Thanksgiving in the South

Our community’s continued growth reflects the changing face of Georgia. Transplants from faraway places now call our state home. These newcomers represent a rich diversity of heritages, traditions, and cultures. However, they sometimes find Southern holiday customs perplexing. For those not blessed to be born and bred below the Mason-Dixon Line, I would like to offer this primer on celebrating Thanksgiving in the Deep South.

Thanksgiving Normal RockwellFirst and foremost, turkey is ALWAYS the main course at a Southern Thanksgiving feast. We hold no bias against the beef, fish, and pork food groups, but poultry reigns supreme on November’s fourth Thursday. We learned from our mothers who baked turkeys a golden brown, waiting until the surgically inserted, plastic pop-up button indicated the proper degree of doneness.

Frying the bird in peanut oil provides an acceptable alternative, although many a good ole’ boy bears the proud grease scars of holidays past. In more recent days, slow smoking a turkey over a grill has also gained in popularity and acceptance.

Real Southerners serve DRESSING with their turkey entrees. Crumble together a few pones of cornbread with onions, shortening, spices, and salt. Then bake in the oven until the grease bubbles and the top turns a crusty brown.

Let me be clear on this point: stuffing is something put in a pillow! Why would anyone cook a side dish in the backside of a turkey? Think about it. If you must put something inside the bird’s body, place a few scoops of Crisco into the cavity.

Turkey and dressing require a heaping helping of artery-clogging giblet gravy. Giblets resemble sausage and pork rinds—you will enjoy them more if you remain uncertain of their origins. Find the plastic packet of unidentifiable bird parts and cook them until tender. Combine the innards with roasting pan broth and Martha White flour. Simmer until a spoon stands straight up in the mixture. Then pour the concoction liberally over everything on your plate.

A standard side dish at Southern Thanksgivings is sweet potato casserole. If you cannot find the orange vegetable in the grocery aisle, yams form a viable alternative. Cream the cans’ contents with brown sugar and butter. Then cover the soufflé with a marshmallow blanket. I personally prefer small marshmallows but their bigger brothers serve equally well.

No Thanksgiving repast is complete without cranberry sauce. It provides a festive color and piquant flavor. REAL cranberry sauce comes in a jellied cylindrical shape with the can ridges still imprinted upon its side. Simply slice the jiggling mass into quarter inch thick slabs. I knew a woman with no raising who once served real cranberries combined with some other fruits and nuts. I just shook my head and said, “You’re not from around here, are you?”

Southern hospitality dictates a hostess provide bread for the post-dinner rite of plate-sopping. Any bread will do, but the bake-and-serve rolls with the four ridges on top remain the norm. Classy homes also provide real butter. Serving the spread in its original foil wrapper on a dinner plate is acceptable table manners.

The feast concludes with a multiple choice selection of desserts. True Southerners consume at least one slice of pecan pie along with other cakes and sweets. We save pumpkin pie for Yankees and other foreigners. The entire dinner is washed down with sweet iced tea. (If you have to SAY “sweet” or “iced” tea, then you’re not in the South.)

After dinner, good manners dictate one loosens a belt two notches before sinking comatose into an easy chair. Most men “watch” the football game while taking a long nap.  Later in the day, leftovers can be consumed to fill up any empty corners.

And finally, before, during, and after the meal, do not forget the real reason for the day. On this uniquely American and Christian holiday, give thanks to God for the many blessings of life—including the grace to celebrate Thanksgiving in the South!





17 thoughts on “Thanksgiving in the South

  1. That was great, Bill. Being a Yankee, we did most of these things also. But pumpkin pie is a given smeared with molasses for me. Love your blogs.


    • Molasses on pumpkin pie?!? I’m speechless–a rare quality in a Methodist preacher. 🙂 I think there’s something in Leviticus prohibiting this! Hope you have a great Thanksgiving. B2


      • Actually, I bake my pumpkin pie using molasses and sour cream instead of condensed milk. Plus freshly grated nutmeg. Gives the pumpkin pie some body!


