Sunday, November 11, 2007

On the Menu: Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I thought it would be fun to post about traditional Thanksgiving meals. I have to admit that when I read about the Duct Tape Turkey that my first thought was that wasn’t right because it wasn’t cornbread dressing. If my mom ever soaked our turkey in brine, I never knew about it. I know that she didn’t in later years, but I don’t recall it as a child either. Earlier today, I saw Tyler Florence praising the brining process on the Thanksgiving turkey. He said that it really made the meat moist and delicious. I may have to try it sometime just to see if it's all it's cracked up to be! I see those big turkey fryers in stores all the time, and I have to admit that deep-fried turkey wasn’t our family’s tradition either.

Turkey was, of course, the traditional meat served. It was placed in a large roaster in the oven. We did not stuff it. Instead we had a separate dish called dressing (or cornbread dressing). The turkey and dressing were accompanied by giblets and gravy (although there was usually a little of it set aside without the giblets for those who didn’t like all those “innards”). Jellied cranberry sauce was always served. Mom always chilled the can in the refrigerator ahead of time. Both ends of the can were opened and the sauce would just slide out on the relish tray where it could be cut in slices. Side dishes usually included green beans or a green bean casserole, a sweet potato soufflé or butternut squash casserole, Waldorf salad, and ambrosia. My maternal grandmother was the big fan of the ambrosia. After he died, I often heard mom talking about how he always insisted on ambrosia at Thanksgiving. Rolls (some store-bought variety) were usually served also. For dessert, we’d have pumpkin pie or sweet potato pie and pecan pie.

In later years, Thanksgiving meals have been modified to accommodate the changing tastes of my nieces and nephews. The Waldorf salad has been replaced by a fruit salad that my sister-in-law makes that is basically just cut-up fruit (apples, oranges, grapes) with sugar on it. The sweet potato soufflé has been replaced by the hash brown casserole. The pies are usually either fried apple pies or a cheesecake (although sometimes some of us insist on one of the more traditional pies although we rarely get them both). The turkey and dressing remain the same, although we often only purchase the turkey breast now. The gravy is now always minus the giblets. Last year I made real cranberry sauce. It was much better than the canned stuff, and I definitely prefer whole cranberries. The rolls are homemade now. Green beans are still usually on the menu, even though the nieces and nephews avoid them. Due to the amount of ambrosia left over each year, it eventually was removed from the menu.

In On the Banks of Plum Creek, Laura Ingalls Wilder describes what they had one Thanksgiving. They had stewed goose with dumplings in the gravy, corn dodgers, mashed potatoes, butter, milk, stewed dried plums, and three grains of parched corn as a reminder of the Pilgrims’ first dinner.

The Thanksgiving menu in Fannie Farmer’s 1896 edition of the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book consisted of oyster soup, crisp crackers, celery, salted almonds, roast turkey, cranberry jelly, mashed potatoes, onions in cream, squash, chicken pie, fruit pudding, sterling sauce, mince, apple, and squash pie, neopolitan ice cream, fancy cakes, fruit, nuts and raisins, bonbons, crackers, cheese, and café noir.

So, what was your family’s traditional Thanksgiving meal? Has it evolved over the years to accommodate changing tastes?


Bill West said...

We did the same thing with the
cans of cranberry sauce that your
family does, although in later years we bought the type with the berries in it. Of course, living in the middle of Ocean Spray country, that's the only cranberry sauce allowed on the table!

Janice said...

Thanksgiving dinner growing up was pretty traditional... turkey, stuffing, potatoes, squash... the highlight was always the homemade pies my Gram would make. She also made an unusual dessert called Spanish Creme that was amazing.

Happy Thanksgiving Lori!