Reinventing Thanksgiving: Traditional Foods, Fresh Recipes

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Regina Charboneau


Editor's note: This is the first weekly installment in a three-part series about reinventing traditional Thanksgiving foods. This week, you can try recipes for acorn squash and pecan popovers, grilled corn and squash quesadillas, and roasted Delicata squash with quinoa salad.

Writing about food on a weekly schedule has its challenges, but writing about food that is under the umbrella of "traditional" is a genuine challenge. I know this just from preparing Thanksgiving here for three generations. Each generation has a defined food memory of what they consider tradition and from my personal experience there are huge disconnects among "The greatest generation" of World War II; Baby Boomers born in the late '40s and into Generation Joneses born in the mid to late '50s (we are now experiencing culinary middle-age); Generation X (born between 1965 and 1976) who have been experimenting in the kitchen with global ingredients for awhile; and Generation Y, born in the '80s, now top chefs who have had the entire world at their fingertips since birth, because they have never not known the Internet. Among these generations a traditional disconnect is not just about what they want for dinner, but what they think is tradition.

When I moved home to Natchez and Doug and I purchased Twin Oaks, the timing was perfect because it was time for my generation to take over the family holidays. My mother's generation had taken over holidays after World War II and had done a fine job, but the trends in the '50s and '60s were not like before the war and they introduced their share of Jell-O molds. I remember every shade and addition from mandarin oranges and marshmallow to bing cherries and pecans and vowed to never have one grace my table.

Food trends are forever changing, but there are some foods that seem to remain the same ... especially at holiday time.

Thanksgiving food was plentiful, but I always found it a bit bland in Natchez. Having a father with deep Louisiana roots, I was accustomed to smoked, spiced meats, savory crawfish and shrimp stews, gumbos and spicy fricassees, so the typical cornbread dressing and overly sweet yams never were my favorites. When I had the chance to bring cranberry chutney, cornbread dressing with crawfish and Andouille, and smoked peppered brisket to the table, I welcomed the responsibility of Thanksgiving at Twin Oaks.

My mother was not always thrilled with new additions, as she had set ideas of what should be at the table, and never stopped defending Jell-O molds. My generation loved food and there was broad acceptance of change, but then my college-age nephews and nieces expect change, since they have always been connected to food globally through the Food Network and the Internet. Each generation sees food differently; they see it through their eyes and their history.

I have decided to do a three-week series on reinventing a few seasonal favorite Thanksgiving foods. Hopefully the generations are connected enough through family traditions that I can please them all. I will cover squash this week, cranberries next week, and turkey and dressing the last week. I have been working on some fresh ideas of my own for these holiday standards and have spent some time peeking into a few of the new books out for the holidays. Now that we live in a global world, foods can come from anywhere and can be shipped UPS or Fed-Ex. If I want chestnuts from New York at my Mississippi holiday table, I can get on the Internet and order them or I may even find them at the Natchez Walmart. Asian ingredients are finding their way into the most traditional of kitchens. Sun-dried tomatoes and basil are as common in today's kitchen as peanut butter and jelly. My son leaves requests for hummus on the chalkboard in our kitchen, and pita chips have replaced Fritos in our kitchen snack drawer. This is not just because we are eating healthy; it is we are eating globally.

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Holly A. Heyser

Several months ago I wrote "Revising the Classics, a Culinary Sin?". It was not judgmental but more analytical about the liberties we take today with re-naming the classics or using classic names for dishes that are just shadows of the originals. I now know that I have reached culinary middle age, since there are new books coming out that are reinventing what they consider classic and not so long ago I considered those recipes new cuisine. Food trends are forever changing, but there are some foods that seem to remain the same ... especially at holiday time. So each year I try to slip in a few new recipes or a few twists on the standards.

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Regina Charboneau is the owner of Twin Oaks Bed & Breakfast in Natchez, Mississippi. She is the author of Regina's Table at Twin Oaks. More

Regina Charboneau is the owner of Twin Oaks Bed & Breakfast in Natchez, Mississippi. She is the author of two cookbooks: A Collection of Seasonal Menus & Recipes from Regina's Kitchen and Regina's Table at Twin Oaks.

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