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November 6, 2011

Thanksgiving Thoughts #1: It Was the Best of Dishes, It Was the Worst of Dishes

Filed under: Food,Holidays — Twistie @ 12:30 pm

As you’re all probably aware by now, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. It’s about good food, and it’s about appreciating the good things in life, both of which are things I really love. It gives me a chance to show off my culinary chops, which is my idea of a good time.

Over the centuries… well, the century and a half and change that Thanksgiving has been an official, annual, national holiday here in the States, the menu has more or less codified across the country. Sure there are regional and family traditions that don’t translate elsewhere, and there are the families who – because of allergies or other food restrictions – have to find ways to adapt the meal to fit their needs. And there are those brave souls who chuck the entire traditional meal because they just plain don’t like any of it. Still, wherever you go in the US of A on that fateful thursday, the vast majority of tables will feature at least these dishes: roast turkey with stuffing/dressing, mashed potatoes or a sweet potato dish, cranberries in some form, and pumpkin pie. And then there are the things that are more common than not, such as: green bean casserole, biscuits or dinner rolls, some sort of salad, and a second dessert, often apple or pecan pie.

Of that list, the one I absolutely cannot do without no matter what else is or isn’t on the table is the pumpkin pie, preferably baked by my own fair hands. I admit that part freely. I love to bake pies, and baking the pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving has been my job for the last forty-two years. No way am I giving that up until I am physically incapable of doing it anymore! For me, pumpkin is the flavor of Thanksgiving. It’s also my traditional day after Thanksgiving breakfast, along with a cup of strong, black coffee.

But there are a couple things on that list I could definitely survive never seeing on a Thanksgiving table again. Green bean casserole and anything that mucks up perfectly good sweet potatoes with marshmallows and too many sweet things, I’m looking at you. Sweet potatoes are already sweet. That’s why they’re called sweet potatoes. They don’t need to be drowned in sugar. As for green bean casserole, well, whether it’s made with a can of Campbell’s or from absolute scratch… it’s still got mushrooms in it and I can’t stand mushrooms. Leave out the casserole, though, and I love me some green beans.

If those things are on the table, obviously I won’t scream and throw hissey fits until they go away. I’ll just quietly keep passing them when they get to my end of the table and fill my plate with the things I love. But if they weren’t there… yeah, no tear shedding over that.

And there’s a family dish that I miss a lot. My mother’s second dessert on Thanksgiving was always a steamed pudding, usually ginger. It was fabulous. Cakey and moist and full of little bites of fresh ginger, it made my mouth sing. Alas! These days I don’t have enough people around the table to seriously justify a second dessert. And since for the past couple years Mr. Twistie and I have shared the holiday with a friend who lives a two-hour drive away… we have to think carefully about what we can transport successfully in the confines of our car. A freshly steamed pudding is not easily transported. But maybe I’ll do one for Christmas this year.

So how about you? What’s your favorite of the traditional Thanksgiving dishes? What’s the one you never want to eat again in your lifetime? Is there a family or regional dish you grew up with that you miss? Or one you remember with a shudder of horror?

Let’s dish!


  1. I grew up with a most foul concoction that I hope to never run into again and the main reason why I no longer spend Thanksgiving with my mother. She makes stuffing with oysters. Until my stepmother served me stuffing from a box, I thought I hated stuffing. Shellfish should never be found inside of poultry. As for traditional things I like, we always serve champagne with cranberry juice, which makes for a pleasant dinner but what I look forward to every year is pumpkin pie for breakfast the next morning.

    Comment by Andrea — November 6, 2011 @ 1:15 pm

  2. I’m actually allergic to sweet potatoes, so I’ll go with the sweet potato-marshmallow-apple thing my mom makes (for herself alone, none of the rest of us will touch it). Also not a fan of jello molds with fruit in, especially bananas and/or green jello.

    I’ll take duck over turkey any day, but I love mashed potatoes and I love pumpkin pie!

    Comment by Rebekka — November 6, 2011 @ 3:13 pm

  3. We always start with mulled apple cider and lefse (Norwegian flatbread rolled up with butter, brown sugar and cinnamon.) Yum!

    I can live without the “salads” made from jello, canned fruit marshmallows and/or cool whip.

    Comment by Julie — November 6, 2011 @ 4:07 pm

  4. I’m afraid I love green bean casserole, but then, I also love mushrooms. Different tastes. If it’s only the mushrooms, have you tried making it with some other Cream Of Soup? And if it’s not, well, more for me :).

