The Thanksgiving Banquet: A Melting Pot of Traditions, Cultures and Food

23 Nov

From sweet potato gnocchi to pumpkin pie, everyone has their own special way to celebrate Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s a game of football, a favorite parade, fighting over the wishbone, or donating to a local food bank.

Times have changed since pilgrims and Native Americans observed the initial Plymouth Thanksgiving in 1621. Today our feasts rarely resemble that first meal of wild turkey and venison, cod, Indian corn, eel, acorns, wild yarrow and liverwort. I must admit, that menu does not sound very appealing.

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. As Americans, we bring our cultural influences to this grand celebratory meal. Some of us will gather before a traditional meal of turkey, dressing and squash. Others will add ethnic dishes and ingredients that reflect longstanding family recipes. And why not? This is a time to honor everything and every one of us that makes our country great.

As a nation of immigrants, Thanksgiving can be a holiday inspired by sharing in another’s food traditions. Like the melting potAmericahas become, so has our Thanksgiving banquet. In addition to traditional Thanksgiving fare, many tables feature the foods of cultures that have come to our shores. These side dishes pay homage to our homelands, and add familiarity and comfort to the meal.

There is no “one right” Thanksgiving celebration or food. Add whatever twist makes the meal truly yours. Including one dish that reflects your family background might become a tradition itself!

When I was growing up inReese,Mich., my family celebrated Thanksgiving with my Aunt Lydie’s family, my mother’s sister.  My mother came from a much larger family, however, 12 to 14 people was all that fit around our dining room table. That was a perfect combination of families — mom’s and Aunt Lydie’s.  Mom and Aunt Lydie alternated being the hostess – with the hostess preparing the entire meal. I always loved to go to Aunt Lydie’s for Thanksgiving because she added homemade donuts to the traditional meal I described last week.

I can still see the serving dishes that Mom used for the turkey, dressing and other menu items. I hold a fond memory of one dish in particular. Mom served the mashed potatoes in the dish that my younger brother Raymond was baptized in. All three of us children were baptized by the pastor in our home. I was 10-years-old when my baby brother was born. I remember Mom placing the “mashed potato” bowl and a fancy handkerchief out on the table, which was adorned with an equally fancy tablecloth. The bowl held the water for the baptismal ceremony.  I wonder if my brother knows that story. I will have to tell him when I see him next.

My sister Edna and I helped Mom prepare the Thanksgiving dinner when our family hosted. We made everything from scratch – many items coming from our garden. They were either stored in our cellar or preserved by canning. My mom was a great cook and my sister Edna still is. I give my mom credit for my skills. She’s the one who started me on my path of love for cooking and baking.

There is no better way to create joy and a renewed sense of hope than through gathering with loved ones around a table of comforting food.  I’d love to hear your special Thanksgiving memories, and the new holiday traditions you’re creating. Today my children and their children (and their children) are creating a new collection of stories for future generations to tell.

At nearly 90 years, I’ve learned that the best thing I can create in the kitchen is a memory.

Auf Wiedersehen – until I see you next week!

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