As young kids we naturally assume that every other kid lives like we do and eats the same foods because our family is all that we know. I grew up in the epicenter of Thanksgiving — Massachusetts. I believed that all families had a Thanksgiving Day table loaded with a roast turkey with hot Italian sausage and mashed potato stuffing. On the side: jellied cranberry sauce, lasagna, pumpkin pie and kielbasa with kraut. It made every nation happy in our extended immigrant family.
I asked local chefs and culinary notables what they remember most about Thanksgiving and to share a recollection. You will note that these are far from archetypal Norman Rockwell, Middle American memories. You may laugh, cringe, tear up and get really hungry reading these charming tales of kitchen explosions, family distress, excellent side dishes and love.
The beauty of America’s great non-sectarian holiday is that its tent and table infinitely expands to include each and every person and the food that means “thanks” to them.
Happy Thanksgiving to all.
Kyle Mendenhall, Arcana
“Every Thanksgiving for as long as I can remember my father has taken it upon himself to do one specific appetizer. My mother cooks most of the meal but this dish my father owns. We get flat packages of supermarket ‘chipped beef’ and lay the meat out overlapping on a cutting board. We spread a layer of Philadelphia cream cheese over them and place one scallion, whole, on top of the cream cheese and roll it up lengthwise. We place toothpicks about one inch apart on the roll and cut bite size slices. This combo is delicious. Most of them never make it to a platter.”
Karen DeVincenzo, baker
“My family lived on the outskirts of a small town. Aunt Jeannette lived in the big city. She was the one who took me out of my sheltered life, time after time, and sent me back home a different person. I think my parents were always a little nervous sending me off. She brought me to get my ears pierced in fourth grade without telling them. Here is her Thanksgiving recipe:
Aunt Jeannette’s Turkey Stuffing
4 cups bread crumbs
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 envelope onion soup mix
1 cup uncooked popcorn
Directions: Beat eggs, mix all ingredients together. Stuff into the turkey. Bake at 375 degrees for three hours. then, get the hell out of the kitchen because that stuffing is going to blow that turkey’s ass right out of the oven!”
Hosea Rosenberg, Blackbelly Market and Santo
“My fondest memories of Thanksgiving were going to my dad’s house. My parents split when we were pretty young, and we spent most of our time at our mom’s house. My dad got us for Thanksgiving, and it was always a really fun weekend. One of the best parts for me was seeing what Robin, my stepmom, was baking. She always surprised us with lots of pies from pumpkin to apple, pecan and cherry. There were more desserts on the table than what you might call ‘real food.’ I was more than OK with that. Once I started cooking in restaurants I would still make it to their house to show off what I had been learning. I have always remembered Thanksgiving with my dad, Robin and my siblings with a lot of warmth, love and thankfulness. “
Bobby Stuckey, Frasca Food and Wine
“I grew up in Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona, in the early ’70s. My grandfather had been there since childhood so ours was a rare third-generation Phoenix family. My father’s older sister married Tish Yoshimira, a gentle, quiet Japanese man. He would take on the responsibility of having Thanksgiving at his house with the entire Stuckey clan. Sure, we had turkey, but I might also be the only kid who thought it was normal to have sushi at Thanksgiving dinner. Looking back I think how nerve-racking it was for Tish to host his wife’s crazy family.”
Jennifer Bush, Lucky’s Bakehouse
“Thirty years ago, when I was in high school, my mother owned Thanksgiving … and still does. Organic turkeys were nonexistent in Boulder but my mom located one and was beyond thrilled. On Thanksgiving Day filled with family and friends, the table was set and Champagne was flowing. As my dad carved the turkey we all smelled something extremely ‘off.’ As dad carved, he exposed a huge tumor in the turkey. The smell was unreal, tainting the stuffing and literally all the food, and we couldn’t get the aroma out of the kitchen. Mom was beyond upset, we threw away nearly all the food and there was fighting, tears and a holiday in shambles. Needless to say, organic has come a long way, but for Thanksgivings from there on out the family has been riding the Butterball train. This year we are trying an all-natural turkey. Wish us luck.”
Tim Brod, Highland Honey
“I was probably about 10 years old. Being New Englanders we always had oyster stuffing in our turkey and drank this very strange bubbling wine called Cold Duck. A dozen of us were sitting at the very large table waiting for the turkey. My father decides to open a bottle of Cold Duck, which erupted with foam that went everywhere, especially over the turkey. That was the year us kids got to enjoy Cold Duck-marinated turkey even though my parents were not in the habit of letting us have any alcohol! If only mom and dad were still alive so I could make them turkey and oyster stuffing served with a glass of Cold Duck.”
Julia Joun, Flatirons Food Film Festival
“I come from a multi-ethnic hometown, Honolulu, where eating well is a serious and joyous preoccupation. My parents’ Korean culture is also one where tastiness looms large. They celebrated major holidays with a group of friends where the husbands all graduated from the same elite Seoul high school. Every year, the table was laden with the traditional Thanksgiving dishes like my beloved turkey and mashed potatoes. There was also a full complement of Korean food including the ubiquitous kimchi and rice, glass noodles with vegetables, Korean barbecue with thin slices of ribeye, and lots of vegetable side dishes. I ate everything and was thankful for each wonderful morsel.”
Chef James Van Dyk
“I had this Thanksgiving side dish combining pearl onions and fresh cranberries 30 years ago and it has been a hit ever since. Heat some sugar in a heavy-bottom sauce pan until it becomes golden brown, add cranberries and cook until berries start to crack open. Add peeled fresh pearl onions — an amount equal to the cranberries. Splash in a little high quality vinegar, cracked black pepper, some fresh orange zest, a cinnamon stick, a bay leaf and a pinch of salt. Cover and simmer until onions are tender.”
Kate Lacroix, Kontently
“My funniest Thanksgiving moment was trying to have a wishbone contest with my brother one year. We tousled for a long time with that greasy bone and neither of us emerged victorious. Note to self for the girls this year: Dry the wishbone first!”
Peg Romano, The Med, Brasserie Ten Ten, Via Perla
“My grandmother would bring sweet potatoes with marshmallows for Thanksgiving. It was intriguing but too sweet for me. My best memory is of the sandwich my dad made me on the day after Thanksgiving. He put sliced turkey on bread with turkey dressing, mayo, lettuce and a touch of fresh cranberry sauce. It was the best.”
John Hinman, Hinman Bakery
“Last Thanksgiving at our house we hosted neighbors and an Iraqi refugee family we had met at a benefit event. The father was a translator for the U.S. Army, his wife is a photographer, and they have an autistic son. It was their first Thanksgiving so it was interesting to introduce them to the traditions and foods. They seemed to really like the sense of community at the meal. Listening to them talking about the extreme violence and terrorism they had witnessed made me think about all I have to be thankful for.”
John Lehndorff hosts his annual extended live Thanksgiving Day version of Radio Nibbles 8:30-9 a.m. Nov. 23 on KGNU (88.5 FM, 1390 AM, kgnu.org). Call in with last minute cooking questions and memories at 303-443-4242.