“What do you eat on Thanksgiving?” my meat-eating friends have asked more than once over my many veggie-pescatarian years. The answer is simple, but first:
I loved turkey, especially smoked turkey. Especially the dark meat of a smoked turkey. Silky, succulent, maybe slightly gamey (although I’d never heard that term at the time), the dark meat of a smoked turkey was an eagerly anticipated delicacy.
In my family, the 1990s were the heyday of the smoker. Each household that qualified to host Thanksgiving had one of those small, black, torpedo-shaped appliances, even if they only used it once or twice a year.
When responsibility for bringing the turkey to the family gathering fell to my parents, they spent a lot of time preparing: staying up late and/or getting up early, pre-soaking wood chips of various derivations (apple, hickory) in different liquids (water, cider), and taking the turkey’s temperature numerous times throughout the smoking process. (Did this stress subconsciously lead to my decision to go veggie? Only years of therapy will tell.)
Yes, friends, I missed eating turkey that first Thanksgiving I didn’t jockey for the dark meat with the tongs. But I didn’t miss it too much because my family’s modus operandi on Thanksgiving and every other holiday is a massive proliferation of casseroles.
We are Southern people, known to weigh down counters and tabletops with large, steaming side dishes distinguishable from each other only by their golden cracker toppings or brown nut crusts. Sometime in the ’90s, Aunt Melissa’s classic green bean casserole was replaced by Aunt Becky’s broccoli casserole. And we must have had mashed potatoes or potato salad at one point, but those days were over when my mother introduced Missy Potatoes, a creamy hashbrown casserole featuring sour cream and cream of something-or-other soup, plus crushed Ritz crackers on top (helping set it apart from the broccoli casserole, topped by crushed Cheez-its).
So my answer, in so many words, when people ask what I eat on Thanksgiving: I delight in a smorgasbord—a bounty, an embarrassment of riches—of fruit- and vegetable-based casseroles which I dollop onto my plate until it runneth over and sometimes go for seconds. And I’m so thankful for it.