Thursday, November 4, 2010

How Does One Celebrate American Thanksgiving?

We're planning on having some friends over for dinner and Dungeons and Dragons the weekend of November 27. Since a couple of them are Americans living in Calgary, I thought it would be nice to celebrate American thanksgiving at the same time. Their extended families are both in Texas, and the spouse recently remarked that she has never actually prepared thanksgiving dinner, only enjoyed those her mother or mother-in-law prepares. Since I enjoy cooking, I thought I would do the honors. My question, is there any difference in menus between American and Canadian thanksgiving? Is there any special decorating or rituals that normally accompany the American holiday?


Matt said...

Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie - some of the most common dishes, but really anything goes. About the only decoration common to most of my Thanksgivings has been the Detroit Lions losing a football game. Oh - and there's the part where we all sit around making fun of Canadians, but you might want to skip that ;)

steelcaress said...

I can't compare and contrast, however, I can give you a traditional spread for American Thanksgiving. This is based on my experience, growing up in the Northwest (near Seattle, WA). YMMV depending on region.

Most often, there's a turkey, stuffed with a bread-based stuffing and roasted. Sage, chopped celery, carrots and onions are the most common vegetables/herbs that go into the stuffing.

In my family, there's a 6 oz shrimp cocktail (boiled shrimp in a spicy cocktail sauce) served before the turkey.

In addition to the turkey, cranberry sauce, brown gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans, tossed salad, rolls, olives, and pickles can be used as side dishes.

Apple pie, pecan pie, and pumpkin pie are most often seen at my place for dessert.

Beer, wine, and sparkling cider are used for beverages, along with filtered drinking water. In America, traditionally, children don't imbibe, juice or cider is served to them.

While it is commendable that you want to make your friends feel like they're at a traditional Thanksgiving, I would love to do the reverse, eat at a Canadian Thanksgiving. :D

Talysman said...

I've been at a wide variety of Thanksgivings and can pretty much corroborate the above, with the following notes:

1. yams and sweet potatoes are also often present, but I don't think I've ever seen anyone eat any.

2. ham is occasionally a substitute or backup meat dish.

3. stuffing is also frequently served as a side.

4. if children are present, large pitted black olives to eat off your fingers are mandatory.

Really, American Thanksgiving is about food and lots of it, plus the Macy's Parade on TV, football for those that like that, and occasional harvest-themed decorations, like a cornucopia. It doesn't matter much what food is served, and there's not much standardization for other customs. I don't watch sports, for example, and have mostly skipped the parade as an adult, but when I was celebrating Thanksgiving solo, I nevertheless made sure I had mashed potatoes, corn, mac and cheese, and meat loaf, which aren't the dishes I'd fix for an everyday meal.

The Happy Whisk said...

Hi Paladin,

Sadly, I'm of little use on this one. I grew up eating Hungarian foods for Thanksgiving. Also, Mamam (Hungarian gram), served pheasant because my uncle would go hunting in the early morning.

Dessert was always little cookies, as we called them. Each one filled with a different lekvar and sprinkled with powered sugar.

But ... if I were you guys, I'd make them your potatoes, the one that you gave me the recipe for. I always like to try what others eat normally. It's a wonderful treat.

Happy Eating :-)

PS: We had a Thanksgiving-style meal today, only I roasted a chicken. That was hours ago, and the house still smells amazing.

Talysman said...

Oh, I forgot: since your Americans are Texans, and I've eaten Thanksgiving in Southern households, I can suggest sweet cornbread. For notherners, it's usually dinner rolls instead.

The Happy Whisk said...

I love cornbread. So good. I add a vote for cornbread along with heart attack potatoes.

Good call, Talysman.

You know, I was thinking, I never even made stuffing until I started cooking for Tim. I know it's a usual side, but we didn't eat that at Mamam's.

Greg Christopher said...

My wife makes an awesome brocolli & cheese casserole every year (among other things). It is the highlight of the meal for me.

Spawn of Endra said...

Again, it sounds like the general spread of items is covered above. I would add that often I have with friends (that all have apparently inherited this from mothers from California to Nebraska) a cranberry Jell-O dish that includes cooked whole cranberries in raspberry Jell-O, with other bits added like walnuts, celery diced green apples and/or crushed pineapple. I imagine you could find the recipe online, it's quite a good 'grown-up' Jell-O.

Ditto on the black olives on kids' fingers.

And the main thing is that it's not a religious holiday. It's about eating a lot of good food, hanging out with people, enjoying yourselves and not overloading everyone with all the crappy expectations and social pressures of, e.g., Christmas (ideally).

Scott said...

Don't forget the whiskey and angry recriminations.

JB said...

Food, booze, and family...probably in about that order (well, family actually comes 2nd or 1st).

