The only day of the year my dad spent time in the kitchen was the Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving. Shortly after dinner, he would dig out the hand-cranked grinder from the back of the kitchen cupboard and begin making cranberry relish.
My mom would “dump,” cranberries, oranges, apples, and lots of sugar into the grinder, and my dad would crank to his heart’s delight. When served the next day, the homemade cranberry relish was accompanied with walnut-sized cream cheese balls rolled in ground nuts. What a treat!
I posed this question to my Susquehanna colleagues: My Thanksgiving dinner would be incomplete without_____? The answers ran the gamut from very traditional, like cranberries, to … the non-traditional sauerkraut? Really, for Thanksgiving? I love it with a hot dog, but not sure I would go for it alongside a slab of turkey, but hey, tradition is tradition and who am I to judge!
Here’s what others had to say, starting with good old “Tom!”
“My family’s Thanksgiving meal would not be complete without the turkey LEFTOVERS. My mother always roasted a turkey large enough for my entire family to dine on for days…hot turkey sandwiches with gravy, cold turkey sandwiches with lots of mayo, or my personal favorite turkey and waffles. For Thanksgiving, it’s all about the turkey!” – Leigh
Topping off favorite side dishes was potato filling, often using a recipe that belonged to” Nanna” or “grandma,” stuffing balls (dropped in boiling gravy), and a wide variety of stuffing options including those with oysters, with onion, without onion, stuffed “ in the bird,” and baked in the oven.
Other popular traditional sides included: dried corn, corn casseroles, green beans almondine, mashed potatoes and gravy and a favorite in Claudia’s home, baked sweet potatoes complete with marshmallows and King syrup – how decadent!
A tradition that started with Susan’s great grandmother, and since adopted by an aunt – spinach casserole that continues to be served in the same dish year after year, also part of the tradition.
A few non-traditional options? Lindsay mentioned fried oysters; Amber, endive (which is really dandelion!) and Tina’s holiday meal wouldn’t be complete without hog maw (yes people, that is pig’s stomach!), a Pennsylvania Dutch favorite. Marie mentioned pasteles, wrapped green banana- stuffed meat pastries, and at Chip’s home, although all the traditional dishes accompany his family’s turkey dinner, cheese lasagna is also a side. “Being from a family of Italian immigrants, this tradition was started by my grandmother,” he said.
Dessert options also varied – Donna’s family follows an old Irish tradition where you eat pie for breakfast! “Why not – by the end of the Thanksgiving feast, who’s got room for pie – why not start your day with it?”
For Maria, flan, a silky custard with a creamy caramel sauce is a family favorite; Kristine’s family serves pumpkin fluff; it’s mince pie for Janice; and Kathy says, “My family’s Thanksgiving meal would not be complete without my father-in-law’s pineapple upside down cake.”
At our home dessert is a wide array of pies – shoo-fly, pumpkin, mince and apple crumb…. If my dad was still alive, it would be, “a sliver of each, please, and don’t forget the whipped cream.” This year, I think we’re going to start Donna’s tradition, and kick-off the day with a “sliver of each.” Sounds like a great tradition to me. I’ll bet my dad would agree!