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Northern versus Southern Thanksgiving Meals: What's the Diff?

Just taking a stab in the dark here:

North, bread stuffing -- South, cornbread dressing
North, pumpkin pie -- South, pecan and/or sweet potato pie are likely to appear
North, turkey reigns supreme -- South, ham is a contender

Anything else? Am I all wet? Fire away.

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  1. I and "my people" are from the South. We had turkey, giblet gravy(with slices of hard bolied egg), cornbread stuffing, pecan pie, cooked to death green beans-NOT the ubiquitous GB casserole, although we did have a similarly prepared yellow squash casserole and sweet potato souffle with a pecan streusel topping. We never had mashed potatoes, mostly because my dad was the main cook, and he didn't like them, but we did always have white rice and usually also wild rice with mushrooms. We usually had 2 turkeys- 1 smoked and 1 roasted with stuffing.

    My DH was born and raised in the CT/NYC area, and his people are from VA/NC, and they always had ham, turkey, GB casserole, sweet potato pie and Mac and cheese at holiday gatherings.

    Because we are now so far from most of both of our families, we rarely have holidays with them, so on our holidays on our own, I make a compromise of both traditions- roasted turkey with cornbread stuffing (although I omit the water chestnuts my dad always put in, because DH freaked out when I put them in the first time I made Thanksgiving Dinner- and I STILL REALLY MISS THEM); Turkey gravy with giblets in the stock, but not in the gravy itself; mac and cheese- I make really excellent mac and cheese, if I may say so myself; my family's green beans- he doesn't eat them any way they are prepared, so I might as well have them the way I want them; sweet potato pie. That's it. Not so much cooking that it's overwhelming, and not tons of leftovers if I am only cooking for the 2 of us, or sometimes 3 if a friend joins us.

    1. I can only attest to the cornbread vs. bread stuffing. I'd never heard of cornbread stuffing until my early 20s when attending a Thanksgiving party of fellow Peace Corps volunteers.

      1. I have only recently been clued into the Southern touches of my family's Thanksgiving dinner since spending more time in the North. My family is most definietly Southern-rooted. It seems our Southern staples include:

        Sweet potato pie: we only recently discovered the existence of pumpkin pie a few years ago, it was ALWAYS sweet potato pie at Thanksgiving and Christmas, this fascination with pumpkin pie was unheard of

        Macaroni and cheese: a MUST! It is always a front and center side dish and the highlight side dish for most of us. It is always baked, Southern custard style.

        Dressing: it is always called dressing, always cooked outside of the bird (though, some is also stuffed in the bird but it usually stays there or people nibble off the crispy bits on top)

        Ham: there is always a ginormous turkey, but ham is also always present.

        19 Replies
        1. re: fldhkybnva

          Wow, mac & cheese? I am from Mississippi, where mac & cheese is considered to be a vegetable, and is near the base of all "food pyramids," I have never seen it at any Thanksgiving meal, but maybe I led a sheltered life? That is a new one to me, and here I thought that I was a "son of the Old South."

          Hunt

          1. re: Bill Hunt

            You're missing out. You should demand that this delicious vegetable be included at all holiday meals for nutrition purposes of course.

            1. re: Bill Hunt

              Bill, I suspect the macaroni and cheese could be another Georgia regionalism.

              1. re: jmcarthur8

                Have lived in Georgia 52 years and nobody on either side of the family (who have all lived here for many generations) have ever served mac and cheese at Thanksgiving.

                1. re: kengk

                  I'm sure it's not mandatory for every family. ;-)

                2. re: jmcarthur8

                  and I've seen it in Tennessee and Florida...

                  1. re: sunshine842

                    Could it be that mac and cheese is mandatory at all extended family gatherings, from Thanksgiving to 4th of July picnics - at least for some families?

                      1. re: sunshine842

                        yup

                        We never had macaroni and cheese at any meal. It's just not something my mom ever made. Doesn't mean I don't have it now, but not for holidays.

                      2. re: paulj

                        I'd never heard of Mac & Cheese for Thanksgiving until I worked at my sons' grammar school in the late 90s up in Northwest Indiana. The only kids who had it were a couple of black kids and a white kid with MeeMaws in Atlanta. I didn't know what Southern macaroni and cheese was until I moved to the Atlanta area myself 10 years ago.

                        1. re: jmcarthur8

                          I assume the Thanksgiving M&C is the 'fancy' baked kind, not the stove top version that I whip up for lunch.

                          1. re: paulj

                            Of course! ;-)
                            The fancy one that includes Velveeta and/or eggs, along with sharp cheddar, etc.

