The Thanksgiving Day spotlight usually shines brightly on the ideas of gratitude, tradition and, of course, bountiful, seasonal food. We work hard to prepare what is traditionally one of the year’s most elaborate meals; we travel miles to unite with family and friends. But the thing that stays with us long after the last piece of pie is eaten and all the leftovers are gone is the feeling of community we get from having a whole day devoted to recognizing the good things in our lives and eating ourselves silly with people we care about.
One of my most memorable Thanksgivings was spent in a tiny apartment surrounded by rice fields in rural Japan. With my beloved family members a 20-hour plane ride away and not a single turkey anywhere in the country as far as I could tell, it could have been a lonely holiday. What made it meaningful was that I ended up sharing the U.S. Thanksgiving tradition with a jovial and curious group of my Japanese and British expatriate friends.
Dealing with challenges ranging from not having an oven to a lack of everything from cranberries to sweet potatoes (Japanese sweet potatoes are white — definitely not Thanksgiving orange!), we persevered, and a meal came together. As we sat on my tatami (straw mat) floor using chopsticks to eat a hodgepodge of the traditional (a can of that wiggly cranberry jelly stuff mailed to me by my mother) and pseudo-traditional (a rather amazing faux pumpkin pie made with kabocha winter squash and silken tofu), along with some Japanese sushi and tsukemono (fermented vegetables) thrown in for good measure, I realized that the specific dishes we were eating didn’t really matter. It was the joy of sharing the meal together as a community of friends and acquaintances that made it Thanksgiving.
As the Rev. Shannon Spencer of the Haywood Street Congregation says, “Food is something we all need, no matter who we are. We all need to be fed.” And connecting with each other over a meal to acknowledge our blessings is what makes this holiday accessible and valuable to everyone. With this idea in mind, Xpress invited readers and members of our community to share their own food-related Thanksgiving stories.
Enjoy these gems from your community and Happy Thanksgiving!
Sam Katz, One Stop Deli & Bar
Thanksgiving, the most important holiday of the year! At least in my family, because it’s my mom’s favorite holiday, which means by default it’s the entire family’s favorite holiday. So you can imagine that it is expected that somehow, no matter what part of the country I’m in, I hightail it back to Boston every year for turkey. Well, a few years ago, when I first moved to Asheville, it became evident I wasn’t going to be able to get home for Thanksgiving that year, and I was dreading telling my mom but finally did, and as expected she had a mini-freakout. That was a few days before the grand holiday, and my phone conversation with my mom hadn’t ended well.
I worked late the night before Thanksgiving, and I was awakened that fateful day by a loud, persistent knocking on the door. So I got out of bed and opened the door aggressively, to show whoever was on the other side that I was annoyed at being woken up at this ungodly hour of 1 in the afternoon, and it was my Mom and my Dad, and they had gotten a very, very last-minute flight to town to surprise me for Thanksgiving! Needless to say it was the best Thanksgiving yet.
Jarrod Perkins, Asheville Savings
My wife and I have no family in the area so we like to invite our other “orphan friends” over to share Thanksgiving with us. We buy the heaviest, most organic-free-range-handfed-pampered turkey we can afford and then make a ridiculous amount of side dishes. The orange-cranberry sauce never fails to boil over and has to be made at least twice. The green-bean casserole shows my Southern roots and must be made with the cheapest store-brand beans available. My wife’s special family recipe crescent rolls take an indecent amount of time to make but cannot be left off the menu. The stuffing is one of her family traditions as well and ages like a fine cheese in the days following Thanksgiving. After the damage has been done, we leave the dishes for later and enjoy some television. We eschew football in favor of something much more highbrow, usually a marathon of Home Alone. It’s the best day of the year.
Martha Vining, Blue Ridge Food Ventures
Growing up in upstate New York, sweet potatoes were not a staple on the Thanksgiving menu or any other time, for that matter. We had the obligatory turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, lots of gravy over everything, canned green beans and pickles made from the summer garden, and then finished Turkey Day off with pies made from our McIntosh apples, pumpkins and real mincemeat my mother “put up” from venison my father hunted earlier in the fall.
Even after moving to Western North Carolina over 20 years ago I never felt compelled to eat sweet potatoes, even though there’s always a mountain of them to wheel by in every grocery store I’ve ever been in down here, especially this time of the year.
It wasn’t until I worked at Schenck Job Corps, a federal program for at-risk youths in Pisgah Forest, that I started eating sweet potatoes. Students live on campus at Job Corps, and inevitably there were always “orphans” during the holidays, students that for one reason or another did not have a place to go home to over the break. So staff would take students home for the holidays. Many Schenck students are from the South, and any Thanksgiving meal memory they had would include sweet potatoes; therefore, they were expected on the table. I’ve learned to bake, boil, slice, fry, cube and mash them. They are great seasoned with everything from brown sugar and butter to curried coconut milk any time of the year.
These days I work at Blue Ridge Food Ventures, and we include local, fresh sweet potatoes in our Winter Sun Farms CSA program. Subscribers love them. So do I.
Shane Remington, Peppermint OS
Last year I hosted Thanksgiving dinner, and one of my best friends raved about my cooking. After cleaning her plate she looked at me and said, “When I die, I want to be buried in a casket full of your gravy.”
