitchens for as long as I can remember. Whatever it is, I’m not entirely sure … but, I can promise you, I’ve been doing it right. 

2 large Crescent Farm Long Island ducks 

⅔ cup plus 1 tablespoon kosher salt 

2 cups brown sugar 

2 tablespoons garlic powder 

1 gallon water 

1 teaspoon pink salt or (optional) Instacure No. 1 

1 bunch thyme 

3 tablespoons white miso paste 

3 tablespoons soy sauce 

2 lemons 

5 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and chopped 

1 stick unsalted butter 

6 Honeycrisp apples, cut into large slices 

5 fresh leeks, cut into large pieces 

3 tablespoons of olive oil 

1 cup toasted pecans 

¼ cup fresh cranberries 

¼ cup white wine

Cure the ducks a day in advance in large zip-lock bags or a large, deep pan. Whisk together ⅔ cup of kosher salt, pink salt, garlic powder, 1 cup brown sugar and water and pour over whole ducks until completely covered. Refrigerate ducks overnight. The next morning, drain liquid and allow ducks to sit on a sheet pan, breast side up, refrigerated and uncovered, in order to dry off the skin for a few hours before cooking. 

Set your smoker to 225 degrees and place the ducks breast side up inside. (Alternatively, these can be made on a roasting rack in the oven at the same temperature.) 

During this time you can make up the basting sauce. In a small sauce pot whisk together the fresh garlic, a few sprigs of thyme, soy sauce, miso, butter and lemon zest and juice. Heat this mixture to a simmer and then let it cool down. After one hour of smoking, you can begin basting your duck with this soy-butter mixture every 30 minutes. 

In a separate sauté pan, heat the olive oil on medium-high. Once it’s hot, add your leeks and apples. Season with 1 tablespoon of salt. Once they are lightly browned, add the white wine and cranberries. Cook for 2-3 minutes then mix in the toasted pecans. This will be served underneath your duck. 

After the duck has cooked for 5-6 hours, the skin should look golden brown and much tighter. The legs should begin to feel tender enough to almost pull right off. Transfer the ducks to the oven and set to 425 degrees to properly brown and crisp them. After roughly 20 minutes, or when the skin looks nicely caramelized and almost beginning to burn, remove the ducks from the oven and let them rest for 15-20 minutes. Serve on top of your roasted apples and leek mixture. 


Serves 7-9 people

Though it’s hard to beat a good pumpkin pie, in my opinion, this bundt-like bread gives it a run for its money. In addition, pie wasn’t exactly on the menu at the first Thanksgiving. The colonists, lacking sufficient butter and flour for a crust, hollowed out pumpkins and stuffed them with a mix of milk, honey and spices that they baked, resulting in something close to porridge. This creamy and flavorful dessert, topped with candied pumpkin seeds and honeycomb candy for added crunch, baked by my sister Julie, a custom cakemaker (, is infinitely more appealing. And lucky for us, the North Fork is home to one of the most diverse and historic squash and pumpkin crops in the nation, so there’s enough to go around!

Pumpkin bread 

3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, sifted 

2 teaspoons baking powder 

1 teaspoon baking soda 

¼ teaspoon ground cloves 

2 teaspoon cinnamon 

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt 

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper 

¼ cup honey 

2 cups lightbrown sugar 

½ cup olive oil 

½ cup room temperature unsalted butter 

3 large eggs 

2 cups pumpkin purée 

⅔ cup sour cream (or Greek yogurt)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare two 8-inch round cake pans or a bundt pan with butter and dusted flour. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, salt, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, baking soda and baking powder. In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine brown sugar, butter, olive oil and honey. Mix on medium-high speed until it has lightened in color, approximately 2 minutes. Scrape down the batter, then add the eggs at low speed, mixing thoroughly between each one. Gradually add in your dry ingredients, alternating with the pumpkin puree and sour cream. Once all ingredients are combined and the batter is smooth, pour into your prepared pans. Lightly tap or shake the pans to remove any air bubbles, than bake in oven for approximately 50 minutes for the bundt pan, 35-40 minutes for the 8-inch rounds, or until slightly golden on top and a toothpick comes out clean. Allow cake to cool on a rack for 20-30 minutes before running a knife along the edge of the pan and carefully flipping upside down. Wait until cake has completely cooled before icing.

Honeycomb candy 

1 cup granulated white sugar 

2 tablespoon local honey 

¼ cup corn syrup 

½ cup water 

2 teaspoons baking soda

Have a small sheet pan ready and lined with parchment paper and a thermometer capable of reading up to 350 degrees. Pour sugar, honey, syrup and water in a small saucepan and heat on medium-high. Do not whisk it. The water should just lightly moisten all of the sugar, but you can add a few drops more if needed. After a few minutes begin taking temperature of your slurry. As soon as it hits 300 degrees, remove it from the heat and sprinkle in the baking soda, carefully whisking while doing so. The mixture will begin to foam up fast, but as soon as the foam begins to settle a little, pour your pan out over your lined sheet pan, being careful not to go too fast or overfill it. Allow to cool for 20-30 minutes before breaking up your now hardened honeycomb candy!

Candied pepitas 

½ cup pumpkin seeds 

¼ cup granulated white sugar 

1 teaspoon of kosher salt

In a dry saucepan over medium heat combine pumpkin seeds, sugar and salt. Shake the pan around until they are well combined. Gently toast until the seeds begin to lightly caramelize. As soon as they begin to brown, turn off heat and spread the seeds out to cool on a sheet pan lined with parchment or waxed paper.

Whipped goat cheese: 

1 cup chèvre goat cheese, rind removed 

2 whole lemons 

1 teaspoon salt 

3 tablespoons powdered sugar 

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

In a food processor, break up and pour in all of your goat cheese, the zest and juice of your lemons, salt and powdered sugar. Pulse in the processor just for 30-45 seconds until smooth. Slowly pour in olive oil while continuing to pulse until well combined and smooth. Depending on the original consistency of the cheese, you can loosen the mixture with just a few teaspoons of warm water. You want it to be almost frosting-like in texture.

To Finish Use the whipped goat cheese as frosting on the pumpkin cake, sprinkle liberally with honeycomb and pepitas and dig in!