                            1. re: jmcarthur8

                              ewwh...no Velveeta in our mac and cheese...i think that recipe was older than the invention of velveeta. we did have the "fancy" kind though. I never saw the stove top mac and cheese until I was an adult. As far as i knew, all mac and cheese was an eggy casserole that could be cut in sections if it were cold.

                              1. re: danna

                                I never heard of eggs in Mac & Cheese until I moved to Georgia. I just can't get used to it. I grew up on the white sauce and Cheddar kind. No eggs, no Velveeta.

                                1. re: jmcarthur8

                                  We do white sauce too and although the original recipe calls for cheddar my mother has always used Land o Lakes white American cheese cut at the deli counter.

                        2. re: paulj

                          It is ubiquitous in the Central PA area. Amish custard style, everywhere from weddings to Thanksgiving etc.

                          Not really a favorite of mine but I'm marrying into it not born into it.

                      3. re: jmcarthur8

                        all of my family is from GA, and as previously mentioned, mac and cheese was never even a consideration.

                        1. re: JenJeninCT

                          Yes, it really does seem to be a regional and/ or cultural tradition, doesn't it?

                          1. re: jmcarthur8

                            Southern-oriented and most definitely cultural.

                  2. I think oyster dressing is and has been for many years , more prevalent in the south.

                    14 Replies
                    1. re: robt5265

                      I have never figured out (nor has anyone in my family) how my Northern Yankee family came to have oyster dressing as a family tradition.

                      It wasn't until my early 20s that I found out that it's common -- just not where I grew up.

                      1. re: robt5265

                        I, a Texan, had never heard of oyster dressing until my Ohioan uncle by marriage unhappily introduced it to me. Hardly dispositive, but there ya' go.

                        1. re: Perilagu Khan

                          Hey, PK, you live in a f---ing desert. When you have a chance for oysters, follow Janis' advice, and get it while you can, my friend.

                          1. re: Veggo

                            Ian or Joplin?

                            By the by, I'm wondering if anybody has thought to make dressing with mountain oysters? Not that I'd cotton to that any more than if it was made with Blue Points, mind you.

                            1. re: Perilagu Khan

                              Never crossed my mind. Maybe with a valley turkey? Bull testicles are $10/ lb in my latin market, so somebody likes them.

                              1. re: Veggo

                                Hey, they are still the #2 selling dish at The Fort, in Morrison, CO.

                                Hunt

                                BTW - you can have my order.

                              2. re: Perilagu Khan

                                In Texas, I would say Joplin...

                                I would anticipate that oyster dressing might be bigger from Beaumont to McAllen, but am just guessing there.

                                We had it on the MS Gulf Coast, and my wife had it in New Orleans, but somehow, I would say that Mississippians in, say Meridian, might not have - straight cornbread would be my guess.

                                However, I stand to be corrected, if someone from Lauderdale County corrects me.

                                Hunt

                            2. re: Perilagu Khan

                              My parents/grandparents (all from Ohio) also do oyster dressing - it always seemed weird to me, given that Ohio is about as landlocked as it gets, but there you go.

                              1. re: biondanonima

                                I understand the Lake Erie Wellfleets are stupendous.

                                1. re: biondanonima

                                  That does surprise me, but then I have never lived in Ohio.

                                  Thanks for educating me - maybe my speculation about Oyster Dressing not making it beyond the MS Gulf Coast to Meridian, MS, is all wet?

                                  Hunt

                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                    Northern Indiana- almost to the Michigan state line....I don't know about all wet, but a little soggy, perhaps. ;)

                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                      Well, remember the days when Wiedmann's in Meridian was on teh list of 100 best restaurants in America...seafood made it there on the train and they had oysters. It was the last outpost of good food travelling north from New Orleans until one reached Baltimore or the environs. So I'm guessing there might have been oyster dressing. Unfortunately the relative who lived there is long dead. (Jackson, MS had it in limited amounts I think).

                                      1. re: hazelhurst

                                        While we did dine there often (my father and two uncles were in the historic WWII photographs on the walls), I cannot recall any "Holiday meal," there. The last visit was fairly early AM, and the Hot Cakes were excellent, as always. Have not dined there in too many years. [Somewhere, my wife still has one of their peanut butter jars.]

                                        Hunt

                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                          I never had a Holiday Meal there either but I brought it up to sugests oysters could have been around so long as they were on teh RR line. people in Jackson used to get them in those llittle kind of Chinese Food takeout things with wire handles (see Eudora Welty's introduction to "The Jackson Cookbook") Weidmann's has been open-and-closed a few times overe the last several years. Shorty's family sold it after he died and teh New People "renovated." I went in once on the way back from New York and it broke my heart. Nothing of teh old place remains. It was probably about to fall in anyway though. It was, for years, the last decent place to eat driving from Lousiana to the Northeast before you crossed the vast desert wasteland of Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia. My father stuck to fried chicken and milk in those territories on teh theory that this could be relied on (and it usually could be).