    My favorite? Stuffing. Cooked inside the bird. Outside the bird it’s always so dry and crunchy – croutons are for salads. Stuffing should be moist and silky and it only gets that way from being cooked inside the turkey.

    Abominations: I’m with you on the sweet potatoes – I want to know what someone was drinking to come up with that combination of orange juice, marshmallows and sweet potatoes. Actually, I can skip the sweet potatoes altogether because the only was I’ve truly enjoyed them was in tempura.

    Creamed onions. Looked like a science experiment gone bad. Tasted like it too.

    Cranberry sauce. I don’t care if it’s jellied or ground, just no. I am not big on mixing sweet and savories (keep your mint jelly away from my lamb), and this stuff just takes over and kills dead any flavor that turkey has.

    And frankly…uh…I don’t like pumpkin pie very much. I eat it to be polite, but I’d rather have pecan, apple, or really, something chocolate. This is my major peeve with Thanksgiving – it is a holiday that does not involve enough chocolate :).

    Comment by TropicalChrome — November 6, 2011 @ 4:07 pm

  5. We do a Southwestern inspired Thanksgiving- it is so NOT my mother’s Thanksgiving table. Sometimes I miss the more traditional sage/herb-no chile or Tamale meal. Ours is full of bold spices and yummieness. We do what may be considered an “Orphan” Thanksgiving- there is a core of about 12 people with a rotation of 6-8 new comers, who come over for dinner and laughter. It is a lot of fun- although, I kind of feel bad for the Brazilian family who has spent every Thanksgiving since coming to America with us- our meal is not at all indicative of Philadelphia and more in line with our home states of California and New Mexico. Fairly certain they won’t get Sweet Potato Tamales or Pablano- Cauliflower Gratin for Thanksgiving anywhere else in the North East….

    That being said- It is not Thanksgiving until I get my potato roll smothered in gravy- It is a treat I learned from my Mom who would have it in the kitchen to nosh on while she was going back and forth making sure all of our guests had enough. I put a little dish of this on the back of the stove and enjoy while refilling platters, plates, glasses and bowls.

    We always have 4 pies and a bread pudding. There are always TONS of leftovers, so we have started having a party the Friday after- It is the Post Thanksgiving Left Over Extravaganza and everybody brings leftovers to share. It gives people the perfect excuse to escape family for a few hours, or to hoist them onto someone else. It is insanely fun

    I could do forever without the green bean casserole- it looks like a dead frog with a bad blond toupee on the plate.

    Comment by Kimks — November 6, 2011 @ 6:21 pm

  6. For me the only requirements are turkey, stuffing, and gravy. Cranberry sauce is nice (either homemade or from a can, I’m not a snob) but I can live without it. I like roasted potatoes too.

    I do not like mashed potatoes or pumpkin pie, and I would happily go the rest of my life without them. One of my assumed responsibilities is to bring a non-pumpkin dessert.

    Comment by Ripley — November 6, 2011 @ 9:35 pm

  7. I don’t like sweet potatoes with marshmallows, either. (Yuck!) And while I like pumpkin pie, my favorite is pecan. My family was always kind of different, and my favorite Thanksgivings were the ones where we ate non-traditional food–the years we had homemade tamales were a high point. Now my cousin has kids, and she insists we be more traditional, “for the kids.” She pitched a fit about it, so now we have turkey for Thanksgiving every year, whether we like it or not.

    Comment by Leigh — November 6, 2011 @ 11:22 pm

  8. Hi, my name is Leah & I dislike turkey….
    For pretty much any holiday I like to have ham. A big ol’ oven-baked ham is just what makes my toes twinkle.

    As for what to do without? That nasty cranberry crap. I don’t care if it’s canned or fresh, I dislike the taste regardless, but the canned stuff just looks NASTY!

    Comment by Leah — November 6, 2011 @ 11:50 pm

  9. I thought I hated sweet potatoes until I had them simply baked with butter, salt and pepper. The marshmallow/coconut topping was just too much, but it makes my Dad happy. He, though, does not like turkey. And my sister does not like ham, so we had both on the table every Thanksgiving.

    Several years back, some foodie friends (my family of choice, not blood) and I came up with the idea of doing a Twisted Thanksgiving. All the traditional foods are served, but you must come up with a different way of preparing them. So we’ve had Jerked Turkey, sweet and sour turkey meatballs, deep fried green beans, pumpkin bread pudding and cranberry margaritas – just to name a few of our favorites. And it’s not held on Thanksgiving of course. We’ve done it in January and even in July.

