No, no, no, no, no! It’s okay to fiddle with the stuffing recipe, try a new cranberry sauce technique, or add orange zest to the yams. But in the name of all that’s traditional, how could a dressing-filled chicken stuffed into a duck stuffed into a turkey stuffed into a pig stuffed into an alligator possibly be considered Thanksgiving fare?
Portland-based chef Marc Anthony wants to make this delicacy for your Thanksgiving table, and will do so for a mere $5,000. (Apparently there aren’t that many gators hanging around in butcher shops.) Oh, there’s more. He plans to wrap the entire entrée in candied bacon—which could be the one redeeming element of this dish except that unlike the chicken, duck, turkey, and pig, the gator comes with everything intact, including head, tail, and scaly skin. (View it at http://www.grubstreet.com). Bacon lover that I am, I still can’t imagine what that bacon would taste like, even if I could bring myself to peel it off that skin. But time is running out, so place your order now. A masterpiece like that isn’t created overnight.
The traditional Thanksgiving menu is steeped in custom and meaning. It hearkens back to the original pilgrim feast, starting with that plump modern-day version of the rangy wild turkeys likely eaten by our hearty forefathers—prepared by our heartier foremothers. (Realistically, turkey consumption in America would likely be almost non-existent were it not for Thanksgiving. How often does anyone really yearn to tackle a partially defrosted 20-pound naked bird where the first step is to dislodge an icy packet of innards from the frozen internal cavity, the contents of which, more often than not, are sent anywhere but into the oven?)
Most traditional Thanksgiving recipes have experienced some form of evolution. Cranberry sauce comes to the table today from one of two sources—either traditionally pieced together the day before from delectable ingredients that mingle overnight in the fridge to become a tangy, luscious sauce—or glooped out of a can five minutes before the bird is carved. The ease of the canned variety almost eclipses the effort to make the real thing. It often depends on what else is being served, and which items are homemade (and therefore time consuming).
Which brings us to the rolls and pies. I make pies. They’re my signature contribution. I use a guarded recipe that produces the flakiest crust ever, and have made enough to turn out respectable creations. On the other hand, yeast dies if I touch it, so our Thanksgiving rolls come from a bakery. We learn to live with our limitations, and encourage others to do the same — unless they want to do the baking themselves.
Some Thanksgiving dishes creep onto the menu mostly by word of mouth — and good marketing. The creator of the iconic green bean casserole passed away last month at age 92. Dorcas Reilly was a member of the Home Economics Department at Campbell’s Soup Company in 1955 when she combined green beans with cream of mushroom soup and called the dish “Green Bean Bake.” Campbell’s called it “the mother of all comfort foods” and apparently pushed it as a Thanksgiving dish. I did not know this until the Campbells company, announcing her passing, boasted, “Dorcas was an incredible woman whose legacy will live on in more than 20 million American households this Thanksgiving.” Well, way to market, Campbells.
A recent article by Women’s World magazine, “The Most Popular Thanksgiving Side Dish in Each State,” lists mostly expected dishes — and a few surprises. Alongside Mississippi’s Cornbread Dressing, Nebraska’s Sweet Potatoes, and Colorado’s Pecan Pie are Florida’s Corn Soufflé, Michigan’s Roasted Brussels Sprouts, and Tennessee’s Mac & Cheese. Clearly the evolution of Thanksgiving’s menu continues. We Americans will always enthusiastically embrace Thanksgiving’s annual massive meal, no matter how the menu evolves. Because freedom to choose is why the pilgrims came here in the first place — and we love a good meal.
But that gator isn’t showing up on anyone’s table. Just sayin’.