It seemed an innocent enough premise: The New York Times Food section Wednesday featured a state-by-state guide to traditional Thanksgiving dishes.
But snuggled between Michigan’s Baked German Potato Salad and Mississippi’s Ale-Braised Collard Greens with Smoked Ham Hock was a culinary land mine.
Their choice for Minnesota?
Surprise turned to outrage and then mockery as Minnesotans took to social media, venting over the choice of a food most had never seen on a Thanksgiving table. Hashtags #embracethegrape and #grapegate took over Twitter. Soon, “grapes” were trending in the Twin Cities.
“What do you think, should we swap out the cherry for a traditional Minnesotan grape?” tweeted the Walker Art Center about its iconic “Spoonbridge and Cherry.”
“My favorite part of the holiday is pruning my family grape tree for our traditional grape hot dish,” tweeted Kelsey Thaves, with a photo of a grapevine.
“We can’t wait for the ‘Grape Minnesota Get Together’ next summer!!” tweeted myTalk 107.1.
Instagram and Twitter flowed with photos of Minnesota “classic” dishes: coffee with grapes, chili topped with a grape, a doughnut and burger topped with a grape.
Leanne Koepke was one of more than 1,000 who offered thoughts about the Minnesota choice on the New York Times Facebook page: “I have lived through 74 Thanksgivings both in Minnesota and Wisconsin and have NEVER even heard of grape salad, much less been served it.” Many offered more obvious choices for a traditional dish: wild rice and hot dish, among them.
“By the way, Times staffers, don’t mistake the mild mannered comments below as gentle disagreement,” wrote Jenna Rosenberg on that same Facebook page. “What you are witnessing here with each additional post is simmering rage and contempt Minnesota-style.”
“ ‘I can’t wait to have Grandma’s Grape Salad at Thanksgiving!!’ Said no one from Minnesota. Ever,” wrote Susan Brunn.
So how did the Times choose grape salad? Writer David Tanis noted that it “falls into the same category of old-fashioned party dishes as molded Jell-O salad, comes from a Minnesota-born heiress, who tells me it was always part of the holiday buffet in her family.”
Later, Tanis posted on Facebook a few more specifics on the origin of the recipe, though no mention of the identity of the “heiress”: “It was a staple of 1950s and 1960s spiral-bound Lutheran or Junior League-type community cookbooks, even featured in the Redwood Falls Gazette, right alongside tater-tot-topped hotdish recipes.”
There did seem to be some recognition of the blunder in an early tweet from Tanis and fellow New York Times writer Kim Severson:
“The great grape salad scandal of 2014! Headed to your state Thurs. Will personally apologize to every citizen,” tweeted Severson.
Tanis followed with, “Me too, on my next trip in Minn, visited many times. This T-Day assignment can’t please anyone, anywhere, it seems.” Iowans were up in arms over the choice of “Thanksgiving cookies” for their state and Nebraskans were puzzling over how “standing rib roast” had displaced their Thanksgiving turkeys. On the other hand, lefse for North Dakota seemed a good fit, though Wisconsinites were grumbling about being given wild rice with mushrooms as the state’s classic, noting “it’s a Minnesota thing” and preferring cranberries.
But Sam Sifton, New York Times food editor, wasn’t backing down about the choice of grape salad, whether Minnesotans liked it or not. He tweeted a link to a different recipe for gelatin with grapes, gleefully bolstering his case with the name of a longtime Twin Cities broadcaster.
“You know who had a pretty cool recipe for holiday grape salad, Minnesota?” he asked. “Joyce Lamont!”
Follow Lee Svitak Dean on Twitter: @StribTaste