    Comment by Carol — November 7, 2011 @ 8:44 am

  10. I absolutely love Pumpkin pie and I am the official pumpkin pie maker. I also love stuffing but not some fancy homemade kind, give me Stovetop! Mashed Potatoes are also good especially semi lumpy ones mixed with a ton of butter some salt and some pepper, no sour cream.

    I HATE all things sweet potato especially the abomination that is sweet potato pie. Green bean casserole is disgusting (but then I only like green beans cold, no salt from a can…Im weird). Cranberry sauce is fun to poke and is a pretty color but you aren’t actually suppose to eat it….right?

    I’m not the biggest fan of turkey but I can deal with it if you give me a leg (not a white meat person) and pour some gravy on it.

    Comment by Jeni — November 7, 2011 @ 8:45 am

  11. I’m like most kids from immigrant families, we always got a mix of the traditional Thanksgiving foods (my mother always cooked a turkey–that was the traditional part) and “feast” or holiday foods from her background, so really it was like my mother’s regional cuisine holiday foods plus a turkey thrown in, too. Her regional food was labour intensive, and involved making homemade chicken stock and dumplings, hundreds of crepes that would later be layered into a timballo, with each layer lined with cooked vegetables, cheeses, and meat sauce before it was all baked in the oven until set; then meats like chicken and veal made into “involtini”–they were either layered one over the other and stuffed with prosciutto and a bit of fresh mozzarella and parsley before being rolled into little “packets”, or made into a larger roulade or roasted meat roll, with veal, chicken breast, and egg on the inside (it always looked beautiful when sliced, and that was the whole point). My brother and I have tried making those foods on our own now and even when they’re well done they never taste like my mother’s. Food does that, though: a dish is always far more than its recipe, assembled. Those are the flavours I miss, and I also miss the fact that the meal was so clearly a kind of “blending” of the two ideas of celebration.

    Now I do the “traditional” stuff (turkey with cornbread stuffing; home made AND canned cranberry sauce because some people have to see the ribs of the can!; roasted root veggies in herbs and butter; pumpkin sweets of some kind–pumpkin pie or cheesecake) plus some of our own “traditional” foods–home made ravioli stuffed with roasted pumpkin or squash and ricotta cheese; a wild rice dish that includes brandy, chutney, and butter; and another pie dessert of some kind–no one really likes apple so it’s buttermilk pie or a peach or rhubarb cobbler instead. My mother in law makes the “traditional” green bean casserole with french fried onions on top–and it is good in small doses. I really think that dish would be so much better if that cream of mushroom soup were just completely left out.

    I can’t say I’ve had the same “Thanksgiving” meal twice–and I like trying out what others make into their own idea of “tradition”.

    Comment by ChaChaHeels — November 7, 2011 @ 9:01 am

  12. My mother makes Waldorf salad, which is kind of gross as it is, but to give it that festive touch she adds mini marshmallows. Urk.

    Comment by Margo A — November 7, 2011 @ 12:30 pm

  13. Well in terms of regional food and my creole roots, thanksgiving and Christmas should have ambrosia salid. This salid does not have gelatin or cool whip anywhere near it. It does have orange segments, pineapple, coconut, a little bit of banana, and marchino cherries. It takes a case of oranges and forever to make but it always lives up to it’s name.

    Thanksgiving morning is about the cech side of the family and koloches. Normally the sweet kind with cream cheese or fruit filling. The other option is homemade pecan sticky buns.

    The main meal involves turkey, homemade stuffing, stewed cranberries, mashed potatoes, sauted baby green beans, sweet potatoes with just butter & salt & pepper, another green salid, and if you are very lucky – homemade yeast rolls. Desert was 3 different pies – pumpkin, pecan, and French crumb top apple.

    This has been thanksgiving for me for over 45 yrs.

    I did change it up a touch 2 yrs ago by making rustic pear tarts with no complaints. :-)

    Comment by Txbunny — November 7, 2011 @ 1:04 pm

  14. Green bean casserole omg so great. And I can’t even stand it with crisp beans. Canned or nothing, baby! Last year I made a corn pudding that was phenomenal, and went over hugely well with everyone. It may have to happen again this year.

    I’ve maybe eaten sweet potatoes once or twice on Thanksgiving, and am ambivalent about them. Pumpkin pie is something I will eat one, maybe two pieces a YEAR of, mostly because I think the texture of it freaks me out. I LOVE making it, though.

    My bf’s family has a tradition of making … I don’t know what, exactly to call it. Oysters with cracker crumbs, butter, milk, and a little egg in it, baked. It is horrid. If I never see it again, I will be happy.

