If the winning dishes in The Advocate’s Thanksgiving Recipe Contest sponsored by Calandro’s Supermarket are any indication, Thanksgiving Day menus in south Louisiana reflect both the area’s culinary heritage and the cooks’ creativity.

It wasn’t easy selecting the contest’s winners, the judges said as they tasted, critiqued and lobbied for their favorites among the dozen finalists in the appetizer, entrée, side dish and dessert categories on Nov. 6.

Debbie Carmichael, of Prairieville, won first place in appetizers for her Eggplant Caponata, which judge Mark Calandro termed “the best I’ve ever had. I think (the contestant) needs to package it and sell it.” The judges also liked the caponata’s texture and “perfect blend.”

Rhanetta Ruffins, of Plaquemine, took the top prize in the entrée category with her Seafood Stuffed Bell Peppers, which were filled with a mixture of crab meat, shrimp and crawfish tails. One judge explained, “I loved that every time I went into the bell pepper, I got seafood. It’s like a seafood pie without a crust.”

Baton Rouge resident Eleanor Mitchel, a native of Bordelonville in Avoyelles Parish, won first place in the side dish category with Crawfish Cornbread. Her dish combines convenience products with Louisiana crawfish and cheddar cheese.

Each of the finalists in the desserts category had a proponent among the judges, but the final vote went to Teeter’s Pound Cake by Bonnie Erickson, of St. Francisville. Judges liked its crunchy crust, moist texture and pina colada flavor.

Erickson said she got the recipe from her 96-year-old cousin, Virginia “Teeter” Lathrop, about 25 years ago. “She doesn’t remember where she got the recipe,” Erickson said. “It’s been in her family for a long time. I imagine it goes back to her mother.”

The four first-place dishes will be available for tasting at Calandro’s Supermarket, 12732 Perkins Road, Baton Rouge, from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 20.

Runners-up in the appetizer category were Kristy Gogreve Elias, of Baton Rouge, for her Cranberry Pear Relish; and Cynthia Litz, of Baton Rouge, for Holiday Fruit Salad.

Entrée runners-up were Tricia Canella, of Baton Rouge, with Tricia’s Chicken, Sausage and Tasso Gumbeau; and William “Bill” Baker, of Baton Rouge, for his Steak William.

Runners-up in the side dish category were Greg Mullowney, of Baton Rouge, for Sweet Potato Salad; and Wendy Brogdon, of Port Allen, for Louisiana Sweet Southern Greens.

For desserts, the runners-up were Judith Couvillion-Piker of Baton Rouge, for her Blueberry Tart with short-crust pastry and lemon curd; and Lisa Buquoi, of Denham Springs, for Pumpkin Pecan Cheesecake Bars.