                              2. PK............
                                there are branches of our family that settled in the south in the early 1860s and NYC about 5 years later. The Bagelman family doesn't do ham, and serves no dairy ingredients with a meat (Turkey) meal.
                                The one consistent difference I seen in more than 50 years of Thanksgivings I remember:
                                Biscuits in the south, Dinner rolls in the north.
                                Same challah stuffing, root vegetables, gravy and desserts, with slight varieties based on the hosts' preferences.

                                34 Replies
                                1. re: bagelman01

                                  Biscuits at Thanksgiving dinner?? Horrors!!! No, no, no, said the Texan. (My grandmother was from Georgia, so we have deeper "Southern" roots as well.)

                                  But yes, we're also alllll about cornbread dressing (which isn't just cornbread, it's also a mix of whatever breads or biscuits or even occasionally a sleeve of crackers crushed in the mix), which is to me the defining difference.

                                  My grandmother would be sad, however, that without her we're losing the "salads" tradition - she would've had at least two fruit salads of some sort on the table, generally ambrosia and her "coke salad" which was a cherry, coke, jello salad.

                                  1. re: shanagain

                                    Those jello salads were a staple in the 1960's and even into the 1980's. I'm afraid America's food revolution may consign them to the scrap heap which is too bad. they are awful but they are, well, American. Don't forget the terrible little marshmellows.

                                    1. re: hazelhurst

                                      There's a scene in the Thanksgiving flick, "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" where those terrible little marshmallows are mentioned. Gobble, gobble.

                                      1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                        Never seen it but on that comment I'll go out and have a look. I have a great fondness for cookbooks that have recipes with canned ingredients. The Jackson, Mississippi Symphony cookbook has tons of those gems. One of them has ten ingredients, all canned. It, too, has a Coca-Cola salad.

                                        I think I'll have a Swanson Frozen TV Dinner for lunch...maybe the Salisbury Steak with Gravy, cardboard beans and library paste apple cobbler. I cannot hazard a guess as to what the mashed potates are made of....

                                        1. re: hazelhurst

                                          By all means do. It's the funniest movie ever made. Dam' poignant, too.

                                          Requiescat in pacem, John Candy.

                                          PS--The Khantessa collects those retro cookbook-pamphlets that were produced by food manufacturers, the producers of cooking implements and local societies/churches. They are filled with the canned ingredient recipes you love.

                                          1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                            Yup..great crap. I have a big plastic file box from Good Housekeeping with 1,000 recipe cards, filed by meat,fish, appetiazers, soups etc. Big glossy things with pictures from the test kitchen of, for example, the ONE baked chicken of 500 that turned out pretty. A friend's grandmother had this gem and he gave it to me when she died. Perfectly awful. I love it. The casseroles should be in the American Museumof Natural History. And mguess what? A Super Bowl parties I'll make something from it and whatever it is vanishes before the Scottish smoked salmon.

                                            1. re: hazelhurst

                                              I believe it. There's something in those mid-century monstrosities that is elemental and has not yet been extinguished. For at least a few more decades, they will be well remembered and well loved.

                                              1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                Your're right...I like to think I know my way around good food and spirits but there is something about the chicken casserole with the proverbial mushroom soup that calls to me (it is citified by the addition of sherry). Or the Wolf Trap Cookbook with the cold soup involving four or five Campbells prodcuts. I consider myself lucky that I do not have a "Princess & the Pea" type of palate: how miserable would life be then!

                                            2. re: Perilagu Khan

                                              Here: http://www.lileks.com/institute/galle...

                                              It's an online collection of "regreattable food" -- it's amazing that the manufacturers thought someone would eat that stuff....and what's worse it that somebody probably did.

                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                That's quite a collection, alright, although I can do without the snide, dismissive and oh so superior manner of its author.

                                                1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                  He's a columnist from our local newspaper (Twin Cities) and not really worth reading. His only claim to fame is that he's had an internet blog since before they were called blogs. He started it around '96 or '97.

                                          2. re: Perilagu Khan

                                            (Sheepishly says..) I like the little marshmallows! In jello with walnuts and fruit.
                                            Now you're disillusioned. Oh, dear.

                                            1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                              One of my family's favorite movies. That scene is classic.

                                              1. re: melpy

                                                Watching it on Thanksgiving is one of our most cherished traditions. The movie never gets old. Never fails to provoke guffaws.

                                            2. re: hazelhurst

                                              I detest marshmallows in any way shape or form but I do love the jello salads for the holidays and funerals.

                                              My grandmother and mom made one from at least the early sixties that had black cherry jello, cream cheese and pecans. One aunt put diced celery in her version which was kind of sketchy but not that bad now that I think of it.

