Thanksgiving traditionally brings to mind images of turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. In reality, though, the dishes that appear on our tables are as diverse as the friends and families gathered around them.
At my house, for instance, my parents — who moved to Tennessee from Taiwan more than 30 years ago — have never roasted a turkey at all. Instead, we almost always opt to make hot pot, which is like a Chinese version of fondue. A boiling pot of broth is set over a gas burner on the table. Then thinly sliced raw meat, seafood, greens, tofu and various other items are dropped in and cooked on the spot. Everyone then dips the cooked food in a soy-sauced based mixture customized in their own bowl.
While the food may not seem typical for Thanksgiving, the sentiment of being grateful for a bountiful meal and the warmth of loved ones is the same. At Amy Eddings' house sometimes a little extra warmth was provided by the annual tradition of her mother accidentally setting on fire the marshmallow topping for the sweet potato pie.
In light of that, I spoke with WNYC host Brian Lehrer, WQXR host Terrance McKnight, and On the Media co-host Brooke Gladstone to find out how they celebrate Thanksgiving. I also asked about some of dishes that best represent their spin on the holiday.
Brian Lehrer explained that he usually celebrates the holiday at his one of his cousins' house in New Jersey. He checked in with his cousin Craig, who told him the story of how one particular dish started appearing on their table.
Craig’s wife is Irish Catholic, and during their first Thanksgiving celebration 25 years ago, they wanted to include a Jewish dish that would represent Craig’s side of the family.
"So he asked his friend Bea to recommend a recipe, and she came up with this noodle pudding that her mother used to make as a Jewish immigrant from Cuba,” Brian said. “And the joke between them is that Bea's mother pronounced it 'nooodle poooding,' which I guess what pudding sounds like with a Yiddish-Spanish accent.”
As a result, noodle pooooding has now become a running joke in their household. Brian made the point that it also carries an important message, as well: “It reminds people that not all the immigrants came on the Mayflower."
Terrance McKnight generally travels a little further for his holiday. He told me recently that his family gathers in Cleveland for a traditional turkey meal. Still, not every dressing is mom’s dressing, though. "There is a particular way that my mother's turkey and dressing tastes, as opposed to some of my aunt's. So you can always tell who made the dressing."
Terrance said that his mother’s dressing tends to be a little more crisp than his aunt’s. His sister has started making it, as well, so she’ll preserve the recipe and put her spin on it.
In general, though, Terrance admitted that he’s unlikely to be found spending much time in the kitchen during the holidays at all. Instead, the television is usually turned down low or put on mute, and he’s tasked with providing the evening’s entertainment.
"As they're preparing dinner, I'm sitting at the piano and sometimes somebody will come sing very informally, but, you know, they'll just 'Oh, why don't you play this, why don't you play that?' so that's kind of my role."
Brooke Gladstone's gatherings tend on the large side. She's used to having anywhere between 17 to 20 people at her home for the holiday. She claims that’s simply because she’s has the largest dining room in her immediate family. One year, though, Brooke shied away from hosting duties and convinced her family to make a trip to Pennsylvania Dutch country. During that trip, she tried a dish called “cracker pudding,” which now makes a regular appearance at her Thanksgiving table.
Cracker pudding is made from saltines, dried coconut, egg yolks, egg whites, sugar, vanilla and milk. "I think that whenever I make it, it is without question the whitest thing either on or at the table,” said Brooke with a laugh.
Like noodle pudding, Brooke’s pudding shares the same dangerous-delicious quality of being salty and sweet. There was a year or two she didn’t make it, and the absence of cracker pudding was definitely noted and rectified in the following Thanksgivings, she added.
"This stuff is just forever useful in making you feel good at least at the moment that you're consuming it, however profoundly you may regret it later."
That’s a statement that likely characterizes many of the delicious and diverse dishes making an appearance this Thanksgiving.
Here’s a recipe that Brooke recommended for cracker pudding.
Terrance? Well, it’s likely his recipe would call for sheet music and a piano, so we’ll leave that to him.
Below, try Brian’s cousin Craig’s friend’s mother’s recipe for "Noooodle Pooooding."
- 1 lb package cooked and drained Goodmans Noodles
- 6 eggs beaten
- 8 oz package cream cheese
- 1 1/2 lbs cottage cheese
- 16 oz jar of applesauce
- 1 cup white raisins
- 1 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) cup butter, melted
Mix drained noodles with eggs, cream cheese, cottage cheese, applesauce, raisins, sugar, spices
Melt butter in 9x13 inch baking pan.
Add noodle mixture.
Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.
Uncover and bake 30 minutes longer.
"And then you have Noooodle Pooooding" — yes, this is written on the original recipe.