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Our Thanksgiving Traditions

Food, glorious food – and more, as it turns out!

With just two days to go until Thanksgiving, it will come as a surprise to absolutely no one that I found myself standing in a very long line at the grocery store this morning. In fact, the line was long enough for me to overhear the details of another family’s Thanksgiving dinner.

“OK,” the woman in front of me said, checking her list for a final time, “we’ve got the Brussels sprouts, the creamed spinach, the stuffed mushrooms ...”

“Wait!” her companioned interrupted, “do we have the tossed salad makings?  And enough carrots for the carrot cake?”

Brussels sprouts? Creamed spinach? Salad? Carrot cake? These are not the menu items I have ever experienced as part of my family’s traditional Thanksgiving feast. I’ll be honest: except for the tossed salad, a decade or more could fly by without any of those offerings finding themselves on the kitchen table in my house.

This got me thinking about Thanksgiving. It seems to me the focus of this particular holiday tends to be, in short, "The Meal." With Easter, there’s the egg hunt. With Christmas, there are presents and carols and decorations galore. My friends who celebrate Hanukkah talk of candle lighting, dreidel spinning, and the presentation of nightly gifts.

But on Thanksgiving, it’s all about the food and family traditions concerning the food. OK, I’ll concede the watching of football, but it’s mostly about the food.

And not just any food will do for this particular meal, mind you, most of us crave the Thanksgiving foods we grew up with. For me, these foods include butternut squash, baked sweet potatoes, green beans almondine, creamed onions, a simple breadcrumb stuffing, and my mother’s apple pie.

Years ago, I spent Thanksgiving at my brother’s house. He and his wife served mashed potatoes (not baked), asparagus (not green beans), a stuffing filled with sausage (sausage?), and sadly, no creamed onions. As we sat down to dinner, my sister-in-law Diane remarked that this particular stuffing recipe had been passed down for generations in her family. Of course, I thought, this is how it is on Thanksgiving and this is how it should be.

And Diane, in case you’re reading this column, let me add that while this meal was not filled with elements found on the traditional Gibalerio table, it was perfectly delicious and I for one appreciate the enormous effort and that goes into creating and serving this particular feast. Really!

Of course, Diane has spent many a Thanksgiving at my house and was served a meatless stuffing and many other dishes that did not conform to her Thanksgiving dinner schema. So, we all end up on the other side of this topic eventually.

Those are some of my experiences. To learn more on this topic, I sent the following fill-in-the-blank email to my friends:

Thanksgiving would not be Thanksgiving without _______________.

Here are some of the responses:

“ ... stories about my mother’s gravy over the years.”

“ ... seeing everyone strewn on couches and armchairs, sound asleep in a food coma, while college football blares on the television.”

“ ... pumpkin pie.”

“ ... the day-after multi-generational walk-off-the-calories hike.”

“ ... a roaring fire and the appearance of the Christmas elf.”

“ ... making pies with my in-laws on Thanksgiving eve.”

“ ... stuffing and cranberry sauce.”

“ ... nine or ten pies and my grandmother’s stuffing.”

“ ... the smoke detector going off.”

“ ... the boys playing football (with someone getting hurt) and homemade carrot cake.”

“ ... my mother’s baking.”

“ ... an over-cooked bird and canned cranberry sauce (the gelatinous mold variety).”

“ ... teasing my older brother about his hangover after he spent a pre-holiday night out with his hometown buddies.”

“ ... the heavenly assortment of pies: pecan, chocolate cream, apple and pumpkin!”

“ ... candied yams with little melted marshmallows.”

“ ... vegetables fresh from the garden and my mother-in-law’s apple pie.”

“ ... oyster dressing from the recipe passed down by my ‘yankee’ great-grandmother from Plymouth.”

“ ... without realizing I don't have a pan to cook the turkey in and running out to a 24 hour store hoping one is still left in stock somewhere!”

“ ... an entire dessert for every person and lots of wine.”

“ ... my mother burning the first set of rolls (she always bought a back up set) and my aunt getting tipsy on champagne!  (My mother wasn't tipsy, she just couldn't keep track of rolls in the oven).”

Here’s hoping you enjoy some of your favorites this year!  

Annie farquhar November 21, 2012 at 02:36 AM
We too always had creamed onions growing up.
Andy Rojas November 21, 2012 at 11:54 AM
I also love the fact that ethnic families add their traditional foods to the long standing American traditional meal. Some Italian families add Italian specialties; some Armenian families add Armenian fare; and, as another example, my Cuban family adds many tasty Cuban dishes to the traditional turkey meal. Great country, America! This is my favorite holiday. Great story, Lisa.
Johanna Swift Hart November 24, 2012 at 06:16 PM
It's my favorite too! Thanks for this nice piece, Lisa. As long as my mom is cooking, I never want to go anywhere but "home" for Thanksgiving so for my kids that's their tradition. I like Andy's point about ethnic variations, too, since I remember the first time I heard someone mention a Christmas roast and I thought, "What? You don't have homemade ravioli?!"

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