What does it mean to explore a century and a half of New York Times recipes? For Amanda Hesser, the co-founder and chief executive of the cooking and home company Food52, and a former Times food writer and editor, it meant testing more than 1,400 dishes over six years.
“My test for whether or not to include a recipe was simple: After testing it, I’d ask myself, ‘Would I make this again?’” she wrote in her introduction. “And with 1,124 of the recipes, the answer was yes.”
The result was “The Essential New York Times Cookbook,” first published by W.W. Norton & Company in 2010. Now, 11 years later, she revisits the work in a new edition, losing 65 recipes and adding 120 others, most from the past decade.
That means she had an inside view to how many of the dishes, particularly holiday dishes, have changed over time.
“Earlier Thanksgiving recipes were more traditional and … less fun,” she said via email. “These days, Thanksgiving recipe development is akin to a professional sport, with writers tweaking and perfecting their recipes months in advance. They want to come up with the turkey roasting technique or pie recipe that’s going to go viral.”
The recipes that follow are a sampling across decades. Not all were originally published for Thanksgivings past, but they are suitable for the holiday — and beyond.
Ms. Hesser wrote about this cake from David Lebovitz for The Times in 1999. It calls for a quarter-pound of fresh ginger. “Need I say more?” Ms. Hesser said.
Mr. Lebovitz, who was a pastry chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., has since had a long career as a cookbook author and blogger. But this recipe, from his first cookbook “Room for Dessert,” dates back relatively early in his writing career. Boldly flavored and headily spiced with just cinnamon, cloves, black pepper and, yes, a lot of fresh ginger, it is simplicity exemplified, coming together quickly and without a mixer. The cake — much like the recipe itself — ages well, its flavors melding and deepening over time.
This recipe, published in The Times in 1991, is adapted from Yves Labbé, the chef at Le Cheval d’Or, a restaurant in Jeffersonville, Vt., that showcased French country cooking. Mr. Labbé was known to serve this dish alongside a quail in a red-wine sauce, and its simple instructions belie depths of flavor. The cabbage cooks down, braising in its own juices, while the sweetness of the apples and maple syrup, a Vermont staple, tones down the bitterness of the cabbage. The result has broad appeal. “Everyone could use an easy side like this on Thanksgiving,” Ms. Hesser said.
There aren’t many recipes from the 1940s and ’50s represented in “The Essential New York Times Cookbook.” That’s intentional. “If you could taste some of the recipes I made from this era, you would see that I am saving you from a world of hurt,” Ms. Hesser wrote in the book’s introduction.
Still, a good dip transcends time — especially one with fresh herbs, which, according to Ms. Hesser, made this 1959 recipe from Craig Claiborne stand out amid other recipes from the era. Studded with capers, garlic and anchovies, the dip comes together quickly and then sits in the refrigerator, ready to buy you time should your guests arrive early while the turkey runs late.
This recipe appeared in The Times twice: in 1992, when Ms. Lewis, many years after writing her seminal cookbook “The Taste of Country Cooking,” was the chef at the Brooklyn restaurant Gage & Tollner, and then in 2000, adapted by Ralph Vetters, a medical student at the time. For Mr. Vetters, these sweet potatoes — with just a bit more lemon added — were a family recipe, shared by his and his husband’s relatives. This is Ms. Lewis’s 1992 version, a testament to its longevity.
“Lewis’s work was like that — so good, so familiar — that her recipes become a part of your life,” Ms. Hesser wrote in the book. It has made its way onto her Thanksgiving table, too.
Recipes sometimes tell a much larger story about migration and place, as traditional ingredients step aside for what may be more readily available. Such is the case with this dish from Yung Chow, published in The Times in 2003 with an article about the history of Chinese American families who settled in the Mississippi Delta. When she couldn’t find Chinese broccoli or bok choy in her local markets, she turned to collard greens, which she stir-fried with garlic and flavored with oyster sauce.
The high heat of the wok, Ms. Hesser said, “really brings out the minerality of collards, and this goes so well with the sweetness of oyster sauce.” This is a dish that works not just for Thanksgiving, but any time of year.