Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Proper Thanksgiving

Obviously I am in the throes of Project Thanksgiving right now. I don't feel behind, nor do I think I should be checking certain tasks off of a list right at this very moment, but Fred (I've named my turkey Fred), and I have a date this morning. I am still nervous about the turkey, but the sides will good, and we have my Mom's Tofurky (yes, my MOTHER is the vegetarian/borderline vegan). If anything happens, people can get their protein from that. :)

Anyway, there is a point to this post. I had a conversation with my BFF about how the fact that I think we sometimes forget that not everyone eats the same holiday food as we do in our homes with our families. As a matter of fact, even in a country as diverse as our own and even with iconic dishes like turkey and pumpkin pie, everyone's got their own idea of what a "Proper Thanksgiving Meal" should be. Isn't this true?

When I was younger, we went to my godmother's house a 10 minute drive away. I came to understand that Thanksgiving is turkey, but also ham and curry chicken (Caribbean style). There's got to be rice and peas there (Caribbean people sometimes have a hard time eating a dish without rice and beans or at least Antiguans do anyway). You had to lunge for the sweet potato pie, while the pumpkin pie usually just sat there. After awhile, my Mom, who supplied the sweets for the day, just stopped making pumpkin pie.

Yet while we had signature dishes that we all collectively love at our meal, someone across the street or even across the city could be sitting down and having the EXACT opposite meal minus maybe the turkey. Last year, the New York Times had an interactive map of what recipes were most searched by state. It seems that pumpkin pie is more popular in the Midwest but barely searched for in the Deep South. Pecan pie was popular in the middle of the country (both north and south), but coastal folks weren't planning on it. Mid-Atlantic folks and New Englanders like their apple pie for dessert. Fascinating, isn't it?

Honestly, it would never occur to my godmother, my Mom and the rest of my family to take green beans, add some cream of mushroom soup and crumbled fried onions on top, and put it in the oven and bake it.....

Yet green bean casserole is a big time American Thanksgiving dish. I still haven't had it. Should I be thankful? ;)

I know that the issue of taste differences has definitely come to the fore in my life since getting married. Last year, I think was especially hard for me because it was my first Thanksgiving at my in-laws, who are absolutely lovely people. My mother-in-law spearheads the cooking duties there. I did very much like the meal, BUT they just eat totally differently from my family. The most fascinating dish for me was the pearl onions.

I tried a few of the onions, but they were far from life-changing for me. Sorry, MIL. You are a great cook, but these pearl onion thingies just didn't take to my palate. ;(

It's always fun for me hearing about friends' Thanksgiving meals, whether they are multiple generation Americans or their kids will be the first generations of their family born here like mine. I like the fact there are quintessential traditional Thanksgiving dishes we can count on, but we take each of these dishes and make them our own, kinda like our American experience. Everyone with their cultures and experiences has added a little something here and a little something there to change what is customary about the proper Thanksgiving meal, but it's still all uniquely American.

That being said, there will always be mac and cheese and sweet potato pie at my dinner, and I'll even start to include rice (not on the menu for this year). :)

What do you consider to be the "proper" Thanksgiving meal? What dishes can you NOT live without on Thanksgiving Day?


Amy said...

I think we're pretty southern here. We have fried turkey, ham, stuffing, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, etc.

Since you haven't had it yet, I have to say that Green Bean Casserole is pretty fabulous. :)

nellie said...

What a great post Terri! Growing up in a Chinese household, we didn't even start our Thanksgiving traditions until I was a teenager. We make our turkey using sweet soy sauce and other Asian spices. One year, we rubbed miso paste into the turkey. My can't live without dish is our Chinese sticky rice stuffing made with shitake mushrooms and cured Chinese sausages.

I love your comment on green bean casserole-- I had never tried one until a few years ago at my friend's Thanksgiving party and I loved it!

lobster said...

Thanks for writing this! Similar to Nellie, I grew up in a Chinese household and my parents didn't/still don't know how to cook a turkey! We make rib roast instead with some american sides and have since added homemade chinese dim sum and apple pie to the mix :)It's my hubs first Thanksgiving w/us so I warned him.

BigAppleNosh said...

We have a hodgepodge of things at Thanksgiving - usually a turkey, unless my mom makes a chicken. Sometimes ham. "Commercial" sides like Stovetop stuffing and c(r)anberry sauce, ridges and all. And of course the Chinese flair with sticky rice and Chinese mushrooms and sausage :)

lajolielavie said...

We have the typical mid-western meal of turkey, ham, yams, stuffing, mashed potatoes...etc., but we also add lechon, white rice, (sometimes) crab legs, pansit (quintessential Filipino noodle dish). I'm Filipino-Chinese and my hubs is Polish, so there's always a variety:) This year, I am thinking of incorporating lobster rolls (a smitten kitchen recipe).

Tiffany said...

We always have turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, roasted potatoes, yorkshire pudding (a british style bread, like a roll, but different) pecan pie and pumpkin pie.

Occasionally we'll add ham, corn on the cob, green bean casserole, sweet potato souffle, apple pie, or blackberry cobbler, but those depend on how we feel.

I've never had mac n' cheese for Thanksgiving before, but now that I think about it, I think I'm going to need to add that! I love seeing what others serve for Thanksgiving!

Micah and Catherine said...

We didn't start doing Thanksgiving until I was about 15 years old and I think my Mom bought one of those heat up deals from Safeway or the like. The first real Thanksgiving I participated in was the first one my Husband and I had together. We made everything. Now we do themed Thanksgivings. No matter what, there is always turkey.


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