Traditions Reinvented

Thoughts and advice on how to blend multiple family recipes and feasts.

Thanksgiving is for Family.

Image via Tom Gill

Thanksgiving is for Family.

This story was originally published on Nov 20, 2017.

Eighteen turkeys. Brined turkeys, fried turkeys, roasted turkeys and even one turducken have graced my holiday table. For most of my married life, I was the host of Thanksgiving dinner.

My mother-in-law was there for each of those eighteen turkeys, washing a mountain of dishes and assisting me in the preparations. After tinkering with the menu the first few years, I found what worked for us. The feast we served consisted of green beans almandine, harvest stuffing, mashed potatoes with turkey gravy, sweet potatoes with toasted marshmallows on top, cranberries, crescent rolls, red cinnamon apples and pie for dessert. We had the menu down pat.

Image via Rachel Lorenz
Red cinnamon apples are a Thanksgiving dish my children always request. My recipe is similar to Just A Pinch’s recipe but I use 1/3 cup of red cinnamon candies and only simmer the rings for 10 to 15 minutes.

But, a few years ago my family and I made a cross-country move. While it brought us closer to extended family, it changed the way we celebrate Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is a time for tradition. However, life changes and families grow. Traditions morph, end and renew.

The first Thanksgiving after our move brought a lot of questions:

How would we do this, now that we were in the same state as my husband’s parents and sister?

Would we alternate who hosts each year?

Should everybody bring a dish?

Would we eat at noon, midday or in the evening?

Nearly two decades of tradition needed to be altered. It was all up for grabs.

After a few rounds of phone calls, we developed a plan. My sister-in-law, whose Thanksgivings used to be small affairs, now hosts us all in her home. My mother-in-law continues to bake the pies and make sweet potatoes with marshmallows, just the way my husband likes.

My current role is to provide hors-d’oeuvres and snacks. Thanksgiving with my extended family is more than a meal. It’s a day-long event that requires food before the five o’clock feast.

Appetizers were a bit of a challenge for me. When I had hosted Thanksgiving, we ate early and I did not offer much in advance of the main meal. I had nothing in my repertoire.

Being a resourceful modern cook, I, of course, pulled up Pinterest. But there’s a gazillion recipes out there. How do you pick one?

First of all, consider the limitations of the host’s kitchen. Expect a full fridge, a crowded counter, a bustling stovetop, and an oven occupied by a large bird and several side dishes. If at all possible, bring something delicious when served at room temperature. Or keep your dish chilled in a cooler you’ve provided or warmed by your slow cooker from home. If you do need the host’s appliances, be sure to ask and give a realistic estimate of how much room or time you will need.

The first year I brought appetizers to our family gathering, I found a recipe for popcornucopia. It’s the fall-flavored child of trail mix and popcorn. Salty and crunchy, of course. But also chewy and aromatic and a tad sweet. Sage, rosemary and dried cranberries anchor your taste buds in November. It was a make-ahead, room temperature hit. A new Thanksgiving tradition was born.

Image via Johnny Miller
Pick recipes that don’t make you look like an appliance hog. Popcornucopia can be made in advance and served at room temperature.

In addition to considering the physical constraints of the host’s home, think about the social aspects of the day. Everyone wants to bring something amazing, but if that amazing recipe requires a lot of last minute preparation, you won’t be spending much time with your host or the other guests. As important as food is to Thanksgiving, people are even more important. Don’t pick a recipe that will have you in the kitchen all day. Also, prep usually means mess, and there’s enough going on without you creating extra chaos in the kitchen.

One appetizer my husband suggested was smoked salmon. It went over well and now always makes an appearance. Smoked salmon does not need to be cooked, and when arranged with condiments and toppings on a platter, makes a pretty presentation. If you’re traveling a short distance, the platter can be assembled at your home and transported to your Thanksgiving destination, which keeps on-site fussing to a minimum.

Image via Rachel Lorenz
Last year, garlic herb cream cheese, a sweet mustard dill sauce, sliced cucumbers, lemon wedges and capers accompanied the salmon. The cream cheese and dill sauce can be made a day or two in advance. I placed the platter next to a bowl with cocktail bread and assorted crackers.

Although I sometimes miss presiding over a table laden with a display of my domesticity, Thanksgiving Day is now a calm, almost carefree, day for me. While the turkey roasts in my sister-in-law’s oven, I talk with my family and nibble on appetizers I prepared earlier. The sports lovers watch football. Eventually, we all gather around the coffee table and play Monopoly.

Image via Rachel Lorenz
Monopoly is now part of my Thanksgiving Day.

Monopoly is a new tradition for my kids but a long-standing one for their cousins. House rules have developed over the years and the game no longer runs exactly as Parker Brothers designed. Still, it’s recognizably Monopoly even though we’ve made it our own. I guess even board games evolve over time.

Image via Rachel Lorenz
Butternut squash soup is a lovely way to begin the Thanksgiving Day feast.

Night begins to fall as the turkey comes out of the oven. Dinner starts elegantly with butternut squash soup which my sister-in-law has been serving for 19 years. The green beans are tossed with pesto instead of butter and almonds. Her stuffing recipe, while not like mine, is reminiscent of my grandmother’s. My children’s favorite, red cinnamon apples, now graces my sister-in-law’s long table. For all of us, the Thanksgiving meal looks different than it did a decade ago. By blending our traditions, and even adding a few new ones, I think we’ve found a balance that we’re all happy with.

Image via Rachel Lorenz
The table is set for Thanksgiving in my sister-in-law’s home.

In a few days, we will celebrate Thanksgiving for the last time in this home. My sister-in-law’s house, with it’s grand dining room, is on the market. If all goes according to plan, she’ll be in a much smaller place by next autumn.

And, once again, our Thanksgiving traditions will need to be reinvented.