The Problem with Thanksgiving Dinners- Redux

In America, Thanksgiving Dinner is a big deal in most families, because it is an annual, one time per year kind of thing. It has requirements of tradition that go back to the very early days of Colonial America. For instance, you must have roast turkey somewhere in the room. Everybody knows that when you roast a turkey, you must also have stuffing (or dressing) to go with it, and here is where things get tricky; the kind of stuffing depends quite a bit on where in America you happen to be. Other things are also required, for there must be potato dishes, sweet potato dishes, and thanks to the Campbell’s soup company, we must also have green beans. It sounds crazy when you say it like that, doesn’t it?

Years ago, when my wife and I moved here to the Midwest, I ran into something quite new in my experience; my in-laws. The first time that I made Thanksgiving dinner for my in-laws, I received a menu that I wasn’t familiar with, and orders to replicate it according to their family’s tradition. Of course it had turkey and stuffing (but not cornbread stuffing), then there were mashed potatoes (the kind that come in a box), sweetened sweet potato stuff, (doesn’t that come out to three starches?), cranberry gunk from a can, and the crowning event, green bean casserole from the Campbell’s Soup label.

I remembered that many years ago, my Mom tried that one… once. It takes canned green beans (yes, believe it or not, they still make those) and canned condensed Campbell’s mushroom soup mixed with the gross canned green beans, and then bakes them in the oven, topped with packaged deep fried onions, with extra grease added, on top. I remember telling my wife that there was no way I would serve something to guests that I wouldn’t feed to the dog.

She reminded me just exactly who it was who must be obeyed…

As a result, I cooked up an ingenious plan: I made exactly what I was told to make, but I made it all from scratch. Reluctantly, she agreed to my plan.

I made two loaves of bread for the stuffing, and I made the stock. Then I made cranberry stuff from actual cranberries, I made mashed potatoes from real potatoes (with the skin still on, since there is no legitimate reason to ever peel a potato), actually they were roast garlic mashed potatoes, I gave them what they wanted with the sweet potato stuff, but I made sure there wouldn’t be any leftover (yuk). As for the green bean stuff? I started with real green beans, made a thick mushroom sauce and combined them in baking dish, and topped it with Panko bread crumbs for crunch and actual caramelized onions for flavor.

For dessert, my required pumpkin pie was actually sweet potato pie (shh, don’t tell ‘em I did that) and for anyone who was adventurous, I also made a pumpkin spiced cheesecake with Bourbon Cream which was out of this world… but only I and my kids know that, since nobody else was adventurous.  In lieu of the Parker House rolls that were required, I got away with making a couple of different Artisan breads; nobody complained about those.

This verdict? Everyone was very polite; they loved the pumpkin pie, it was the best they’d ever had. Well, of course it was; it was sweet potato pie (but folks around here don’t eat sweet potato pie). The important thing for me was that once again, I avoided the noose.

My kids, on the other hand, thought it was the best ever Thanksgiving dinner, even though I left out the traditional wild rice and mushroom soup that is one of our family’s “required” dishes.

Now that I have a reputation as a rebel in the kitchen, fewer accept our Thanksgiving invitations, but I can get away with pretty much anything, as long as there is turkey. This year, I have decided on a Pennsylvania Dutch theme… Here’s the plan:


Simple green salad with mustard vinaigrette


Sage butter roasted turkey with cider gravy

Rye bread stuffing

Sauerkraut with apples ( a truly amazing dish)

Scalloped potatoes with fennel

Cranberry-mustard relish


Harvest pear crisp with candied ginger

Sweet potato pie (but don’t tell anybody it isn’t pumpkin)

Before I sign off, I must tell you, just to be fair, that if I made this for my family back in LA, they wouldn’t approve either, because “it isn’t the way we’ve always done it”.  Funny isn’t it, we just can’t seem to get away from “the way we’ve always done it”.

Care to lay odds on how much trouble I get into for this one?

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
This entry was posted in Christian Life and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The Problem with Thanksgiving Dinners- Redux

  1. altruistico says:

    Well, Don, I want to thank you. It’s 6:30 AM and you have me starving for Thanksgiving Dinner with all the trimmings. I have to tell you though I am a hard liner when it comes to traditional Thanksgiving Day Dinner. Now for three days nothing is going to satisfy my stomach until we reach Thursday mid-afternoon….. smiling.

    To me tradition is a means of staying in touch with those who have passed before us. I am one who fears breaking traditions as Thanksgiving and Christmas Day gathers will leave us where we can never go back and have the once great feeling of still having Grandma & Grandpa there at the table. The changing of one dish is a disconnect with the past; I am afraid you can not go back after that and tradition is broken and a new one formed. The feeling of Thanksgiving and Christmas is laid in the tradition of family gathering and the expectation of passing alone to your sons and daughter and their sons and daughters what helped form our family from times well passed.

    Just let me know what time Dinner is and I’ll be there, Don. Happy Thanksgiving.

    May the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob bless you and your family.


  2. paulfg says:

    Thank you for putting the truly eccentric (but harmless) back into the USA! You have just done your country a great service at this moment in history! 🙂

  3. Pingback: The Problem with Thanksgiving Dinners- Redux — The Life Project | preachtruthyoumoron

  4. Nortina S. says:

    Ha! This is classic. We’ve never had a “traditional” Thanksgiving dinner at my house. One year, we had baked spaghetti, another year, Chinese chicken wings. This year, Granddaddy’s having it catered, so it’ll be interesting. I’m sure your dinner will be awesome. And you can never go wrong with sweet potato (not pumpkin) pie! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  5. Give me Jambalaya and Chicken, sausage, and shrimp gumbo for Thanksgiving and I will be a happy camper. Don’t forget the garlic bread.

    And…by the way, Sweet Tater pie is sooooo much better than that ole nasty pumpkin pie.

  6. vw1212 says:

    I love “who must be obeyed”…:) vw

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