A few weeks ago as I was preparing Thanksgiving dinner, I kept thinking that I was forgetting something. I wasn’t actually forgetting anything, but I had decided not to prepare one of my traditional menu items. Every year for Thanksgiving and Easter, I make a layered green pea salad. I think our family began this tradition years ago when my Aunt Carol and Uncle Tom used to always eat Thanksgiving dinner with us.
My Aunt Carol liked to have a few somewhat healthier options and so this salad was always on the menu. I don’t remember if I used to eat much of it back then. What I do remember is that Uncle Tom and I used to try to outdo one another on how big a serving of mashed potatoes we’d put on our plates. I’m pretty sure he usually won.
As I’ve grown older I have come to really appreciate the layered green pea salad. The problem is, I am the only one who enjoys this dish. I decided this year, then, to forgo the green pea salad.
The case of the missing pea salad lead me to ponder the special menu items we make at the holidays and no other time. Why is that? I can very well make a layered pea salad today if I wanted. Isn’t it interesting that we get in such a habit with these holiday foods?
Another favorite holiday treat in my household is what we simply call cream cheese and olives. Growing up, we only made this spread at Christmastime. Chopped olives mixed into cream cheese and spread on a cracker. As an avid fan of olives, this is one of my favorite things. For years and years we only made this at the holidays. I don’t remember exactly when, but one year we finally came to the realization that we could make this spread any time of the year, and we did!
I surveyed a few friends to find out what their favorite holiday treat is.
For my friend Wanda, it’s sweet potato pie.
“This is a must have at the table of most African American families at Thanksgiving and Christmas,” she said. “Historically, I think sweet potato pies were only on the menu when sweet potatoes were in season.”
Monica chimed in on the conversation to say she brought a pumpkin pie to her family gathering this year and was quickly told that sweet potato would have been the preferred choice!
Dena told me that her family’s favorite holiday side dish is a hot potato salad.
“Basically it’s mashed potatoes with celery, onion, sweet bell pepper, pickle relish, hard boiled egg, mayo, mustard and vinegar,” she said.
Stuffing is the holiday side of choice for my friend Amanda.
“I make it from a loaf of bread and it’s the most requested thing for holidays,” she said. “It’s very time intensive so I only make it during the holidays. I toast a loaf of bread, rip it into tiny pieces in a large baking bag. Add parsley, diced onion, egg, Swanson chicken broth, salt and pepper. Mix it up. Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes. It’s really good.”
My sorority sister Nensi, whose family hails from Bosnia, said that sauerkraut rolls are a special holiday and winter seasonal dish in her family.
“For me it is just holiday/winter time food. It just does not taste correct during other season. I tried,” Nensi said with a laugh.
Do you have a favorite holiday dish? I’d love to try it. Email the recipe to [email protected]
Kitsey Burns Harrison is a reporter for The Yadkin Ripple, here she shares her musings on food, life and love. She can be reached at 336-518-3049 or on Twitter and Instagram @RippleReporterK.