Barbara Ballinger
Nov 12, 2018

Keeping the Family Peace: No Tampering Please with Traditional Thanksgiving Fare!By Barbara Ballinger and Margaret Crane



Consuming traditional Thanksgiving dishes is an emotional and nostalgic experience. If you are foolish enough to risk tampering with tradition, be forewarned. You might endure the wrath of the younger generations. We found that out in a Thanksgiving past.

Let us preface this by saying, we like traditions as much as many do. But when it comes to the Thanksgiving holiday meal, we think our status as the older generation that does almost all the grocery shopping, silver polishing, place setting, cooking and clean-up gives us an inside track on planning the menu, too.

To be honest, we both had become weary of seeing another mound of mashed potatoes made with globs of butter and cupfuls of cream, sweet potatoes topped by cloyingly sweet marshmallows and the woefully unimaginative green-bean casserole with canned beans, creamy mushroom soup and French’s crispy fried onions, originated by Campbell’s Soup Co. in the ‘50s to help Americans make use of staples they had on hand. Adios to so much unhealthfulness.

In fact, we thought we were doing our grown kids a favor, given that all five like to live healthy, eat nutritionally, and are part of the foodie millennial cohort that posts photos of what they cook and eat on Instagram, travels to destinations where the most recently anointed top food chefs reign and find new produce, wines and other exotic edibles in out-of-the-way markets.

Sadly, we learned that we had each set ourselves up for an almost generational mutiny when we changed our menus. When Barbara’s older daughter got wind from her sister that the mashed potatoes had been switched for a New York Times recipe that could be made days ahead to save coveted oven space, the sweet potatoes would be sliced and heated without any topping and their beloved green-bean casserole was being replaced by a healthier version with sautéed fresh beans, mushrooms and onions, her reaction was swift. “What do you mean none of the usual foods will be part of the meal?” she said in a very annoyed tone.

Margaret had a similar experience when her three kids learned that their also beloved green-bean casserole recipe was freshened—and made healthier--with homemade cream of mushroom soup, sautéed white button mushrooms, green onions and fresh green beans. Her daughter took a spoonful, ate a bite and spit it out into her napkin. “What happened to the green-bean casserole that we love?”

Why is it that our grown children are so tied to the foods of Thanksgiving past when they’re otherwise adventuresome and even critical that our boomer generation is so stuck in its ways? After all, we’re the ones who’ve stayed in the same jobs, houses and have gone to the same doctors, dentists, beauticians and vacation destinations year after year.

So, in our typical reportorial manner, we went straight to the kids to understand their reasoning. “What’s going on here?” we asked.

One explained, “It’s all about the smells associated with the holiday. Those aromas have created memories that are important when we return home at this time of year.” Another echoed that sentiment, “When it comes to this traditional meal, we don’t want change. We want it made the same way to taste the same way. It brings back memories of childhood that cannot be replicated any other way.”

Okay, we get it, and don’t want to be insensitive. We promise this year we won’t touch the recipes for the main part of the meal—the turkey and all the sides. But let us have some room to experiment when we try at least one new appetizer and dessert just to show that our creative culinary chops aren’t dead yet.

Nov 13, 2018

Barbara and Margaret, tampering with tradition is such an interesting theme. One of my close friends always has a green Jell-o mold at her Thanksgiving dinner. Nobody likes it, nobody eats it, and it sits there forlorn among the splendid display of delicious things, but it was part of her family's T-day, and it must be there.

Also, that olfactory effect is so important. If your mother based the turkey with butter and stuffed it with sage, the house wouldn't smell the same if she changed the recipe to use olive oil and thyme.

Barbara Ballinger
Nov 13, 2018

Thanks for reading and commenting; love if you would sign up for our weekly blog, or read our last book, Suddenly Single after 50 (Toman & Littlefield). Happy holidays and keep cooking! BB and Meg

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