Editors Note: There’s no better time to reflect on the holiday season as we quickly approach Thanksgiving and Christmas. Thanksgiving is a time for family, food, and tradition; and while the stereotypical image of turkey dinners and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade might pop into mind for some, (although, with Covid-19, those images might be shattered) for others that image could not be further from reality. There’s nowhere more interesting to focus on the role of “food” in Thanksgiving, living in both the country’s gastronomical hub and largest food desert.
The following article, originally published November 28, 2013, is written by Eleanor Keller on the unique food and tradition of her family’s “River Parishes” Thanksgiving. It just goes to show there’s no one way to do Thanksgiving, and it’s this very uniqueness and culture that makes the holidays so special.
Thanksgiving is rarely about turkey and dressing with my family.
I never had turkey for Thanksgiving until I was in my 20s, married and had Thanksgiving dinner with my in-laws who lived in the city.
Where I’m from (the River Parishes), Thanksgiving is so much more than turkey and dressing.
My immediate family was more likely to have chicken or seafood gumbo as an appetizer, then dig into a pot roast, rice dressing, several different vegetables and some French bread.
If we were feasting at my aunt’s house, we had some kind of fish courtbouillon and lots of fried things spread out over every inch of counter space in the kitchen as well as ham, chicken, hog’s head cheese, boudin and potato salad. Turkey and rice dressing were there, too, but also so much more.
I don’t ever remember waiting until the dinner hour to eat. We started with appetizers as soon as we walked in the door and kept eating until well after dark. But we paced ourselves.
There were always too many of us for one seating at one big table. We tended to graze all over the house, carrying plates filled with food from the kitchen to the dining room and into the living room or sun room that ran the entire length of the back of my aunt’s house.
I remember three things about Thanksgiving: eating, the women constantly washing dishes to replenish the stack on the kitchen counter and dancing.
My aunt’s sun porch had a Victrola with stacks of records on the table beside it. I have no idea why a Cajun family like ours was so fond of polka records and big band waltzes, but I couldn’t have been more than 6 years old when I learned to polka and waltz better than anyone on Dancing With the Stars.
If the weather was warm, as it often is at Thanksgiving or Christmas in our region, someone was always downstairs churning home-made ice cream for dessert. It was always vanilla ice cream and we always had peaches or strawberries to add to it.
Not once do I remember the ride home from Thanksgiving at my aunt’s house, because I would be sound asleep for the journey. But I do remember a full stomach and being tired to the bone from a day of fun with my cousins.
And for that, I have always been thankful.