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Tradition/Foodways – Thanksgiving Dressing

Thanksgiving Tradition/Foodway – American

“I have a grinder that we use once a year to make the Thanksgiving dressing. I helped my father make it when I was little.. so, um, he left it to me when he died. When I started making it my sons would help me and we use the same grinder, and now my grandson helps his father and I do it. So when I go to the happy hunting grounds, I will leave the grinder to him. The traditional part is, uh, that the boys come to the house and stay over the night before Thanksgiving. We get up very early in the morning, before the sun, and grind the ingredients together. And we always do it outside because it’s messy, and we attach the grinder to a table. We mix the boiled onions and stale bread together with the grinder. And another thing is that the bread has to be really stale.. I start that part two days before we grind. I put the bread out two days before and flip them every once in awhile to get them really stale. The day before Thanksgiving I peel and boil the onions. Then the boys come, we get up early, and grind the bread and onions with seasonings, eggs, and butter.. and then stuff the turkey. There is no recipe.. we just do it by taste. You know when it’s done because of the taste. This has been going on for six generations at least.. it started in Manchester, England, where my father’s ancestors are from. I don’t think there is any real reason behind which child it gets passed to, but it usually alternates genders every generation…with the exception of this one. It’s like ‘the gender switch.’ My dad was the forth child of ten, so there’s no real reason it was him.. I guess he just showed interest.. like I did over my brother. The grinder is still in the same box from when it was bought in the early 1900’s. I think this is just a way to pass down our heritage… a way for the adults to teach their kids about our ancestry.”

I agree with the informant’s analysis for the reason behind this tradition. It teaches children how to cook and uphold ancestral traditions that have been passed down for generations. It contributes to their perceptions of cultural identity, but also teaches them about the turkey tradition that comes with Thanksgiving. The only inconsistency I noticed with this tradition is that it supposedly began in England, yet it is in celebration of a decidedly American holiday: Thanksgiving. I mentioned this to the informant, and she seemed a little confused, as though she had never thought about it. She came off as a little defensive, as though I was questioning the validity of her story. She responded that the dressing recipe has been passed down from her ancestors in England, but that it was adapted to the American Thanksgiving tradition. I’m not sure how valid this is, as I’m not quite sure how much turkey they eat in England. I highly doubt they ate much turkey in England six generations ago, at least not enough to justify a custom such as this one. Nonetheless, this tradition is obviously extremely important to the informant, as is the story that goes along with it. It provides a method of connecting generations of family members, which after all, is the point of traditions such as this.

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