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Tradition and defying convention

Do you always cook traditional fare for Thanksgiving or do you dare to be different?

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  1. I like some of each...there are enough components to the meal to experiment a bit and keep some of the old tradition as well. Shake things up a little bit, but don't get excommunicated! People need something to talk about!

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    1. re: scuzzo

      Does that mean you cook the bird, I mean turkey?

    2. I cook two turkeys a year - one "test bird" that is a precursor for the "real bird." My only constraint is that it better be fan-effin-tastic the next day for sandwiches, because it's the only reason I cook turkey. So, yeah, the bird is a must - even bad bird tastes pretty darned good with mayo.

      This year I may break down and buy a fryer and give it a go, because I am a) slow to the curve like that, and b) redneck enough in origin to think there's probably something to it that I've been missing while I was trying something else.

      Sides are open, as long as my Mom makes her whipped potatoes (Southerners know that these differ from mashed) but lately I "must" make Grandma Ople's Apple Pie from allrecipes.com - it's that good.

      Christmas dinner is open to some playing around - as long as there's prime rib, we don't care what else is served, I think.

      1. Has to be turkey, has to be mashed potatoes and gravy, has to be cranberry in some form. Has to be some kind of biscuit, homemade or Pillsbury OK. Has to be sweet potato in some form ( that's my requirement, in-laws refuse to eat as I won't top with marshmallow). Has to be at least 3 other veg dishes (again mostly for me unless my family comes, which is rare). This is where I can experiment, again because it's mainly for me, they only eat a spoonful of one so they think they're being healthy. But the vegetables have to be: broccoli, corn pudding, and string beans, in some form. This year I am NOT putting Velveeta or cream of mushroom soup in anything, so maybe they won't eat any at all! Pumpkin pie IS a requirement, I've been told (when I tried to make pumpkin bread pudding instead). I guess appetizers are where I can experiment, different every year.

        But I do want to make it completely traditional, to answer your question, starting with the turkey in the oven when the parade starts, the sipping of sherry as I add it to numerous things and so on. I do it for myself as much as anyone else, but I like to think that after 30 plus years it's become their tradition too. I wonder what would happen if I had to go to someone else's house for the holiday???

        2 Replies
        1. re: coll

          You’re very much on point here and I think it’s mainly because holidays and annual festivals are built on tradition, almost by definition. So, that's to say, start with the basics and then introduce your other special dishes, which may be a real hit, and then become part of your tradition in the years ahead.

          If there aren’t already any traditional dishes served at your Thanksgiving meal, then why not start a few based on the favorite vegetables of your family and friends – it is a “harvest” festival, after all. Yes, CHEFINTHECLOSET, I’d say spanakopita, your favorite “go to” dish, would work perfectly well with turkey and all the trimmings. By the way, Coll, shouldn’t there be a bowl of pearl onions in cream sauce somewhere over there on the table, too?

          It’s funny, but I still look forward to that very same turkey stuffing my parents made, along with all the other essentials, and if somebody gets creative these days and tries to viv it up, forget about, major disappointment.

          Of course, one of the main ingredients to a successful celebration is the time spent together doing all the work it takes to pull off a bountiful, “gracious plenty,” as they say in the South. But even a very simple meal shared with those we love is cause for gratitude. It sets the scene for a joyful occasion, which we want to repeat again, and again.

          Some of my sweetest memories are of mom and dad staying up late and then getting up early to do all the prep work for the Thanksgiving Day ahead. And after the big day was done, my two brothers, sister and I would begin to count the ways and days it took for us to finally finish off the carcass of one of those 30 lbs turkeys so popular with Midwestern families back in the day!


          1. re: dnycguy

            Pearl onions are my nemesis, although I've never tried to make them from fresh. I know my husband would like them, but since I'm not so into them, and actually have no experience what they even taste like, I tried doing a Stouffers one year, and another year used jarred onions with my own sauce (major failure). Luckily this is the one holiday that my husband's family always had at a relative's house, so I've been able to build my own traditions without too many complaints.

        2. Just got word from both kids and their families that they won't be coming for T-day this year because of work schedules. So I'm thinking this year is the break from tradition and I'm going to find me a couple of pheasants. Hub will miss his turkey but he loves turkey so much I make it or a breast several times a year for him. He won't suffer that much.

          1. The one time I made cornish game hens for 12 nobody said anything, but perhaps they were harboring resentments. Some of the folks at that meal were very, very "traditionalist." In retrospect I wonder if they didn't hate me for depriving them of their bird.

