Chestnuts ready for roasting. (Amelia Crook, Creative Commons)
Thanksgiving is about family, food and tradition. And what do you get when those three things come together? Some quirky family food traditions. (See what we did there?) We asked readers to send us their examples.
Joyce Denn’s family roasts chestnuts during the big meal and snacks on them before dessert.
“I am 64 years old and we were doing it as far back as I can remember! My grandparents were immigrants from eastern Europe, so the tradition must have started with my parents ... I do know, Everyone in my family considers the chestnuts the best part of the Thanksgiving meal!” Denn wrote in an email. “I am originally from New York City, where food carts selling chestnuts roasted on a charcoal brazier show up when the cold weather sets in … perhaps my parents got the idea of roasting chestnuts from those food carts.”
Denn assures us the process is simple: Cut an “x” into the shell, arrange them on a sheet pan and roast at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes.
“We all burned our fingers a little at Thanksgiving because no one could wait for the chestnuts to cool off before we started peeling them,” Denn wrote.
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Kandace Olsen’s family makes a “corn bake” – cans of creamed corn, niblets, green pepper and onion, cornbread mix and milk, all crowned with sour cream and cheddar cheese.
“My husband’s aunt introduced this dish to the family years ago, and we HAVE to have it. In fact, we make a double batch so there are plenty of leftovers,” Olsen wrote. “Last year, my stepson and his wife were in Hong Kong for Thanksgiving and made it there – a little harder to find the ingredients.”
Now that’s dedication.
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Amanda Rettke doesn’t have a recipe, but there is a sound that evokes the holiday – it’s the “slurp-plop” of canned gelatinous cranberries being transferred to a serving dish, with shape and grooves intact, “at least until the first lucky soul gets to carve a hunk out.”
Canned cranberry sauce is a tradition in Amanda Rettke's family. (Courtesy Amanda Rettke)
“We have tried to replace it, to have highly rated homemade recipes,” Rettke wrote. “But it always comes back to that can. I can’t remember a Thanksgiving without it, much to the chagrin of a less-than-impressed husband. His family always had everything homemade, and the idea of that canned cranberry glob sitting on a perfectly from-scratch table … was more than some could bear. But they did … It was from my family. I shared it with his. And now it’s ours.”
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Diane Fluin wrote in that her dad had a heckuva stuffing recipe – actually, in her opinion, “the best dressing in the world.”
One year, he let her follow him around the kitchen. “I hovered, pestered him with questions, got in his way, but took careful notes and approximate measurements,” she wrote to us, adding that she was surprised at how simple the recipe was. Just a handful of ingredients -- breakfast sausage, celery, onion, sage -- join bread cubes and stock before being baked.
Diane Fluin's father's recipe for Thanksgiving stuffing. (Courtesy Diane Fluin)
“Of course, I don’t quite have his special blend of magic that makes this dressing off-the-charts delicious, but this recipe comes awfully close,” she said. “The nicely browned chunks that clung to the side of the baking dish were the most coveted bits … Those went first, so you had to get in quick before they were picked off by a rival relative.”
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Finally, from Jon Sitzer, a classic that many of us are familiar with: Jell-O salad. With Sherbet. From Grandma Betty.
Born in 1923, Betty was a nurse in Le Sueur, Minn. and hosted the big family holiday dinners every year for decades, Sitzer wrote in an email. Always on the table was this Jell-O salad. Sitzer’s mother’s best guess for origination was a Presbyterian Church Ladies cookbook, which sounds about right to us.
“She passed in 2008, and my sister and cousins collected many of her handwritten recipes, typed them up and gave the recipe book out as a gift to the family,” Sitzer wrote.
He passed this one on to us:
1 box orange Jell-O
1 box lemon Jell-O
2 cups boiling water
1 can mandarin oranges (reserve juice)
1 small can crushed pineapple (reserve juice)
1 pint orange sherbet
Add Jell-O mix to boiling water. Add oranges and pineapple. Add sherbet to warm Jell-O/fruit mixture. Add 1/4 cup of orange/pineapple juice. Chill overnight.
We think that’s a pretty good ending to any Thanksgiving feast, no matter how your family celebrates.