We are the cooks of the new millennium. We go boldly into culinary universes our ancestors never dreamed of. The foods of the past are as nothing to us now, mere bits and pieces that exist only to provide fodder for ironic laughter.
Yeah, right. You try serving something new and adventurous at Thanksgiving, and you see where that gets you. There are people who serve things other than turkey; there must be because we read about them. But do you really know anyone like that? And if you do, odds are the turkey has been replaced by another dish just as iconic, roast beef or, heaven help us, Aunt Moonbeam's brown rice-tofu casserole.
This is what Thanksgiving dinner is really all about. It is the one meal we cook all year that's not about the freshness of our ingredients or our perfect technique and inspired imagination. It's the ultimate home-cooked meal, based not just on what we can buy in the market, but on tradition, family history and roots--things we may have thought we had left behind long ago.
Every family has its Thanksgiving food traditions. And it's a good thing. That cranberry Jell-O mold or oyster stuffing is the necessary counterbalance to all of the inevitable weirdness that comes with gathering together around a small table a dozen people who may seem to have nothing in common besides the accident of a shared history. For every remembered insult or slight, these dishes are the salve that reminds us that, after all, sometimes just being family is enough.
Even those of us who will celebrate the holiday without relatives will bring out the dishes. At these dinners, they will serve to help us remember where we come from and to share with our close friends a little more about who we are.
Here is a collection of Thanksgiving memories from the Food section. These are the dishes without which our holiday tables wouldn't be complete.