Thanksgiving with a Twist

don't know how anyone else's family did Thanksgiving, but for my grandmother, Shirley, it was a 24-hour marathon.

My grandmother was not afraid to be the official hostess for her siblings and their children. The family was spread out all along I-94, from Detroit to Inkster to Ypsilanti, where she lived. Everyone was always a landline call away, but gatherings in person were rare. Thanksgiving was a special exception.

Shirley's turkey-day marathon begins with thawing the Butterball turkey in the kitchen sink. As a little kid, I'd be fascinated with how the bird floated in water, my first introduction to the science of buoyancy. Meanwhile, she'd start on desserts. She had all the tools-a set of copper measuring spoons and only glass measuring cups and mixing bowls. The oven cast heavenly scents; usually sweet potato pies or maybe a marble cake, because so many kids in the family loved cake.

The real work came the next day, when it was time to make the sides. The turkey was easy, since all you do is season and baste it, and fill it with dressing. (And let's always be clear: White folks make stuffing. But we Black folks make dressing.) But the greens-oh, the greens. My grandmother went through each leaf by hand. Washed each under the faucet and put them in a huge silver bowl, the next stop being a pot to be slow-simmered to goodness. Black-eyed peas and neck bones in the pressure cooker. Macaroni and cheese in the white CorningWare dish. And chitlins.

Every year, chitlins, straight out that red bucket with the white lid we all know. And if cleaning chitlins was a marketable skill, you'd be jealous of my grandmother's resume.


You see the way it goes with family-Black families especially. Thanksgiving is so sacred to us, and we have to make sure it all comes out right, because we might never see each other again. So we put on our best.

You've never met Shirley, but you know her. She's your uncle with the turkey smoker, the auntie that makes the real good 7Up cake, the nana that taught you how to set the table for company. Family is all we got most of the time, so you better not let them down.

And whether you opt to keep only cherished chow on the table or-just maybe-sneak in a few new eats, here's a helping of inspiration from three Detroit chefs whose own traditions have inspired their craft.

Meet three local chefs who share recipes for Thanksgiving:

Chef Erika Boyd's Recipe for Black-Eyed Pea & Collard Green Soup

Stephanie "Chef Stef" Penn's Recipe for Caribbean Jerk Cornish Hen

Chef Godwin Ihentuge's Recipe for Couscous, Medley and Chicken

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