            1 Reply
            1. re: shaogo

              ah ah... Isn't that interesting that we are so bound by convention and tradition? My argument for cooking something different on Thanksgiving Day is the following: If you have lots of friends or a large extended family, you are bound to be invited somewhere where traditional fare will be served. So if you are having Thanksgiving on an alternate day, especially if its a three day long week end, why not experiment with something different. Who wants to eat turkey 2 or 3 days in a row?

            2. Sorry to go a little off-topic, but this reminded me of a christmas tradition my family has, and I really don't know how it started. My mom always makes a huge lasange for chrismas, yet there is not italian in our blood at all. We do turkey for thanksgiving, so maybe it has something to do with her not wanting to make two turkeys for two consecutive holidays? Anyway, she never makes lasange otherwise, so she usually makes her big lasange, then several smaller (one-meal sized) lasanges for the freezer to be used throughout the year until the next lasange foray comes around. It's nice to have a bite of christmas in july lol

              We usually celebrate t day on a day close to the actual holiday, usually due to somebody's schedule. Doesn't matter if we go eat turkey elsewhere, we still make one for our rendition of thanksgiving. We need the leftovers for soup and sandwiches for a week darnint! That's the other nice thing about thanksgiving. You get to cook for two days, but then hardly have to do a thing for meals for the next week. And nobody around here complains about the t-day leftovers for a week :D

              1 Reply
              1. re: Popkin

                Ditto on the week long feast. I'll never forget my first Thanksgiving, I cooked a 30 lb+ bird for both our families. SIL insisted on making plates of leftovers for everyone to take home, and guess what? Next day husband found she forgot about us! Boy was he mad!! Every year afterwards, he would tell me before everyone came, don't let her touch anything after dinner. I had to cook another turkey for us a couple of days later.

              2. If you really want to try a different prep for one of your usual T-day foods, but are concerned that some of your guests will be disappointed if you deviate from tradition, why not make both versions? A half-recipe of the new one encourages people to try a taste, and if it disappears, with your guests wishing there were more, you'll be able to add it to next year's menu.

                1 Reply
                1. re: greygarious

                  We do traditional for Thanksgiving, then for Christmas we do a different ethnic meal. We have a large family so it's fun to see the different dishes that we get. Last year was Mexican, this year is German. Always fun.

                2. I tend to think of Thanksgiving as the "it's traditional for a REASON" holiday (reason being that "traditional" T-day food is AWESOME), and Christmas as the "ooh, what should we try THIS year?" holiday.

                  In my family we usually end up with a ham a Christmas, although sometimes it's been a turkey. I'd be happy to have a turkey at both (and at Easter, and 4th of July, and a Monday night in April, or whenever) because I seriously, genuinely love turkey. If I could find really small turkeys to roast instead of chickens year round, I would absolutely do that.

                  To me there's something really beautiful about being in the kitchen on Thanksgiving with my mother and sister-in-law and nieces, stirring gravy and gossiping and shooing the men out. It's a bonding holiday. I think it probably helps that my family is quite close. It probably also helps that our traditional fare is REALLY good, and I think pretty unique. Like the icy cranberry sorbet that's an absolute necessity. Or the homemade noodles. Or the definitive (corn-syrup-free) pecan pie.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: LauraGrace

                    Some years ago I read that for the highest meat-to-bone ratio, you should choose a turkey that is over 16 lbs. Because that is the maximum carcass size for most turkeys, above that you're getting more meat for your money.

                  2. I have cooked a grand total of ONE turkey in over 20 years for Thanksgiving dinner and that was a deep-fried bird.

                    Tradition bores me and there are so many different food options that you can never run out of new dishes in a life-time. I see no reason to eat the same meal twice, but my wife hates that, so every 3 or 4 years she will prepare a traditional meal.

                    1. I always BBQ & smoke the brined turkey in our Weber kettle BBQ.

                      1. If I am hosting I usually ask each guest what dish means Thanksgiving to them and make it -- but I don't necessarily make it the way their mother did. If it really matters to them to have it that way I ask them to bring it themselves -- and some of my best Thanksgiving memories are from living overseas and having sort of potluck Thanksgivings where everyone brought a family favorite (and once a friend brought a suitcase full of butternut squash and cranberries becasue neither was available locally). If I am going to someone else's and asked to bring something I bring something green as it's usually the only way to get something green, so that's kind of non-traditional. My cousin hosts a great 40+ person bash that I sometimes go to where there are 5 turkeys, prepared 5 different ways, and that's really fun. The last few years I have gone to friends' who don't like turkey and do a gorgeous leg of lamb outside on the grill and I'm good with that too. So I guess I am not wedded to either traditional or defying convention, I think both are fun. But since some people feel so strongly about certain foods that "make" Thanksgiving I try to honor that when I'm the host. Great topic.