There is nothing more American than a Thanksgiving feast laid out on a table surrounded by loved ones. From oyster dressing to apple pie, there is sure to be one dish that you, your friends, and family cannot live without this Thanksgiving holiday. The dishes you most anticipate all year are likely influenced by your family’s heritage, as well as the region where you live. (Or once lived!) Culinary traditions vary from coast to coast.
Let’s talk turkey. Though turkey crowns the table at most Thanksgiving feasts, the variations for this main dish are vast. In California, families might enjoy a lemon-herb turkey or a turkey full of apple raisin-based stuffing. The West Coast abounds in produce, which influences traditional fare. Down South, you’ll likely find fried turkey, or turkey with oyster stuffing. A Texan Thanksgiving might include braised turkey in a green mole sauce, whereas a holiday meal in New England may feature a maple-glazed turkey. Here in Louisiana, turkey might be stuffed with shrimp and cornbread dressing. Or Louisianans may forgo the traditional turkey altogether and opt for a turducken. This carnivore’s delight is a deboned chicken stuffed inside a deboned duck, which is then squeezed into a deboned turkey.
Take a ride on the gravy train. Gravy sits like liquid gold in a boat on your holiday table, but like every Southern woman worth her salt has her own deviled egg recipe, every region of the United States has its own type of gravy. In Arkansas, you’ll find red-eye gravy (made from sausage, ham, or bacon drippings and occasionally made with the addition of coffee) or even chocolate gravy gracing your turkey and mashed potatoes. P. Allen Smith, native Arkansan, suggests adding roasted giblets and chopped hard-boiled eggs to a Thanksgiving Day gravy for a little depth. Travel to New Mexico for the holiday, and you might find a red chili gravy to compliment your turkey. (You may also want to pack your Tums.)
That’s Saucy! Cranberry sauce is the quintessential side dish on Thanksgiving, but in the Midwest, cranberry sauce may resemble a compote including cranberries, shallots, and cherries. Not what you had in mind? Southerners tend to prefer canned jellied cranberry sauce on turkey day. In California, persimmon cranberry sauce adds an exciting element to the meal. In New England, cranberry relish is often made with apple cider.
Celebrate dessert! It’s no secret – dessert is the shining star of any meal, especially on Thanksgiving. While pumpkin pie remains a country-wide staple, the varieties of desserts that grace tables across the nation are as diverse as the people who serve them.
In the South, lucky dinner guests might find a bourbon pecan tart next to the pumpkin pie, and maybe some delicious pralines. Sweet potato pie is another Southern staple coveted by both hosts and guests. Head to the Southwest and experience a show-stopping pumpkin flan or a slice of deep dish caramel apple pie. Californians indulge in ricotta tarts with fruit compote or persimmon pudding. In Kentucky, rich derby pie, akin to a chocolate pecan pie, is a regional favorite. New Englanders serve a much-anticipated maple pecan pie.
Ultimately, Thanksgiving is more about special gatherings with friends and family than about the food eaten together. Lake Charles resident Susan Spiller Latil says, "My mother always told me that it doesn’t matter what is on the table during Thanksgiving. What matters is the love the people around the table have for one another.” And who could disagree with this sentiment? Though one must admit, it would certainly be an exciting adventure to sample Thanksgiving fare from every region of the United States.