                                              1. re: kengk

                                                My mother had a Jello recipe that we still make for holiday dinners. It has orange jello, canned mandarin oranges, orange sherbet and whipped cream. The original recipe called for Cool Whip, but I like it with the real stuff better.

                                                A couple of years ago, Andrew Zimmern took his show to a Lutheran church supper that featured lutefisk and the typical potluck dishes at such places in Minnesota. One woman brought a jello salad that had crushed pineapple, cream cheese and Cool Whip. Zimmern playfully told the woman that it was possibly the worst thing he's ever eaten on all of his TV shows.

                                                1. re: John E.

                                                  I would so make that. Do you know what flavor of Jello she used?

                                                  Jerseygirl111

                                                  1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                                    Here is the recipe... Enjoy.

                                                    Orange Sherbet Salad

                                                    2 packages orange Jello
                                                    1 cup boiling water (use juice from mandarin oranges)
                                                    1 pint orange sherbet
                                                    2 cans (11 ounces) mandarin oranges, drained
                                                    (save the juice and use it to dissolve the gelatin)
                                                    1 cup heavy cream, whipped (not sweetened)
                                                    (or use an 8 ounce tub of cool whip)

                                                    Dissolve the gelatin in the juice/water. Add the sherbet and mix well. When partially set, add the oranges and fold in the whipped cream/cool whip. Chill for several hours before serving.

                                                    1. re: John E.

                                                      My husband thanks you! A couple of questions:

                                                      Do I boil the juice? Are the pkgs of jello the small ones? Will the sherbet be liquified?

                                                      Jerseygirl111

                                                2. re: kengk

                                                  My mom's version: Lemon jello with shredded carrots and crushed pineapple. With sweetened mayonnaise topping for special occasions. Ugh.

                                                  1. re: sandylc

                                                    That sounds disgusting.

                                                    My sister has a couple of really good congealed salads she brings out at holidays - one is blackberry and the other is apricot. And they're good. I wouldn't want them any more often though.

                                                    1. re: Leepa

                                                      I am a huge fan of Jell-o salads, at least the sweet ones -- but mayonnaise is The Line That Must Not Be Crossed.

                                                      We have good cranberry Jell-o salad traditions on both sides of the family. The paternal salad is an unusual recipe that calls for ground whole cranberries, chopped nuts, celery, and an entire ground orange. Pulp, rind, and zest, all together. Somehow it works.

                                                      On my mother's side, the traditional recipe involved sour cream, mandarine oranges, walnuts, and celery, and either cranberries or cranberry sauce. I cannot for the life of me track down the recipe, which makes me very sad.

                                                      My stepmother's family has a Jello-recipe that involves pretzels; that has to be the strangest one. Not a molded salad, though.

                                                      1. re: dtremit

                                                        or even worse, congealed salads with Miracle Whip. Bleh.

                                                        1. re: dtremit

                                                          Is it that strawberry-pretzel salad? Someone tried to feed me that once...

                                                          1. re: dtremit

                                                            Was the pretzel salad from the North, or the South?

                                                            That is a new one to me, and it might take some major convincing to get me to eat it... but until I taste it, I will withhold final comments.

                                                            Hunt

                                                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                              I believe it was a promotional recipe from Jell-O.

                                                              IIRC, it was oddly tasty -- but it's been a long time since I last had it -- and frankly have no desire to run out and make it, either.

                                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                                If ya'll are talking about the one with the pretzel crust, it is pretty tasty to me. I like salty and sweet together.

                                                                The crust is made similar to a graham cracker crust only with broken up pretzels.

                                                3. re: bagelman01

                                                  For Thanksgiving, it has always been rolls for my families - Deep South.

                                                  While biscuits ARE a staple, rolls replace them on the Thanksgiving table.

                                                  Hunt

                                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                    Biscuits in the morning, rolls for dinner.

                                                    1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                      I agree with that. We did Thanksgiving at lunchtime while my grandmother was alive, so she served both rolls and biscuits. (she was awesome)

                                                      1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                        That was how it was in my Deep South family, and also in my wife's New Orleans family.

                                                        I also do not recall any deviation from that general menu, even with other family members in different states. Does not mean that it was not common with them, but just that I did not ever recall observing it.

                                                        Hunt

                                                      2. re: Bill Hunt

                                                        in the southern side of our family, if there's gravy, then biscuits are served. Thnksgiving hot dinner at 1PM, Turkey, gravy, biscuits. Supper at 7Pm leftover sliced turkey for sandwiches on rolls.

                                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                          Same here. Biscuits are everyday food, and rolls are for special occasions. Thanksgiving is pretty special, so we have rolls.