Dishing on traditions

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Thursday is Thanksgiving. It never ceases to amaze me of the traditions associated with the holiday — and how different they are in other areas of our country.

I think it must be a Midwestern thing to have Thanksgiving at noon or early afternoon. When Don and I were married, he couldn’t believe our family’s Thanksgiving meal was served at noon or shortly afterward. I had never known anything different. When I was growing up with all my Dennison grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins, the meal was always around noon. Once my grandparents were gone, my sister Cheryl and her family hosted the feast and it was always — you guessed it — at noon. On the other hand, Don’s family always served Thanksgiving as an evening meal. When we were at home or in Savannah, our Thanksgiving — often shared with neighbors and friends — was in the early evening.

The time isn’t the only thing that varies from region to region and family to family. Growing up, our Thanksgiving meal included the turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetables, noodles and stuffing. Mom was responsible for the dressing — plain and oyster — as well as the relish tray and pies. The night before the big day, our house on Elm Street was filled with the wonderful fragrance of pumpkin and mince pies as well as the dressing. Aunt Mary Stoneburner always brought her homemade rolls. Mom also made cranberry relish using the hand cranked sausage grinder.

I’ve mentioned in this column before that my husband considered the turkey only necessary so he could make his dressing, homemade gravy, mashed potatoes and cranberry salad — my favorite. Those were essential to our meal.

Living in the South, however, we found the menu was expected to include macaroni and cheese, southern style green beans and potatoes, green bean casserole, squash casserole and corn casserole. The turkey — still the centerpiece — was eitherfried or smoked. Some hostesses also offered Coca-Cola glazed ham.

I had never eaten squash until I lived in the South. One bite of squash casserole and I was hooked. I’ve tried lots of squash casseroles over my years in the South — some with cheese, some with mayo, some with butter crackers — but the recipe I’m sharing is just one of the best ever. I persuaded a Savannah friend to share this recipe with me. She told me her mother — Mama she said — had been making this casserole from before she was born.

This is also a versatile casserole. Just substitute three cups of leftover chicken for the squash and you have a weeknight dinner.

I remember the first time I tasted my neighbor’s banana pudding. I couldn’t believe how smooth and creamy it was — especially when she told me it was made with instant pudding. Some of the other women seated at the table with us actually gasped. She also makes the traditional homemade banana pudding but prefers the instant variety because it does not turn the bananas slimy and gray caused by adding them to the warm homemade pudding. I’m sharing the easy version I think tastes amazing.

Despite all this talk of food and plenty, let us not forget, however, the blessings we all have in our lives. Whenever Thanksgiving approaches, I think of the hymns I sang in Sunday School. This is one of my favorites:

“Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home;

All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.

God our Maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied;

“Come to God’s own temple, come, raise the song of harvest home.

All the world is God’s own field, fruit unto His praise to yield;

Wheat and tares together sown unto joy or sorrow grown.

First the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear;

Lord of harvest, grant that we wholesome grain and pure may be.

For the Lord our God shall come, and shall take His harvest home;

From His field shall in that day all offenses purge away,

“Giving angels charge at last in the fire the tares to cast;

But the fruitful ears to store in His garner evermore.

Even so, Lord, quickly come, bring Thy final harvest home;

Gather Thou Thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin,

There, forever purified, in Thy garner to abide;

Come, with all Thine angels come, raise the glorious harvest home.”

No matter what you serve for Thanksgiving, the important thing is to share your thankfulness with family and friends.

A happy and blessed Thanksgiving.