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Many families return year after year to enjoy the delicious Thanksgiving buffet at one of Kentucky’s beautiful state parks. “Over 11,000 will be served this year” at all of the resort parks, many with dining rooms that offer panoramic views of nature, says Brown.

“Seasonal favorites include turkey and dressing, awesome pit ham, and carved beef, plus many sides, salads, and desserts.”

Chef Eric Clippert of General Butler State Resort Park says catfish is also a must-have menu item at his location. Clippert, a former Northerner, first experienced Thanksgiving at a Kentucky state park when he visited Cumberland Falls in 1998 with his wife and children. “We invited a few family members over and we cooked, in the cabin, our own meal,” he says. “It was fantastic.” They later bought a home near the falls.

Clippert, who became the chef at General Butler in December 2004, says, “We easily serve 1,000 customers on Thanksgiving Day in just a few hours. We also serve at least 300 on any given Sunday.”

The chefs and staff love the excitement of the annual Thanksgiving weekend. Hattie Cheatham, head chef at Lake Barkley State Resort Park, looks forward to seeing families that come every year. “I know so many of them by name, and love hearing them catch up on their lives as I carve on the buffet” from noon to 6 p.m. every year, she says. Customers look forward to her “real mashed potatoes” and homemade cornbread dressing, she adds.

Jenny Wiley State Resort Park, under the watchful eye of Chef Jessica Butcher, serves her buffet from noon to 8 p.m. every Thanksgiving. “I worked here for 14 years before becoming chef just over a year ago,” Butcher says. “My guests love it and the staff looks forward to customers’ feedback, especially on our Baked Alaska.”

For some families, having Thanksgiving at a Kentucky park is a tradition that has continued for many years.
Jerry Young of Lexington brings the family to Lake Cumberland State Resort Park’s Lure Lodge. “We’ve been going for about 18 years with family members coming from Texas and Florida,” he says. “We get several rooms and stay several days. It’s so convenient, with plenty of room, activities for the kids, and all the food you want. I look forward to the standing rib roast.”

Daughter Rachel Young, age 6, likes the turkey and desserts. “I love the swimming and hiking,” she adds. “That’s pretty good.”

Laura Miller and husband Robert Cumming of Jamestown have been regulars at Lake Cumberland for 16 years. “We go for every holiday and go to the seafood buffet every month,” Miller says. “I love the banana pudding and cobblers and country ham.”

Richard Bowen of Lexington rents a cabin at Lake Cumberland, where many family members have gathered for the past four years. Family members from as far away as Paraguay and Haiti meet to enjoy a light breakfast before tackling the massive buffet. “The food is always amazing and too much to sample everything, but we all try,” Bowen says.

Chef Bill Ware of Lake Cumberland shares his thoughts on Thanksgiving at the parks: “It’s a time for families to come back together, whether across the state or elsewhere to a central meeting point.

“I grew up in this area and fondly recall my own family traditions of turkey, stuffing, yams, and all the trimmings. As a professional chef, I understand the challenge today’s smaller families have in hosting holiday feasts, and the park’s buffet offers all the traditional foods and plenty of room.”

Ware adds: “My staff and I get to see so many of the same people every year. Many of the familiar guests are folks I have known all my life, like my family physician and three of my high school teachers.”

To learn more about Thanksgiving dining, call the state resort park of your choice or visit
for local times and prices. Reservations are not required, but several parks recommend calling ahead for parties of 25 or more. Separate dining rooms are often available to accommodate large groups.


Recipe by Bill Ware
3 (40 oz) cans cut yams in syrup
2 tsps ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp white pepper
1 lb brown sugar
1/4 C cornstarch
1/2 C cold apple cider or apple juice
2 cinnamon sticks

Praline Topping
1 C granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp butter
1 C water
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
3 C medium pecan pieces
3 C miniature marshmallows

To make yam glaze, in heavy saucepan, cut the ground cinnamon, allspice, and white pepper into the brown sugar with the cornstarch. Mix in apple cider or juice, then add yam syrup and cinnamon sticks and whisk together. Cook on stovetop until thickened. Grease a 9” x 13” glass baking dish with shortening. Spread the yams evenly in the pan, then pour the hot glaze over them. For pralines, mix granulated sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Spread 1 Tbsp butter in small heavy-bottomed saucepan. Over medium heat, stir in the water and cinnamon-sugar. Bring to a boil and stir constantly for 5 minutes. Add pecan pieces and vanilla extract; bring back to a boil for 2 minutes. Spread pralines over yams, top with marshmallows, and bake at 400° for 10 minutes or until topping is golden brown. Serves 12.

Recipe by Bill Ware
1/2 C cornstarch
1/2 gal whole milk
1 stick margarine or butter
3/4 C granulated sugar
6 extra-large eggs
1 tsp vanilla flavoring
8 bananas
1 lb vanilla wafers

6 egg whites
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 C sugar

To make custard, blend cornstarch with 2 cups of milk until smooth in a pan. In steam kettle or double-boiler, pour remaining milk, margarine, and sugar. Whisk together and heat until milk is hot and margarine has melted, whisking occasionally. Slowly whisk in eggs one at a time, and then the cornstarch slurry. Stir constantly to avoid lumps and keep at medium heat until reaching desired pourable consistency. Blend in vanilla flavoring. Remove from heat and set aside.

To make meringue, whip egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy; add sugar a tablespoon at a time to dissolve, then whip until stiff peaks form.

Spray 9” x 13” glass baking dish with no-stick cooking spray. Pour quart of custard in bottom of pan, slice 4 bananas over layer, then add half the wafers. Cover with another quart of custard, then add another layer of 4 sliced bananas and rest of wafers, covered again by custard as needed. Top pan with meringue (should be 2” to 3” thick and fluffy) and place in 400° oven for 4 to 6 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm. Serves 12.

Recipe by Bill Ware
1 pit ham, about 20 lb
2 C maple syrup
2 C Dr Pepper
2 C orange juice
1/2 C honey

Score ham on “up” side in criss-cross diamond pattern, about a half-inch deep. (A pit ham is a precooked, whole boneless sugar-cured ham.)

Combine remaining ingredients separately and pour glaze over ham in a deep roasting pan. Wrap pan containing ham in parchment paper then foil. Cook in a low oven (300° maximum) for 1 hour. Turn ham over onto the cut side, re-seal with foil, and bake an additional 30 minutes. Remove paper and foil, return ham to the cut-side up, and baste with glaze every 5 to 10 minutes for about 30 more minutes, until ham registers 145° internally. Serves about 50.

Recipe by Bill Ware
1-1/2 C fresh cranberries, coarsely ground
1/2 C sugar
1 orange, seeded and coarsely ground
2 (3 oz) pkgs orange gelatin
1/4 tsp salt
2 C boiling water
1-1/2 C cold water
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/2 C walnuts

Combine cranberries, sugar, and orange and set aside. In large glass bowl, mix gelatin with salt and boiling water; stir to dissolve thoroughly. Add cold water, lemon juice, cinnamon, and cloves to gelatin mixture. Chill in refrigerator until thickened, but not set. You may need to check it often. Fold cranberry mixture and walnuts into gelatin mixture. Place in serving dish and let set up overnight. Serves 6-8.


For those who say it’s not Thanksgiving without turkey, try the Holiday Smoked Turkey recipe, or there’s a Country Ham recipe as well. If banana pudding is not your style, then Bread Pudding with Espresso Sauce is sure to hit the spot. For these three additional Kentucky State Parks recipes, go to Thanksgiving recipes.

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