    One year, my mom used Paula Deen’s recipe for a pumpkin gooey butter cake for our pumpkin pie, and I loved it. Loved. But, alas, it was plain ol’ pie every year after that.

    Comment by Cassie — November 7, 2011 @ 1:27 pm

  15. The interesting thing about Thankgiving in my family is that there shall not be anything “ethnic” on the table. The one holiday without lasagna, antipasti, or some other Italian favorite. When I’m around (we often go to DH’s family 5 hours away), I’m generally the one who brings something different/non-standard, like the year I made a sweet potato bundt cake, or often a chocolate pecan pie. Otherwise ours is pretty traditional and uses WAY too many packaged products. My mom loves those bags to “roast” the bird in, packaged stuffing, instant mashed (yes, I know, but it’s what I grew up on), canned cranberry sauce, etc. We don’t have apple pie, but apple crisp, which is one of my favorites – esp the next morning with a dollap of plain yogurt.

    Comment by Allura — November 7, 2011 @ 3:05 pm

  16. I love green bean casserole. I love it. Best with the garlic Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup. And I use a big flat pan to maximize the surface area to coat with the French’s fried onions.

    Love love love sweet potato casserole with mini-marshmallows on top. Not the pecan topping, not big marshmallows. The mini-marshmallows provide just enough sweetness. Spiced just right, sweet potato casserole can taste very similar to pumpkin pie.

    Love love love cornbread dressing. No oysters, though. With enough moisture from chicken broth, thyme, sage, parsley and rosemary, along with the standard boiled eggs, onions and celery, even my Yankee-born husband appreciates the dressing. (Dressing, not stuffing, as it is not baked inside the turkey but merely accompanies it to the table.)

    And squash casserole. While technically summer squash, I do like it served at Thanksgiving. With cream, butter, onions, white wine, two kinds of cheese and toasted buttercrumbs on top, who wouldn’t like squash casserole?

    Pecan or pumpkin pie for dessert. I’m not picky.

    Comment by marvel — November 7, 2011 @ 7:41 pm

  17. I’m not a fan of the traditional green bean casserole either, and it was such a shock when I had it for the first time. My dad’s family recipe is to use cream of celery soup instead of cream of mushroom, and it makes such a huge difference (and I think improvement) in flavor.

    Comment by Sara Darling — November 7, 2011 @ 8:36 pm

  18. I like to try different birds. We’ve had duck, pheasant, game hens, organic roasting chickens, all fun to cook and eat. There’s just the two of us, so it’s affordable to use these fancy birds.

    Comment by annie — November 7, 2011 @ 10:15 pm

  19. @Marvel, now squash casserole I can get behind! We used to have it regularly & I LOVED it, but my Aunt passed & her recipe passed with her. It was cheesy, buttery, bread-crumby, squashy goodness.

    Comment by Leah — November 7, 2011 @ 11:09 pm

  20. @ Andrea and Cassie: I lurve oyster dressing. So much! Sometimes I make up a batch just for nostalgia and eat it all myself. It is true, though, that many folks including my husband don’t care for it. And I love green bean casserole, made from scratch foodie version or the delicious all-canned-ingredient version of my youth. However, I think it’s a little plain and workaday for Thanksgiving. I generally make green beans almondine.

    Since I despise the dry, flavorless quality of turkey, and since I’m the only one who will get her hiney in the kitchen to cook the holiday meal, I fry up a big ole batch of chicken instead. Anyone who misses the turkey is welcome to cook Thanksgiving dinner next year.

    Sweet potatoes are better as a slightly sweet savory dish, in my opinion, and I have just never liked those little marshmallows. If I’m served the dessert version, though, somehow I end up eating all of it. Hmm.

    @Tropical Chrome: it is absolutely possible to make delicious silky moist dressing outside the bird. My mother’s version relies on a lot of onion and chicken broth to give moisture to the bready ingredients and is my favorite part of the whole meal. She doesn’t measure any ingredients so she’s never been able to write down a recipe for me. I must master this dish while she’s still with us to guide me.

    Comment by Miss Conduct — November 10, 2011 @ 2:17 pm

  21. My Mam’s secret trick for moist stuffing (we’re Irish (in Ireland) it’s always stuffing, no matter where it’s cooked) is to grate an apple into it. Lovely moistness and no apple flavour as such for some reason. Delish.

    In fairness, it’s about the only thing the poor woman can cook, though she’s under the impression that she’s an amazing cook. Amazingly bad, perhaps…

    Comment by Margaret — November 12, 2011 @ 2:56 pm

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