  2. I am also blessed to be raised in the south and I appreciate your primer on “Thanksgiving dinner”, but I feel like I need to add a few insights: 1) My mother, bless her heart, still prepares two pans of cornbread dressing – one with onions and one without (for those of us who know better than to ruin perfectly good dressing by adding onions). 2) While I don’t mind a few lumps in my gravy, I do not want to have “mystery meat” floating around in it. I prefer the little packet of turkey gravy mix that you just have to add water to and boil. 3) I also enjoy marshmallows on top of sweet potato casserole, but a crunchy pecan topping is very delicious as well. There is currently a commercial that shows the sweet potato deliciousness with stripes of both marshmallows and crunch topping. YUM! 4) Just a little advice about the cranberry sauce in the can. To get the stuff to slip out of the can in one piece, you usually have to open the can on both ends.
    P.S. You forgot the deviled eggs 🙂


    • As a child, I always asked for giblet gravy without the giblets. Deviled eggs are a good edition that typically appeared on our table as well . . . however, I’m afraid this is a dying art in the South.


  3. As soon as I saw the topic, I knew the dressing- stuffing controversy would be addressed (I know it’s not a controversy for you.) I guess you add that Crisco to make sure there are enough fat calories for the day. Happy Thanksgiving to all!


  4. Thank you, Bill. Our children love these old recipes, as well. In the past,I have tried to pare down the menu by asking each member of my family what they would really like to see on the table. The response is always the same: turkey, dressing, gravy (sorry, without the giblets), sweet potato casserole (I grew up with the “soufflé”), squash casserole, brown rice, MAC AND CHEESE, and any desserts, but pumpkin something is always welcome. Can you say CARBS???? Okay, so we’ll throw in some green beans and maybe a fruit salad, and I will have my cranberry sauce, thank you. (I found it in a mini can, just for me!) No wonder we are wasted (and waisted) for the evening viewing of “It’s A Wonderful Life!” As it should be. We are thankful for you and Tracy in our lives, and we do want you to have some warm, wonderful time together with family. Your gathering may not look like the Norman Rockwell painting shown here, but we know that love and thanks for our Father will be in abundance. By the way, the mother in that portrait must be from good, country stock, strong and bold, to so carefully manage that 25 pound turkey! HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!


  5. Bill, I love this blog post! Brings back lots of great memories…and I started feeling full about mid-way through, but like a good Southerner, I kept on despite feeling bloated by the end and cleaned my plate. Whew? I think I ready to watch some football nowww zzzZZZ….


  6. We Northeners by birth and Southeners by choice pretty much enjoyed the same ” fixin’s”! But the best thing is family and thanks for our One Nation Under God!!


    • You can’t help where you’re born–and you made it down here as quick as you could! 🙂 Every time I see fall snow storms in the north I think to myself: “That’s God’s way of telling you to move SOUTH!” Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.


  7. As much as I love the old standards I am in favor of bringing some fresh new ones to the table as well. It seems to give us better things to discuss than all the faces we are missing around our table these days. I don’t mind if the new faces at the table tell me they don’t like my roasted vegetable salad! I can usually stand that if they at least drink their tea sweet and smile while they are saying it. Thanks for the memories and now we are really ready for Thanksgiving!


  8. Bill: Thanks for your history lesson. I am alone and had dinner with my daughter and her family in Braselton. I am not involved in the preparation of the meal – just the dessert – which is easily picked up at Costco (my husband was the cook). I just relax and enjoy the day with the grandkids. Thanks again for sharing.


  9. YUM! Preacher, you just made my mouth water! Now I got to go find something good to eat! Do you have any leftovers at your house? Some of that pecan pie would be good!


  10. I’m not from the south, just a damn Yankee that came down and stayed , but my mom had all of the mentioned dishes and then some. Loved the article, Bruce Fowler sent I to me.


  11. Loved the blog Bill. Guess we have been south long enough that we are sure to have the right foods to qualify we are southern, anyway southeast Missouri is almost south and restaurants in PB now serve sweet tea which was not heard of until we made numerous trips home and sometime I am told to make my own tea for them to drink.
    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and hope Tracy’s new school is the best ever. Miss you all, but changes DO happen. God bless!

    Barb Stewart


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