On Thanksgiving Day 1988, I volunteered at a soup kitchen, helping to feed turkey dinners to about 400 people. I had been a vegetarian for a few years, but up until that day, it had never bothered me that others ate animals. I had eaten meat for over 35 years, and stopping was a personal decision. As I watched as some of society’s neediest people devoured baby birds, which had lived miserable lives and suffered violent deaths, I began to make the connection between animal rights and human rights. I guess it was the graphic images of so many people ripping apart so many birds and cleaning up so many carcasses that made such a strong impression. I petted a dog on the way home and was struck by how nonsensical it was that we cared so much about certain species and turned such a blind eye to the suffering of others. I soon realized that I needed to become a voice for the voiceless and speak out against the senseless violence perpetrated on all vulnerable individuals, both human and nonhuman. As Dr. King said, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
My most memorable Thanksgiving was in 1995. For the second time, my family adopted turkeys through Farm Sanctuary’s Adopt a Turkey project (see “farmsanctuary.org”). We hosted a party for the birds, and it was a wonderful event. It was the 10th anniversary of the project, and Farm Sanctuary had done a press release, which included information about the adoption events around the country. Much to our surprise, we received many interview requests, including one from the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. A local daily did a front-page story, “Adopt a gobbler, don’t be one, vegetarians say,” that featured pictures of our newly -adopted birds, Mogen, Bessie and Affa. Other headlines included “Turkeys will be served, not eaten” and “Couple strives to give turkeys something to be thankful for.” And there was TV coverage, too. We were thrilled to be able to call so much attention to the suffering of turkeys and advocate on behalf of healthy, humane plant-based diets.
Chef Peter Pollay, Posana Cafe
Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday. Each year, we venture up to Wisconsin to celebrate the holiday at my mother- and father-in-law’s. We are joined there by my parents, relatives from both sides and friends who come from far and wide. It truly is a festive and collaborative occasion. The guests are many, the food abundant and the competition lively. You see, my brother-in-law Philip and I have an annual dueling turkey “competition.” Philip, a former professional chef, enjoys foraging for his turkey. I prefer to buy an organic turkey that I prepare with gluten-free cornbread stuffing and gravy so it can be enjoyed by my wife, Martha. By the end of dinner, both turkeys are devoured, and we both walk away winners. With any luck, there is a little something leftover for a sandwich the next day.
Stephanie Swepson-Twitty, Eagle-Market Streets Development Corp.
It’s a less than a week away from Thanksgiving, and I’m gathering my thoughts and clothes for our annual pilgrimage to Maryland. For the past eight or 10 years, I have traveled with my parents and my sister Pamela to visit my sister Alisa who lives in Temple Hill, MD. It has often been a chore getting all the dots connected, the logistics solidified Mom and Dad packed and finally getting on the road for the 6 ½-hour drive. Yes this was quite an endeavor, and admittedly I secretly complained to Pamela, “I don’t know how much longer we can do this.” And then, the unthinkable happened in February of this year: I suffered the loss of my Dad, a loss and pain that words cannot express.
Less than a week, and what a difference time and circumstances make. We are preparing for the pilgrimage as usual but with one less participant, one less to enjoy stopping at our favorite Cracker Barrel along the way, one less to help navigate the right and wrong turns we will take and alas one less to enjoy Alisa’s excellent cooking; all the traditional dishes: turkey, greens, mac-n-cheese, killer dressing and coconut cake. Yes we will be missing our father this year as we celebrate, but, we will be remembering all that he meant to us and how he would want us to enjoy the fruits of Alisa’s labor. Best wishes for a joyous Thanksgiving!
Miok Chung and Jimmy, Don and Iris Lee, El Kimchi Food Truck
Growing up in Korea, we never celebrated Thanksgiving in my house, but instead a similar Korean holiday called Chuseok. Chuseok is a very food-centric holiday, during which we celebrate the end of the harvest. Similar to Thanksgiving in America, food during this holiday is made with seasonal ingredients.
The morning of Chuseok always starts with the loud sound of chatter in the kitchen, knives rapidly hitting the cutting board, and savory pancakes sizzling in the pan. The sweet smell of rich beef stew (called galbi) fills the air. Women busily walk around the kitchen while men watch holiday specials on the TV. It must be the busiest morning of the year for moms. The first meal is a late brunch and always the best. The table is covered with so many dishes and someone would say, “There’s so much food the table legs will break!” This meal always includes some sort of grilled fish for my grandparents, who were born in a coastal town. My aunt’s beef stew is so rich and flavorful. Mom’s japchae is always the best on this day. Since then, both my grandparents have passed, and we are thousands of miles away from family.
Today we celebrate Thanksgiving as we celebrated Chuseok, and it always brings me back to vivid memories of back home.
Rev. Shannon Spencer, Haywood Street Congregation
Growing up, I loved having Thanksgiving lunch at my Grandma’s house. My mom was one of seven kids, so it could get crowded. The women would gather in the kitchen to help my grandma cook while the Oak Ridge Boys sang through the eight-track in the corner, and the men hovered around the TV watching the Dallas Cowboys. My cousins and I would run through the cornfield or try to climb the magnolia tree incognito — for that was a “switch-able” offense.
Gathered around homemade biscuits, chicken dumplings, pan-fried chicken and fresh vegetables, we celebrated being a family. It didn’t matter who was mad at whom — and there was a lot of that — we still passed the mashed potatoes. It didn’t matter how hungry you were; you always left the table full. It didn’t matter if you were at the kids’ table or the grown-ups — everyone had a place. At that table we were always welcomed, always forgiven and always loved.
Table Fellowship — a model for life. It’s holy. It’s communion.