Filling or Stuffing?

Let the official countdown to turkey day commence. Thanksgiving, an American holiday where we gather around the table with family and friends, filling our collective faces with more calories in a single meal that is more in line with a week’s allotment, before beaching in front of the TV to watch parades and football. Although contentions may arise over politics and sports teams, food is what really presses people’s buttons.

Is it filling, stuffing or dressing?

Traditions run deep when it comes to the accompanying side dishes to the centerpiece. Territorialism and cultural geography go together like mashed potatoes and gravy when it comes to filling/stuffing/dressing. Does it get cooked inside the bird, soaking up all the meaty juices into a moist amalgamation of stale bread, onions and celery or bake independent of the bird in a casserole for a crunchy crust? That would be dressing, especially if you hail from the south.

One of the earliest known cookbooks written over four thousand years ago by a Roman gourmand was filled with recipes for stuffing assorted animals with herbs, vegetables, nuts, grains and offal. Today, recipes are a result of regional influences. Oysters are a staple ingredient in the Northeast. Near the Great Lakes rice replaces bread cubes. In the southwest the bird serves as a giant tamale wrapper for a spicy masa filling. The south dishes up cornbread dressing laced with peppers to sop up the gravy which also has a kick of heat.

There are two camps when it comes to side dishes and condiments. First, there are those who will launch a full-scale family meltdown if anyone dare stray from grandma’s recipe for gravy no matter how vile the ingredients. And then there are the adventuresome souls who conjure innovative flavor combinations as if from an Ottolenghi cookbook.

Any way you bake it, there will be some combination of starch, vegetable, fruit, nut and seasoning which will be identified as filling, stuffing or dressing.

What color is your potato?

This dilemma can easily be solved by providing both white and sweet potatoes at your table. There are a zillion ways to cook potatoes, but at Thanksgiving potatoes must be made just so. The checklists come out – smooth or lumpy, done by hand or with a mixer, how much butter, how much seasoning, to add cream or not?

Sweet potatoes are another minefield – canned or fresh, sweetened with brown sugar and toasted marshmallows or savory. No where does sweet potato snobbery become apparent than with vegetable growers. I’ve met many fresh produce vendors over the years who grow one or two kind (there are over 6,500 varieties worldwide) specifically for their family and take any excess to their weekly markets only the week prior to Thanksgiving.

Sweet potato arguments also bubble over into dessert where they fill flaky crusts instead of pureed pumpkin. Pecan or apple is also a valid argument, but please, let’s dispense with the Watergate salad. The 70’s are long over.

Made from scratch

If you’re shopping at the farmers market, chances are good you’re not going to gum up your green beans with sludge out of a can or gravy from a jar. Thanksgiving is the ultimate holiday where people show their appreciation for one another through sharing a meal that represents an abundant harvest. Depending at whose table I am eating, I’ve had everything from pho (they gave the bird to their Vietnamese mother and that’s how she cooked it) to Hawaiian surfers’ turkey (slathered in mayonnaise before popping in the oven and hitting the waves for several hours).

Thanksgiving offers everyone the opportunity to pay homage to their family traditions or experiment with the vast assortment of bounty the mid-Atlantic region offers at Central Farm Markets.

Please note that not all vendors will be attending the Special Thanksgiving Market on Tuesday, November 20th at Pike Central Farm Market from 10 – 2.

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