Straying from the traditional Thanksgiving menu is always fraught with hazards in my family. Turkey is a must. My brother-in-law has a not-so-secret hankering to make turducken. He'd never hear the end of it. And playing around with beloved side dishes can get one into trouble, too.
There was the year I made apple soup as a first course, which is still talked about with wonder when the family gets together: "Apple soup! Can you imagine?" My son views as unforgivable the time my mother roasted the potatoes instead of mashing them. And stuffing must be bread stuffing. Cornbread stuffing raised eyebrows. Sausage stuffing is too rich. Chestnut stuffing too exotic. And oyster? Fugheddaboudit!
You can play around with the sweet potatoes, change up the green vegetable (or--let's be honest here--drop it altogether), try a new recipe for cranberry sauce or test an exotic dessert. But basically the menu is fixed. My mother's version:
- Mashed potatoes
- Sweet potato casserole
- Mashed turnips
- Green beans with almonds
- Cranberry sauce
- Pumpkin pie
- Pecan pie
I'm eliminating the sweet potatoes--only my mother and I eat them--and substituting a salad of romaine, apples, walnuts and blue cheese for the green beans. We'll skip the turnips, too. They're really only demanded anymore by my sister and since she won't be here, they're out. Personally, I always imagine that turnips have the taste and consistency of earwax, so I won't miss them. I'm going for a chocolate walnut pie this year. Desserts can be tinkered with, but really, what's Thanksgiving without pie?
Actually, over the years our Thanksgiving menus have evolved quite a bit. When I was little we celebrated the holiday for a number of years at my grandfather's house. I don't remember all of the details, but that's where we adopted pecan pie. It's a recipe from my grandfather's wife, who hailed from New Orleans. It's sinfully rich with at least a stick of butter in the filling.
When my Italian aunt was a regular attendee, we'd start the meal with her baked ziti--her sauce is to die for. During those years, we'd often have one dessert per person since that gave a chance for everyone to be creative. So, my mother would do the pecan and pumpkin pies, my sister and I would each make something and my aunt and her daughter--both world-class bakers--would contribute at least one dessert a piece.
But those were the happy, carefree years before carb became a four-letter word. Now we'll just have to make do with one pie. And ice cream.