Of the entire calendar year, there’s no meal that’s more traditional than Thanksgiving. And by “traditional” I mean constrained.
You have to have the turkey. You have to have the stuffing. And the cranberry sauce. And the pumpkin pie.
And you have to have potatoes. But what kind of potatoes? My husband comes from a must-have-mashed-potatoes family, while I love sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving. To make everyone happy, I have to make both. (What’s the emoticon for a frustrated grimace?)
Then along with the must-have-or-else components, at some tables there are must-ways to make them, preparations that are simply not open for discussion.
The cranberry sauce must be jellied. The stuffing must have sausage and chestnuts. The X must have Y (fill in your family requirements here).
A couple of years ago, though, I shook things up, just a bit. In addition to my family’s usual cranberry sauce – I didn’t want to cause a major revolt, just a minor stir – I also made an amazingly good, amazingly easy-to-make Cranberry and Horseradish Relish that my friends Lenny and Brigid introduced me to.
Maybe I was acting crazy. But I could argue that it’s patriotic to mix things up on Thanksgiving.
I mean, weren’t the original American settlers escaping the dominance of the old country to express their religious freedom? Absolutely. Freedom of expression, that’s what this country was founded on.
Why, you’d be positively un-American if you made a “traditional” Thanksgiving!
So slip some blue cheese into that stuffing – the Pilgrims would approve! Make roasted root vegetables instead of potatoes! Sprinkle that bird with herbes de Provence! Blanket it with proscuitto! Or flip the bird the bird – serve lasagna!
But more importantly, make sure that your Thanksgiving isn’t so much about the meal as it is about all the gifts you have – first and foremost, the loved ones at your table. That would be really revolutionary – focusing on all there is to be thankful for instead of how moist the turkey is.
And my cranberry relish? Everyone said it was so good, they didn’t need the jellied stuff ever again.
P.S., added the next day, My friend Brigid reminds me that the original version of this recipe is actually Susan Stamberg’s (yes, NPR’s Susan Stamberg!) mom’s cranberry relish. Credit where credit is due!
Cranberry recipes I’ve developed for Bon Appetit magazine: