To some, Thanksgiving traditions are sacred. And most of the time, that sanctity relates to the menu.
It would not be Thanksgiving without Moms gravy, Aunt Lindas sweet potato casserole or three, four or five kinds of pie.
Our Thanksgiving food traditions are so sacrosanct that we asked readers to share them and to tell us what happens when someone tries to change a tradition. These stories run from hilarious to inspiring. Some families experience a revolt at the dining room table. Others merge and adapt family traditions without much fuss. Still others go home and cook all the dishes they wanted to eat but werent served at grandmothers house.
Below are the edited essays and some of our readers It wouldnt be Thanksgiving without it recipes.
How not to fry a turkey
Ellyn Baeszler, 56, Davidson: My mother decided to cook only a turkey breast for Thanksgiving, since according to her, Nobody likes dark meat. No matter how many times we told her that we liked dark meat, she continued to bake only the breast.
Since we werent having any luck changing her mind, we decided to fry our own turkey to enjoy the dark meat. After eating with my parents, we came home and my husband and father-in-law launched into frying the turkey while enjoying a few beers. They got the oil to 350 degrees, put the turkey in and inserted the thermometer. It took forever to get the oil back to 350 degrees but finally it was ready and they set the timer for 45 minutes.
When the timer went off, they pulled the turkey out and it was the color of charcoal. The legs and wings were just bones sticking out. They realized that they had put the thermometer into the turkey instead of the oil so the oil was probably 1,000 degrees when they started cooking it. They had incinerated the outer two-thirds of the turkey so that the only edible part was the the innermost section of the breast.
My husband has learned how to fry a turkey, which includes not drinking multiple beers. My mother died four years ago. Now my family has Thanksgiving meal at my house and we feast on a 20-pound whole turkey.
Vegetables even children will eat
Gloria Lariviere, 67, Edgemoor, S.C.: It all started when I watched my last Tupperware container go out the door after a Thanksgiving feast and I still had way too much food in my fridge. Plus, the grandchildren balked at eating veggies. I had to do something.
I wiped out all of the vegetables, except for a few favorites. We used to have turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, peas and carrots, creamed pearl onions. We now have fried turkey, stuffing, gravy, corn, Thanksgiving salad.
P.S. The kids love the Thanksgiving salad and go back for seconds.
A mandatory dessert
Sandi Shumpert, 60, Monroe: Since my mothers death, I host Thanksgiving Day lunch. We have turkey, moms cornbread dressing, mac and cheese and sides. But it is mandatory that we have persimmon pudding on the dessert table. One of the reasons I bought my house in the 1980s was that it had a persimmon tree in the front yard. Wild persimmons are a necessary ingredient. We dont hold much stock with those enormous Japanese persimmons.
One of the biggest dramas in my culinary life was two years ago when a gentleman ran his pickup off the road to avoid an accident and destroyed my persimmon tree. Insurance cant make it right. I have found a new donor tree, but it is not the same as having one in the yard.
I always feel my moms spirit when I am putting persimmons through a chinois.
Dont forget the sweet potato casserole
Sheila Getty, 60-plus, Charlotte: The dish I have to share with you is sweet potato casserole. I have used this recipe for close to 40 years and it has become a mandatory staple for holiday meals (Thanksgiving and Christmas). It is so popular that I have had family and very dear friends threaten not to come if this dish was not included. (I had three small daughters and actually considered not serving it in lieu of the traditional mashed potatoes. I frankly needed to simplify and saw no need for two potato dishes that year. I was apparently very, very, very wrong!) Both were served. You can get great mashed potatoes at almost any family feast. The sweet potatoes are an indulgence.
The really neat thing about this recipe is: 1) Everyone likes it. 2) It does not require exact measures, so it is very novice cook friendly, 3) it has no nationality; both Northerners and Southerners, Italian and German immigrants love it, 4) it is delicious. This dish is by no means heart friendly. It is dessert at dinner. Thank goodness you experience it only twice a year.
A sweet potato tradition
Susan Lemmon, 61, Charlotte: When we used to have Thanksgiving with my husbands parents in Raleigh, I was introduced to two dishes I had never seen: peanut butter dressing and baked, grated sweet potatoes. My mother-in-law was from Thomasville, Ga., where they love peanuts and recipes that use them. I was never a fan of that dressing; however, the sweet potatoes were wonderful. The shreds of sweet potato retain the slightest bit of firmness, almost like theyve been cooked al dente, and theyre surrounded by a lovely spiced custard. This way to prepare sweet potatoes must be on our Thanksgiving menu every year.
Cook a turkey under a what?
Shelley Bonnin, 48, Charlotte: One year we decided to cook a turkey in a bucket. The idea was given to us by the family with whom we used to share Panthers tickets. Basically, you cover some flat ground outside with lots of aluminum foil, then you place a marinated turkey upside down on a metal stake in the ground, making sure the turkey is not touching the ground. You put a metal bucket upside down over the turkey. You surround the outside base of the bucket with charcoal. Light the charcoal and 2 hours later the turkey is done.
We were so nervous about trying this that we roasted a turkey in the oven as well. Despite our worries, everything seemed to go smoothly with the bucket turkey. When we put all the food out for the big Thanksgiving dinner, we put out both turkeys, so everyone could compare. The bucket turkey was the best we had ever had, and we have never roasted the turkey in the oven since.
Editors Note: Food editor Kathleen Purvis just wrote about this method for making a turkey. For more details, go to goo.gl/Etg4YK
Lynn Lyons, 52, Charlotte: We are pie people. Dont get me wrong we certainly enjoy cake, but its pie that really excites my family.
All the holidays were celebrated at my parents home. After my dad passed away, everyone gathered at my home. We celebrated there for more than 20 years. Thanksgiving quickly became my favorite holiday to host. I love to cook and bake and the more the merrier is my mantra.
Its through trial and error, and a very opinionated and forgiving clan that I perfected my pie-making skills. The annual pie count quickly grew from one to four all the same kinds, every year.
I started with a traditional pumpkin pie recipe, straight out of a Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, and made it my own by enhancing the spices.
My brother, who has Type 1 diabetes, asked me to try my hand at a sugar-free apple pie. Its an unwritten rule that we take only a sliver so he can take home whats left, because thats a real treat for him.
When my mom met someone special, he requested coconut cream pie. So I called on my trusty Southern Living magazine, and I wasnt let down. And neither was he.
My husband clamored for a sugar-free blackberry pie when he had to start watching his sugar intake. And that indeed evoked a smile from him that any wife would be proud to have directed at her.
Now that my husband and I live in North Carolina, I want to try my hand at a pecan pie (pronounced pe-KHAN where I come from).
This will be our first Thanksgiving without our spirited mom, and we will be somewhat scattered throughout the South, each searching for new traditions to cultivate. Yes, it will be very different this year, but we will give thanks for all the time we were given with mom, for all being in one place for so many holidays, and for the extended family and friends who became part of our annual celebration. And we wouldnt have had it any other way.