Tag Archives: Helen Corbitt


This dish has been on our family’s Thanksgiving table for as long as I can remember. We have chilled canned cranberry sauce, too. That way everyone can admire the indented rings that come from the can when the cranberry jelly slides onto the serving plate. But no one would consider eating turkey without cranberry-orange relish. The recipe comes from Helen Corbitt’s Cookbook, published in 1957. Helen Corbitt was the doyenne of Texas dining and is widely considered to have single-handedly  changed Texan tastes from exclusively chicken fried steak (Nothing the matter with that, I might add.) to things like asparagus and fancy desserts. She was from New York where she got a degree in home economics before becoming a therapeutic dietician at two of New York City’s most prestigious hospitals. From there she moved to the University of Texas at Austin to teach and run a laboratory kitchen. She was recruited away from that to star in several country club and hotel restaurants before landing at Nieman-Marcus’ flagship store in Dallas. She established her celebrity there, and was regarded to be the arbiter of good cooking in all of Texas.

For our version, we follow Helen Corbitt’s original recipe almost exactly – except we add a cup of chopped Texas pecans. It is my observation that at Thanksgiving, everything should contain a few pecans. Usually we grind the cranberries and oranges in a meat grinder as instructed by herself, but in this latest cross-country move we have squirreled away the grinder, not sure where in the unpacked boxes. Besides, when we did it that way, orange juice always ran out of the back end of the grinder requiring a pan on the floor to catch the mess. I thought my Vitamix might work well as a substitute, and I was right. The relish turned out just as I remembered it, and the cleanup was much easier.

Here’s a wish for all of my blogging friends: Have a Happy Thanksgiving.


Vitamix Cranberry-Orange Relish


  • 1 quart whole cranberries (about 1½ packages of commercial cranberries)
  • 2 large navel oranges, cut into eighths
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped coarsely


  1. With the Vitamix setting on VARIABLE and power at 3, add the cranberries to the beaker. Pulse and use the plunger to move the cranberries to the blades of the mixer. When the cranberries are chopped to your liking, transfer them to a large bowl.
  2. Working in three batches, add the orange pieces to the beaker. Pulse at the same settings, using the plunger to ensure even chopping. Transfer the chopped oranges to the bowl. Stir in the sugar and pecans until the mixture is evenly combined.
  3. Chill for a couple of hours or overnight. Serve the chilled relish as part of your Thanksgiving table.


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It is high season for citrus crops. During our recent visit to the San Francisco area, we saw many citrus trees planted in front yards as ornamentals that were drooped to the ground with big crops of oranges, lemons, limes, and tangerines. Driving through the Central Valley we saw miles of citrus groves with ripening fruit. In spite of cold weather, I believe that most of the farmers were able to avoid serious frost damage. In our local grocery store, the bins are full of oranges and tangerines, and the prices are good. No better time for a fresh citrus salad.

Of course, there are other places beside California with big crops of citrus fruits, so there is no point in restricting your sources. Florida and Arizona are producers in this country while Spain, Israel, and other Mediterranean countries also have famous crops.

Ruby red grapefruit from Texas are sweet and juicy.  Pomelos can substitute for grapefruits, and there may be other choices you might wish to try.

Avocados don’t count as citrus, but they just seem to be a perfect match for fresh oranges and grapefruit, so consider including them in your salad.

Poppy seed dressing, a sweet vinaigrette, seems to have been invented by the well-known Texas cook and cookbook writer, Helen Corbitt. She was wooed away from academic nutrition science and Cornell University to take charge of a series of fancy dining establishments in Texas, ending at the Neiman-Marcus dining rooms in Texas. In the 1950’s, her food was famous throughout Texas, and nearly every housewife had a copy of her cookbook reserved for parties and special events. It was the era of Betty Crocker and Better Homes and Gardens, so Corbitt’s recipes provided something unique and decidedly “Texas”.

Perhaps Helen Corbitt’s most famous recipe was for poppy seed dressing. For many years, especially in Texas, it was extremely popular. Like so many foods of the ’50s, though, it fell out of favor. That’s too bad because it is the perfect foil for fruits salads, especially of the citrus variety. As with so many foods out of favor, it is hard to find a current recipe, so here is one adapted from the original in the 1957 classic, “Helen Corbitt’s Cookbook” (Houghton Mifflin, Cambridge, MA, p.47).



Poppy Seed Dressing (about 1½ cups)


  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1½ teaspoons white onion pulp
  • 1 cup salad oil (your choice: vegetable, canola, walnut, other but NOT olive oil)
  • 1½ tablespoons poppy seeds


  • Place the sugar, mustard, salt, and vinegar in the jar of a blender
  • Prepare the onion pulp by grating a white onion with a micro-plane. Add to the other ingredients
  • Cover the blender jar, turn on the blender, and pour in the oil slowly to blend
  • Blend in the poppy seeds, transfer to a storage container, and refrigerate until ready for use

Citrus Salad (serves two)


  • 1 grapefruit
  • 2 large navel oranges
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • spring mix salad greens
  • poppy seed dressing


  • With a very sharp knife, remove the skin and any white membrane from the grapefruit and oranges
  • Cut between the sections of the citrus to make membrane-free pieces of fruit
  • Halve and slice the avocado
  • Arrange the grapefruit, orange, and avocado slices on a mound of salad greens
  • Dress with the poppy seed dressing and serve immediately

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