Jane and Michael Stern of Roadfood.com weigh in on the regional differences they have discovered around the country on Thanksgiving.
[Scan the list of everything Jane and Michael have mentioned on The Splendid Table over the years.]
Lynne Rossetto Kasper: What are the regional differences that you've discovered for Thanksgiving around the country?
Michael Stern: They're subtle but they're huge. Ask anyone what they have for Thanksgiving, and nine out of 10 people will say, "We have the usual." But of course the usual to somebody in New England, who insists on having creamed onions with their Thanksgiving dinner, is completely different than the usual for a cook in New Mexico, who is likely going to stuff their turkey with a tamale-kind of stuffing.
Or what do you do with your candied yams? Are they candy? Are they yams? Are they sweet potatoes? If you're on the eastern shore of Virginia, you're going to serve beautiful sweet potatoes au naturel because they grow them there and they are really proud of them. If you're throughout much of Dixie, the Deep South, you're going to have lots of marshmallows melting on top of your sweet potatoes.
Jane Stern: You can divide the U.S. in half by stuffing versus dressing. In the South, it's called dressing. In the Northeast, it's called stuffing.
MS: But I think you have to divide the country into thirds, because you're forgetting about filling, which is what they have in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, where the stuffing is supplemented by mashed potatoes. As if it's not dense enough.
JS: The other thing that always strikes me about Thanksgiving is why there's never been a really great Thanksgiving cookbook. Everybody does their own family thing on Thanksgiving. Most people don't want a new different recipe. They want what they've been eating for the last 50 years.
MS: Jane, do you remember going to my aunt's house the year after the food processor became popular?
JS: Yes. That was the year of the Cuisinart. Your aunt made puree of turkey or some such thing.
MS: Everything. Every dish. Every course was pureed at that Thanksgiving dinner.
LRK: How would you typify the rest of the country?
JS: Dressing and stuffing are just two names for the same thing. It's just moist and bread with something in it. So there really isn't that much of a difference.
Turkey is turkey everywhere.
MS: I beg to differ. I think one of the main differences at the Thanksgiving table is what you have for dessert. I think everyone wants that orange pie, whether it's pumpkin pie or sweet potato pie. That's going to be at Thanksgiving dinner.
But if you're up in wine country, in New York state, it's traditional there to have a Concord grape pie after your Thanksgiving dinner. Up in Boston, the pie might be accompanied or sided by some Indian pudding -- not even pie. Throughout the South you have transparent pie; you have chess pie. In many families, those are absolutely essential as part of the Thanksgiving dinner. In Texas, it would not be a Thanksgiving dinner without pecan pie for dessert.
LRK: What's typical for Thanksgiving in California and the Northwest?
MS: We actually have been to Thanksgiving dinners in California where the stuffing was less about bread and seasoning and more about whatever wine was used to flavor it. The stuffing really becomes almost more interesting than the turkey. I don't want to call it a pate because it's not that consistency, but it has the authority of a pate. It's not just something that goes with the bird. It's like a dish unto itself.
JS: I think the Pacific Northwest is very traditional, but probably southern California is a bit of an anomaly, as everything is in southern California. It's lighter and more vegetable-focused. I like good old Thanksgiving: lots of bread and fatty pies. This is not to me the day of dieting. Who wants leftover vegetables for Thanksgiving the next day?
MS: Potatoes are a vegetable, so you definitely want leftover potatoes to go with your hot turkey sandwich.
JS: That's true. But I wouldn't concentrate on California. I think we can just kind of let them go for now.
Lynne Rossetto Kasper has won numerous awards as host of The Splendid Table, including two James Beard Foundation Awards (1998, 2008) for Best National Radio Show on Food, five Clarion Awards (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2014) from Women in Communication, and a Gracie Allen Award in 2000 for Best Syndicated Talk Show.