The reason that Thanksgiving made me think more than usual this year was that this was only the second time in our marriage that we've spent the holiday with the CajunFamily. Not because we don't like them*, but because we were always physically so much closer to my family in western Pennsylvania. Naturally, our families celebrate in very different ways, and we spent part of the long drive back from Louisiana talking about Thanksgiving traditions. I've experienced three different sets of traditions over the years, and the only thing they seem to have in common is the turkey.
When I was a child, we lived a long way from the rest of the family and Dad didn't get much time off, so Thanksgiving was generally just Mom, Dad, the dog, and me. One year, we had dinner with another family from church (friends of my parents), and another year, we celebrated with my best friend's family, but usually, it was just us. The meal always included turkey, stuffing (Stovetop. Yum.), sweet potatoes (baked, alas, not my favorite way of eating them), cranberry relish, and pie (either pumpkin or mince or both). Then Dad would dismantle the rest of the bird, stick the carcass in a pot for turkey/wild rice soup, and we'd all head into the family room to watch the Detroit Lions lose to whoever they were playing that day. A simple and quiet holiday.
When I graduated from high school and went to England for a year, Mom and Dad didn't want to spend the holiday by themselves, so they started driving out to Pennsylvania to my aunt and uncle's house. Everybody enjoyed that so much that we kept doing it when I came back and started college, and that's where we've gone ever since. A larger group**, usually between 12 and 16 people (and 2 or 3 dogs), of my father's family, encompassing four generations at the moment. We get there around noon, eat soon after (there are diabetics in the family, and food timing is important), and then sit around talking and playing with the kids/dogs for the rest of the day, with the occasional quick check on the Detroit game to keep Dad happy***. Food at this gathering always includes the turkey, a relish tray with olives, pickles, and cinnamon apples (this is something my paternal grandmother always had on the table at dinner), my mother's cranberry relish, my bread (usually challah, because I really like to make it, but I've brought other types, too), The Cajun's pork dressing, pies (pumpkin, mincemeat, and apple-cranberry), and Christmas cookies (because one of my cousins doesn't like pie. We don't know where she came from.). Sometimes, but not always, there are potatoes, and, to my husband's chagrin, there is never gravy****.
On the surface, a CajunFamily Thanksgiving looks totally different, with far more people, different food, and lots more chaos, but it's really just another extended family getting together and eating a lot. This year, there were 35 people present, but we were missing at least 5, so you can see why I found it a little overwhelming the first time! As a result, there’s rather a lot more food, and some of it’s very different from the traditional holiday foods I grew up with. Pork dressing (which is now a mainstay at our house, too.), oyster dressing, mixed veggies with cheese sauce, and something called “mirlitons with shrimp,” which is actually chayote squash, and really, really good stuff. Also, the final destination of the turkey remains is gumbo†, not turkey/rice soup.
There is also football at a CajunFamily Thanksgiving, though Detroit had already lost by the time we finished eating, so we watched the Dallas game instead. Furthermore, we were in Baton Rouge, so most of the attention was focused on the anticipation of the LSU game the next day. As I've mentioned before, college football is FAR more important than professional down here (unless the Saints are winning), so it was one of the predominant topics of conversation.
The other odd (to me) thing about CajunFamily Thanksgivings is that the main dessert is not pie. This is something that my mother and I still can’t quite wrap our heads around, since pie for us is essential to most of life’s celebrations (including breakfast). Fortunately, the alternative to pie in Louisiana is one of the world’s great cakes: The Doberge (pronounced “do-bosh.”).
|I'm surprised there was enough left for a picture.|
The Doberge is one of those cakes that can only be obtained from a bakery, since the thought of actually putting one together makes me somewhat faint. Making the sponge cake, the pastry cream, and the chocolate ganache wouldn’t be too tricky, but slicing all those layers and lining them up perfectly... No, it just doesn’t bear thinking about. Besides, Gambino’s ships. Just so you know.
So, what all this rambling and reminiscing boils down to is... what are your sacred Thanksgiving traditions? What would you miss if you spent your holiday elsewhere? Oddly, none of mine involved the food (though I do think fondly on Dad's soup). This year, I missed hanging out with my family, talking with Dad about how abysmal his football team is this year, and marveling at how well-behaved my cousin's greyhound is in the kitchen. On the other hand, I got to spend lots of time talking with family I don't get to see very often, discussing Christmas gift ideas with my sister-in-law, playing with my nephew, and visiting Mike the Tiger, so things came out just about even.
And the weather was a heck of a lot better.
|This is Mike, LSU's mascot. He is less excited about football than we are.|
* We like them very much, and I'm not just saying that because a bunch of them read this blog. Hi, guys!
** Well, by my family's standards, anyway. By the CajunFamily's standards, the party's just barely getting started with 20 people.
*** Or, depending on how badly they're playing, not happy. Lions fans will understand.
**** I'm sad about the gravy, too, but cholesterol problems run rampant in my uncle's family, and, really, most of the people at the table shouldn't be eating the stuff. Alas.
† If, by chance, you have deep-fried your turkey (which, if you can do it SAFELY, is totally worth it), do not make gumbo out of it. We did that once, and the flavor was... strange. In a really smoky kind of way.