I'm from Seattle, but I grew up celebrating Thanksgiving every year in Montana...turkey, several types of stuffing, multiple salads, dinner rolls (northerners), cranberry sauce AND cranberries multiple pies (pumpkin, cherry, apple). Booze is wine, beer, and whiskey for the drunks. When I celebrate Thanksgiving in Canada (Whistler, BC...about every other year or so) Martinis and Venison are generally on the menu.

Always gin martinis. Always.
; )

Anonymous said...

To the excellent, specific suggestions above I'd only add that every family I've shared U.S. Thanksgiving with always has some special dish or tradition that seems unique to them. Hot dogs for the kids... a famous family recipe for spinach dip... small sausages slow cooked in a bourbon sauce... speaking of sausage, mixed into your stuffing either in or out of the turkey is heavenly... what I'm driving at is you should absolutely slip in a personal touch or favorite dish. Half the fun of Thanksgiving is experiencing the small differences in how each family celebrates it.

Anonymous said...

Rutabagas (called "turnips" in New England, but they are much larger than what the rest of the country calls turnips) & squash (butternut or possibly acron) -- (both mashed like potatoes; but cutting up wazed rutabags is onerous); green beans almondine (i.e. in butter with sauteed mushrooms and almond slices); you can't go wrong with an seasonal vegetable.

Vegetarians will generally have a loaf (made of nuts, lentils, etc.) or more rarely a Tofukey. I've been a vegetarian more than 20 years and I'll say skip the tofurkey, it's not that good.

Oh, and depending on the crowd, maybe recite Wm. S. Burroughs' Tahnksgiving Prayer.

Good luck!

Timrod said...

Unless I missed something , no one mentioned green bean casserole; a dish that has never been made outside the confines of the 4th Thursday of November. Thankfully, as it's really not that good.

I love that your picture of the t-day spread includes the can-shaped cranberry sauce plopped on a plate. As long as you roll one of those bad boys out your 'Merican friends will feel right at home.

And though I'm a northerner through and through (NY as a kid, Seattle as an adult), cornbread, home made mac n' cheese, pecan pie and/or sweet potato pie are all de rigeur at my thanksgiving table.

JDJarvis said...

Here is what I prepped for Thanksgiving in the past:

Folks can enjoy a lite sampling of Cheese
Roasted apples
Warm Apple Cider

followed by

Beef Consume
Cranberry Tarts
Mincemeat Tarts
Sausage&Cranberry Tarts

followed by

A light garden salad.

follwed by

squash bisque

followed by the big show:

A turkey with a couple strips of bacon atop the whole thing rubbed down in butter and lemon juice with an onion and apple inside the bird.

Two types of cornbread. One yellow and fluffy one dense. I like a dense one with meals but some people just don't' care for dense cornbread.

Mashed potatoes with roasted garlic.

Mashed Turnips and carrots.


Brussel Sprouts cooked in brownsugar

Acorn Squash, halved and roasted.
Sweet potatoes.
Stuffing prepared on the side without meat.
Stuffing prepared with meat (innards from bird and boiled down neck meat)
Canned cranberry sauce
Real cranberry sauce.

followed by
Pumpkin parfait
pumpkin pie
Pecan pie
apple pie
sweet potato pie

later followed by

Cofee and tea
with more pie

Sugar Cookies

Followed by

Sandwiches made with turkey meat, stuffing and cranberry sauce. Some folks like to add some mashed potatoes or sweet poatoes to that.

The next day

Turkey Salad

Day after that

Left over bonanza

Day after that

Turkey soup with remaining turkey and some rice.

The essentials really are:
Turkey, Stuffing, some sort of soft potato dish, another veg dish, corn. cranberry sauce and pie.

Tim Shorts said...

Stuffing for me. Everything else is optional.

David said...

If you have any vegetarians, I also suggest skipping the tofurky, but you might want to consider a Quorn turkey as a pretty good alternative.

Aside from that, it looks like just about everything has been covered.


Skydyr said...

As the comments above testify to, there's a great deal of regional and idiomatic variation. I think the generally agreed upon necessities are:

-Stuffing that's bread or cornbread based
-cranberry sauce (jellied is popular)
-potatoes, generally mashed
-enough dishes to make the table buckle
-pie for dessert, often pumpkin or apple

I think there's an emphasis on local (north american) ingredients as well, like squashes, cranberries, etc.

I don't think this is too different from my experience in Montreal, though there we often had a different meat, like a pork roast or lamb leg.

Timrod said...

I'm planning out my own thanksgiving spread today and came back here for for inspiration. Thanks to you and your commenters for all the ideas.

And if y'all are into cocktails, I might suggest the Kentucky Blizzard: Bourbon and cranberry juice on ice with a splash of lime. Depending on the time of year, I vary the bourbon/cranberry ratio: 1:1 in the heat of summer, 3:1 in the chill of winter.