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Nov 17, 2010 05:32 AM

Thanksgiving vs. Pesach

When the Spouse and I were dating we realized that both our families had the "tradition" of serving virtually the same meal for the Seder as for Thanksgiving, the only major difference being that the Seder foods were KP. We both felt that that was somehow not right, maybe not showing enough respect for Pesach, if that's the right word. We decided that when we hosted our own family meals the two holidays would have very different menus. We've held to that and, although each meal has it's own invariable traditional foods, they have almost no overlap.

So my question is: Do many American Jewish families serve the same menu at both the Seder and Thanksgiving? Is this maybe a function of mid-20th century assimilative tendencies? Or are both of our families weird? (Well, yes, they are weird. But I meant in a food sense.)

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  1. My husband's family does this - their seder is essentially Thanksgiving dinner with some haggaddah attached. (We generally spend both of those holidays with his side, but every other holiday with my family.) I found it very startling my first year, and still don't like it. Having grown up with the purpose of the seder being sippur yetzias mitzrayim (telling the story of the Exodus), I find the Thanksgiving-dinner version pretty spiritually empty and meaningless.

    1. Right up my alley.

      Thanksgiving is our national food holiday. Since I live in New England I serve New England
      Thanksgiving food. Thanksgiving is the colonial update of an English harvest festival--bringing in the sheaves, etc.

      Passover also gets a New England treatment, but updated. I serve corn cakes/johnny cakes made with cornmeal. I serve New England seasonal foods, like a strawberry/rhubarb compote
      (it's a little ahead of the strawberry season, sorry). I serve roast chicken using schmaltz as substitute for butter. Herbs & garlic under the skin. Asparagus with lemon. If you just think spring vegetables this will work out.

      Most of my Jewish friends here serve Pesach meals that go back to Eastern Europe/Poland. Stuffed fish. I'm not from there so I pass on all that.

      I hope this helps, I consider this a delightful culinary challenge. I also get nervous about posting this as I try to get right with BOTH traditions.


      1 Reply
      1. re: sweetfern

        FWIW, most ashkenazim don't eat corn on Passover.

        Yes, the turkey is likely the same and yes, the typical Ashkenazi Thanksgiving will lean on familiar Ashkenazi "banquet" foods like kugel and tzimmes, so I can see the similarities, but I think Thanksgiving should be focused on hearty late-fall foods while Pesach should be highlighted by emerging spring foods.

      2. Our seder has no relation to thanksgiving. I usually serve beef on pesach and rosh hashana to respect the holiday and thus prepare the most elaborate/expensive item I can. I don't usually serve poultry on a jewish holiday since we eat so much turkey/chicken throughout the year I feel like its not special enough.

        1 Reply
        1. re: azna29

          Corn on Pesach--

          Yes, but some Ashkenazim do, and those are the ones I know! Jews are superb adapters. Corn was often considered "slave food" in the US, so I think it's legit. With it I serve maple syrup, VERY New England--and it's the real deal, not "maple flavored."


        2. it's the custom not to eat roasted meat or poultry at the Pesach seder, so the roasted turkey we eat for Thanksgiving would never be considered as a Seder meal.

          10 Replies
          1. re: berel

            Hi DeisCane,

            Now, why do you think (some) Askenazim don't eat corn at Pesach? Zea mays, indigenous to Central America.

            HI Berel,

            Many Jews think it is fine to eat roasted meat at Pesach, I just have to insert this! Customs vary!!


            1. re: sweetfern

              Corn is held to be kitniyos by every Ashkenazi rabbi I've ever heard of. Sefardim eat it on Pesach, but it's not exactly an obscure practice to avoid it on Passover. It's why fans of Coca-Cola made with sugar stock up on it around Passover, because it's made without corn syrup for the kosher-keeping market then.

              Berel is perhaps too sweeping in his language, but it is a very widely held custom not to eat roasted meat. I grew up with this one, and was also surprised to see a roast turkey at my husband's family's seder.

              1. re: GilaB

                So deep frying the turkey for Pesach seems the way to go...though peanut oil would be out. :-)

                1. re: DeisCane

                  Ahh the peanut issue rises again.<g> In my family peanuts are ok. In my husband's family (very Reform in practice) peanuts are a HUGE no no. It actually caused a small am0unt of confict, enough that we consulted our then rabbi when the conflcit arose.

              2. re: sweetfern

                Sweetfern, Orthodox Ashkenazic Jews do not eat corn or rice on Passover. We also do not eat roasted food. These relate to religious rulings that we have passed down. Customs do vary, but Orthodox Jews revere customs in a similar way to their reverence for Jewish Law. We believe there is a certain holiness to the customs and we pass them on to our children. Some of our customs relate to the foods we eat and it is not considered optional for us to pick and choose. This can be confusing as there are some foods we eat just because of tradition like the Gefilte fish for example. These types of traditional foods ARE indeed optional and one may pick and choose whether to eat them. For Orthodox Jews, our food customs (Ashkenazic or Sephardic) are not interchangeable in importance with our food traditions. Two very separate things.

                1. re: sweetfern

                  I've gone the deep-fried route and it's a huge pain for a one-shot deal (you end up with about 4-5 gallons of used oil). There are "oil-less" turkey fryers out there that are really just vertical propane roasters that (from what I've read) do nearly as good a job with less mess. Here's a review:


                  1. re: cappucino

                    I had never heard about the roasted meat! My husband always makes grilled lamb and I usually make roasted chicken for Passover. We have chopped liver, gefilte fish, matzoh ball soup, potato kugel, apple kugel, etc.

                    Please tell me about the roasted meat issue. No one has ever mentioned this to me. We are conservative.

                    Oh, and to answer the OP. We have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with practically every pie known to man for dessert.

                    1. re: DaisyM

                      The Passover sacrifice was a lamb, which was roasted and then eaten as part of the seder. So as to make the point that we do not have a Temple and can't make the sacrifice, many people avoid grilled or roasted meat, which might be mistaken for the sacrifice itself. It's why brisket (a potted meat) is one of the best-known traditional seder foods; my mother makes brisket for one seder, and short ribs cooked in a spicy tomato sauce for the other. (These are fondly known as 'The Pesach Ribs' and are a once-a-year treat.)

                      As far as I know, this custom is widespread among Ashkenazi Jews but not among Sefardim.

                      1. re: GilaB

                        OK--a Thanksgiving request. Does anyone have a truly superb recipe for borscht?
                        I had a Russian student living in my home this summer and I miss him terribly and need to have him represented at the Thanksgiving table. He is a student at Moscow
                        University. What a guy! We grilled outside all summer and worked on perfecting
                        the martini.


                2. not in the least way does my families pesach meal resemble thanksgiving

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: thew

                    The two meals have never even been similar. However, though not a Pesach item, we have had kishka at Thanksgiving on occasion!