A Few Thanksgiving Dinner Traditions
It’s Thanksgiving week, the time when all thoughts turn to the dinner table. There are probably more culinary traditions that manifest around Thanksgiving than there are for any other family occasion. Most folks have their way of doing it up right, and that is as it should be. Family and Thanksgiving dinner traditions are a grand combination!
The kitchen is my therapy place. I love to cook, bake, prepare. I’m descended from Italians, I lived in the South for most of my adult life, and I’m a mother and grandmother–mastering kitchen techniques is kind of a requirement on all those levels. Let’s face it, most Thanksgiving dinner traditions revolve around the meat, but if you’re looking for some traditional sides to go with the turkey (or the ham), I would be honored to share a couple of ours.
From my Grandma Carella, I offer homemade egg noodles:
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out the noodles
1 teaspoon salt
6 large eggs
A little cold water
On a clean work surface, tabletop or pasta board, dump the flour and punch it down in the center to make a well, almost like a “bowl” made of flour (yes, you can do it in a bowl, but this is how Grandma did it).
Crack the eggs into the “bowl.”
Beat the eggs with a fork, then gradually start incorporating the flour into the eggs. You may also begin working in the flour with your fingers.
Keep combining the eggs and flour until a solid, sticky ball of dough forms. If the dough gets too stiff and dry, add water a couple drops at a time.
Turn the dough ball out onto a well-floured work surface. Dust your hands in flour, then knead the dough, incorporating more flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to either the work surface or your hands. Knead until the dough is smooth and firm and no longer sticky. This takes roughly 5 to 10 minutes. Don’t over do it!
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or up to overnight.
Divide the chilled dough into 4 equal pieces and work with one quarter of the dough at a time.
Dust a rolling pin with flour. On a flour-dusted surface, roll out the dough to the desired thickness (anywhere from 1/4 inch to paper-thin, depending on your preference). Be sure to rotate the dough as you roll it to keep it from sticking to the work surface underneath.
Sprinkle everything with flour, including the work surface when you lift the dough, as necessary to keep the dough from sticking. Lay the noodle sheets on an old table cloth or rack and let them sit until “dry,” but still workable.
Back on your work surface, roll the sheet of dough like a jelly roll. Then use a sharp knife or pizza cutter to cut off the uneven ends, and slice the noodles as narrow or wide as you like. Be sure to cut them as evenly as possible to ensure a uniform cooking time. If you fold the dough to cut, make sure it is floured so it does not stick together.
Shake out the noodles gently so they “unroll.”
Drop the noodles into a pot of salted boiling water with a drop of oil until tender to the bite (2 to 10 minutes for fresh noodles depending on the thickness), or until they stick to the wall when you throw them (lol! Grandma didn’t do it that way, but it is fun!).
Drain and toss the noodles in melted butter and chopped fresh parsley or your favorite sauce.
Another Italian tradition is great with coffee after the meal: biscotti! This one came from Grandma Carella, as well:
4 tbsp melted butter
1 tbsp vanilla
Anis oil or anis seed (almond, rum, etc. is good if you don’t care for anis)
¾ cup sugar
3 tbsp baking powder
Enough flour to be able to handle the dough (in Grandma’s famous words: “enough, but not too much”)
Combine the ingredients into a workable dough and roll into logs
Bake at 375 until golden brown
Slice into ¾ inch pieces and toast in the broiler until crispy (not dark)
From my Southern inheritance, may I offer Apple Crisp
Fruit, side dish, dessert–it works as all:
2 different types of good, large apples (like Granny Smith and Honeycrisp)
1 cup sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1 cup oatmeal
Butter the bottom of a baking dish
Peel and slice about 5-6 large apples to cover the bottom of the dish
Sprinkle on 1 cup of chopped pecans
Mix sugar, brown sugar, and oatmeal and pour over the apples and pecans
Melt one stick of butter and drizzle it over the top
Bake at 350 for 45 minutes
(Just for kicks and giggles, since it’s Thanksgiving and cranberries are a thing, you might add dried cranberries to the apple layer.)
Another Southern specialty that every “Bama Gramma” makes is banana pudding:
Carefully heat in a pot, but do not boil
2 cups of milk
½ cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 egg YOLKS
When hot, slowly add and whisk 2-3 tbsp flour. Do it carefully and slowly to keep the lumps out. This is just a basic custard recipe.
Line a pretty pan with vanilla wafers, bottom and sides
Slice a couple large bananas over the wafers
Spoon the custard over the vanilla wafers and bananas
Whip the egg WHITES and 1 tsp of sugar until stiff peaks form and heap it on top of the custard
Bake at 350 until the meringue is golden
(Yes, I know you can make banana pudding with instant pudding and whipped topping, but that never got anyone a marriage proposal!)
The next 2 recipes came from a couple of awesome grandparents, and let’s face it, even if they just open a can of Spaghetti-Os, grandparents make it special!
Here is a dynamite squash casserole:
4 cups of sliced yellow squash
½ cup grated yellow onion
8 0z. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 stick melted butter
1 small can of evaporated milk
½ cup sour cream
Salt and pepper
1 to 1 ½ sleeves of Ritz cracker crumbs
Combine squash and onions with enough salted water to cover in a saucepan. Boil gently until tender and drain. Combine with cheese, 1 sleeve cracker crumbs, beaten egg, sour cream, and butter–mix it well. Add evaporated milk to desired consistency, not too thick.
Spoon into a baking dish and top with ½ sleeve of cracker crumbs
Bake at 350 for 30 minutes
Finally–turkey dressing (or stuffing, as you desire)
Cube cut enough bread to make 4 cups. Do this at least a day ahead and let it dry out.
3 tbsp chopped onion
1 ½ cups celery, chopped small
¼ tsp pepper
¼ tsp poultry seasoning
Sage–don’t overdue it!
⅓ cup melted butter
Turkey broth to moisten
Combine it all well and either stuff the turkey or bake it in its own pan until the edges are crisp
So there you go! Perhaps there are some ideas here that can become new traditions for your family Thanksgiving, or other, dinner.
Remember to Give Thanks!
Right now, I would be amiss if I didn’t mention that we have Thanksgiving to offer thanks because “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father” (James 1:17)..
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Don’t Just Count Your Blessings–SHARE!
When my husband was stationed at Ft. Stewart, Georgia, we shared our Thanksgiving dinner traditions with members of his company that didn’t get to go home for Thanksgiving. We invited them to come and have a turkey dinner and a relaxing day at our house. It didn’t seem like that big a deal, and it was fun for me. Yet, nearly five decades later, there are men who remember and remark about our Thanksgiving parties.
Not every family is as blessed as mine has been. Many people are not able to partake of such extravagant fare. If you can, please consider giving to local food banks or working at a soup kitchen over the holidays.
My grandfather used to fill up a grocery sack and anonymously leave it on the porch of a family who just needed a little help. Give God the credit. After all, it is because of His provision that you can give.
A couple of years ago, I went out of town for Thanksgiving. There was no reason for me to cook. It was all being done at my destination. As I was driving to school one morning before vacation, the Lord put it on my heart that since I didn’t have to spend any money on Thanksgiving dinner, that I should take the money I would have spent, and donate it anonymously to the local food bank. That was fun.
Whether you are young or old, it’s a great thing to develop your own Thanksgiving dinner traditions. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m kinda hungry …
God bless you, and may your Thanksgiving adventures be delightful!