Thanksgiving Recipes and Stories

Family traditions that bring amazing stories.

By Kurt Rump

You wouldn’t think the game show Family Feud could inspire a blog post, I bet. But a question on a “Fast Money” segment in a recent episode caught my attention: 

“Name a Thanksgiving food for which you have an old family recipe.”  

The first person up answered “gravy.” Meeep. No points for that one. 

The second person answered “mac and cheese.” A few people surveyed agreed. 

Meanwhile, we’re hollering “Stuffing!” at the TV. Sure enough, that was the number one answer.  

And yes, we have an old family recipe for stuffing – which we now call “dressing” because we cook it in a casserole dish rather than inside the bird.  

It got me thinking – how many “old family recipes” do we have that have just become part of the day? Have we ever talked about the dressing recipe, or the mac & cheese recipe, or the gravy recipe – or where these recipes came from, or how they might have been modified over the years? 

A friend of mine makes “orange mashed potatoes” every year. They’re not orange as in the fruit – they’re orange in color. She mashes carrots in with the potatoes. Why does she do that?  

Like with most family recipes, there’s a story behind those mashed potatoes. 

Who is the keeper of the stories behind the family recipes? 

My friend started making orange mashed potatoes because she once, many years ago, went to a family-style restaurant in Dallas, Texas, and they served the best-mashed potatoes she’d ever had. A little lumpy, with bits of orange-colored something throughout. She asked, and the restaurant kindly shared that they mashed carrots in with the potatoes.  

When she started preparing the Thanksgiving feast for her family, she started a family tradition with orange mashed potatoes. And, though her family loves them, she doesn’t remember ever telling them the inspiration for her “signature” side dish. 

The family dressing recipe originated with our great grandfather, as far as we can tell. We found a recipe card in his handwriting with all the details, and have continued to make his recipe through the years. And it’s delicious. (There’s bacon!) 

There’s nothing like a harvest-themed holiday to fully awaken your sense of smell and tickle your taste buds. Your senses begin to stir the moment you step into the home where the dinner is being hosted. Then you’re offered a gently spiced cup of hot apple cider (another old family recipe) and you wonder how something so simple can make you feel so good. Conversations naturally turn to the feast and its preparations: “Where did this recipe come from?” “When did this tradition start?” “Who has the goods on this secret recipe?” 

And so many stories ABOUT Thanksgiving… and grateful expressions OF thanksgiving.  

When we who are older were young, someone MAYBE took a few pictures while gathered for Thanksgiving. Maybe the movie camera came out to record a few minutes on the old Super 8. Or perhaps a roll of slide film was shot with the old Instamatic, with the slides preserved ever after to be revisited, rehashed, and relived during family slide shows.  

These days, it seems everyone has a camera in their pocket. Not all that long ago, we started buying cell phones that doubled as cameras. Now, however, we all have cameras that double as cell phones. Everyone could be taking smartphone pics constantly, perhaps even live-streaming the carving of the turkey or the creation of the sweet potato soufflé (SO much tastier than candied yams) directly into social media. 

Whether you have old photos or slides of Thanksgivings past, new photos of more recent holidays, or simply recipe cards that you could take a photo of right now, you have stories waiting to be shared and preserved. 

Wouldn’t it be fun to get a family conversation going around the stuffing or dressing? Or the favorite pies of the holidays? To share the recipes and the stories behind them – or the stories they evoke? 

Or maybe you have different family traditions for Thanksgiving – like serving dinner at a homeless shelter, or hosting a neighborhood gathering, or organizing a coat drive. Maybe you were the room parent at your kids’ schools and helped them make construction-paper turkeys or pilgrim hats. 

Whether recipes or events, wonderful successes, or wondrous food calamities (ever call 911 when your turkey fryer burst into flames, or perhaps you’ve dumped an entire shaker of salt into the potatoes?), you have stories that, when shared, will give rise to other stories, other input, other memories. 

My challenge to you, as we look forward to upcoming holidays, is to take the pictures and tell the stories. Generations to come will be richer for it. They might even be inspired to add stories of their own.


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