Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Who Tries New Thanksgiving Recipes?

This post originally appeared on The Famished Freelancer on November 28, 2013.

Seriously, who? More than any other holiday, Thanksgiving is about food traditions. People want the same stuffing recipe they've been eating since childhood. As much as I like making cranberry sauce from scratch, even I want the stuff out of a can on the big day because thus it has ever been and thus it shall ever be. (On the Thanksgiving episode of The Michael J. Fox Show, two characters set off on a quest to buy a can of cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving because they couldn't possibly just have homemade. "The ridges hold the flavor in!")

So many magazines, websites and blogs come put with wonderful, delectable Thanksgiving recipes, every year. And I wonder - besides people hosting their first Thanksgiving dinner - who's making these recipes? Are all these chefs just talking to themselves?

Thanksgiving in my family is so ruled by tradition that many years ago when my Aunt Bea went into labor on Thanksgiving Eve, she made the stuffing before going to the hospital. Because it wouldn't be the same if anyone else made it. (And possibly because she wanted a badass labor story. My mom scrubbed the kitchen floor on her hands and knees while she was in labor with me. Because they hadn't invented mops in the 1970s, I guess.)

We're so bound by tradition that dishes don't get kicked off the menu even when only two people actually eat them. Pumpkin pie? For years, it was only me and my Uncle Brian eating it. But it had to be there, alongside the apple pie and other desserts that people just happen to bring over. The past couple of years, I've been bringing turnips because I get them from my CSA and my mom and cousin Tricia like them (and everyone else (including me) hates them). This year, no turnips from the CSA, but since they've been added to the menu, my mom is going out and buying turnips because the six other side dishes aren't enough. Turnips are tradition now!

In my family, sweet potatoes get baked and eaten. They are never served under a layer of marshmallows because we don't roll that way. But you know that any in-laws or guests coming to dinner might be mightily disappointed by the lack of marshmallowy goodness. Yet the first time I saw them made like that, I thought they were an abomination.

For the longest time, we always had rolls from a can with every big family meal. Then one holiday - Easter, maybe - the rolls tasted slightly different. There were fine, so no one said anything. Until my uncle, host of the meal, asked everyone if the rolls were OK. Apparently, there were cornbread instead of plain and my aunt had been worried that they were the wrong rolls. 

We survived. But we went right back to the usual rolls the next time.

This year, I'll be making rolls from scratch with the help of my bread machine. I've done it once before, and everyone rolled with the change. [Pause while I work through the self-loathing that comes with that pun and my refusal to change it.] But I didn't just spring this on people - I brought rye bread to the annual Corned Beef Fest for a few years so everyone was used to the idea that I could make bread. 

The thing is that you've got to play to your audience, no matter how much you want to switch things up with the side dishes. You can add to the menu (aside from the turnips, we've added green bean casserole lately), but you can't take anything away. Because someone would ask, "where's the…" whatever dish they were expecting. 

Which means that the table gets more and more crowded every year, which I guess is appropriate for a holiday that celebrates abundance.

Does your family ever make changes to their Thanksgiving menu? What dishes can't you live without on Turkey Day?

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