I recently found myself smiling and nodding patiently as a friend described the elaborate menu she had planned for her first family Thanksgiving dinner. With dishes like crab bisque, soufflé, and pumpkin cheesecake, it sounded like a wonderful meal- and, based on my experience, a horrible idea.
My family's Thanksgiving menu comes from my father's great-aunt Irene. She lived in Connecticut, and each year, fed a very traditional meal to as many as 40 guests. Successive generations have strived to duplicate every element, from the mashed turnips to the white-turkey platter to vats of gravy and the homemade cranberry relish. Then, about 12 years ago, I moved back from Paris, where I'd been cooking in Michelin-starred restaurants. Proud of my newfound culinary skills, I decided to spruce up the cranberries with some orange zest and nicely toasted chopped walnuts. Très gourmet. At the first taste, the table erupted in protest. These are not Aunt Irene's cranberries! What is this!?! I went from soignée to sheepish in the space of one bite. Turns out that Aunt Irene was a devotee of the recipes that came on the ingredients' packaging - including the bag of Ocean Spray cranberries. Deviation from that pattern was not to be tolerated.
So, in the years that followed, my family has added another tradition: telling that story. Remember the year Jenny made those fancy cranberries? Oh, yeah- they were awful. We now start each meal with a toast, originally coined for Christmas but equally relevant to Turkey Day: "Give 'em what they want."
Originally published on Epicurious.com.