What's on your Thanksgiving menu this year?

The HeraldNovember 21, 2008 

I was tired of mashed sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top.

This was in the 1980s. We were having Thanksgiving dinner with friends at their house, and I was determined to add something nontraditional to the feast.

Thumbing through my cookbooks, I happened on a recipe for trout almondine. Ah, just the thing! You can't get much more nontraditional than that!

I tripled the recipe, using frozen trout. I had never attempted this dish before, so I wasn't sure exactly what the finished product was supposed to look like. The result was an enormous trout almondine casserole.

It was, unquestionably, the worst Thanksgiving side dish ever concocted since the landing of the Pilgrims.

I have since bucked Thanksgiving tradition in only small, incremental ways. For example: mashed sweet potatoes with a little butter, brown sugar, Bourbon and pecans -- lose the marshmallows.

We fry our turkey now. And we've introduced Brussels sprouts to the meal, which were never part of the "traditional" Thanksgiving feast and which we hated as kids but now love.

However, there certainly is no reason to alter in any way whatsoever the cornbread stuffing that has been a part of every family Thanksgiving I can remember, and many before that.

Any Thanksgiving also would be incomplete without my grandmother's casserole of green beans, peas and lima beans resting contentedly in a mixture of sour cream and cheddar cheese. We have the recipe written on a note card in my grandmother's scraggy handwriting.

In recent years, however, a family schism has occurred over the traditional -- and I do insist on using that word -- congealed salad made with lime Jell-O, celery, cream cheese, pecans and cottage cheese. I get eye-rolls from my wife when I suggest that Thanksgiving just wouldn't be Thanksgiving without that jiggly, chartreuse-colored salad.

In truth, outside of family traditions, there is no single traditional Thanksgiving dinner that suits everyone. Just look at the different things people do with dressing. Some use chestnuts; others use oysters. Some use cornbread; others use plain bread. Some make it on the stove; others stuff it inside the bird.

What you eat for Thanksgiving is likely to be determined by factors such as your ethnic background, the region of the country in which you were raised and how many generations your family has been in the United States.

I asked my son-in-law Frank, who has Italian roots, what his family served for Thanksgiving. "The usual," he said, "turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, some kind of vegetable, and a big bowl of linguine."

While traditions may differ from family to family, they are traditions, and if they change, they should do so glacially. It would be insane, for example, to suddenly decide to serve meatloaf instead of turkey for Thanksgiving.

And don't be too quick to give the heave-ho to grandmother's favorite side dish. You can tweak it, but keep it on the menu.

After all, traditions help bind us as families and link us with past generations. And even if those long-ago generations didn't arrive on the Mayflower, we're all Americans on this uniquely American holiday, joined by a communal feast.

So, eat hearty, and have that second piece of pie, be it apple, pumpkin, pecan or berry. But by all means, steer clear of the trout almondine.

James Werrell, Herald opinion editor, can be reached at 329-4081 or, by e-mail, at jwerrell@heraldonline.com.

The Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service