My in-laws are traveling to see old friends for Thanksgiving this year, so we will be celebrating with them before they go. My mother-in-law is a wonderful cook, and always cooks a Thanksgiving meal, all by herself at her behest – except for a pie or two from me – that would feed far more than the usually small gathering of friends and family that sits around her table. There is always turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, winter squash, and homemade bread and rolls. There is always a small bowl of pearl onions, made just for my father-in-law, their only fan. If the gathering is a larger one, there may even be a small ham, and a side of broccoli, green beans, or Brussels sprouts. There is always a pumpkin pie, a pecan pie, and an apple pie for dessert. Leftovers are packaged for the freezer, and sent home with us.
Less than two months ago, my in-laws moved into a smaller house with a much smaller kitchen, which they are in the process of redoing to better meet my mother-in-law’s specifications. My father-in-law is doing all the work, and it will not be done in time for my mother-in-law to cook her usual feast for us. So, she has invited us to join them for dinner at a Japanese hibachi restaurant nearby. Needless to say, we will not be having “turkey with all the trimmings” there, but we will be together, celebrating and giving thanks for all that we have, and all we have shared together this year.
So, the actual Thanksgiving feast is on me this year, and I will only be cooking for the three of us. I love doing a full-on turkey feast, as I have blogged about before, but this year I feel like mixing it up. I asked The Husband and The Boy if they have any Dishes That Must Be Made For Thanksgiving, and both of them said no, that I can just riff on it to my heart’s content. I have never been a slave to tradition, and I have grown far more adventurous where food is concerned since I was young. Thanksgiving holds no imperatives for me, either. It’s a blank page this year, and I find that exciting.
Sam Sifton, food editor of the New York Times, has put together a moving online collection, called “The American Thanksgiving”, stories of 15 American families’ Thanksgiving traditions, incorporating dishes from their ancestors’ homelands. It illustrates the pride each family has in being American, while also acknowledging that virtually all of us have ancestors that came from somewhere else, in search of a better life, and that hanging on to a piece of that ancestral culture helps us remember our familial roots. Honoring “where we came from” enhances and enriches our “American-ness”, rather than diminishing it. Each family has a video snippet talking about a shared recipe, all available on the Times’ website (not behind their paywall, so far), and they span the globe. I may start there for some inspiration for my Thanksgiving meal.
While each of our families may have some “traditional” Thanksgiving dishes, the American Thanksgiving meal is as full of variety and diversity as America is, and that’s what makes it special, and uniquely American.