A curious glimpse into the American thanksgiving dinner


By Olivia Tapper, first year English student

As a Spaniard, the closest I have ever come to celebrating Thanksgiving was having dinner at home whilst watching Rachel serve her iconic Beef Trifle at Friendsgiving or watching Barney get slapped on Slapsgiving. Considering how much I love both holidays and food, Thanksgiving has always seemed like a brilliant idea serving delightful classic Christmas treats a bit earlier in the year.

However there are plenty of standard Thanksgiving dishes that are completely different to the one we usually enjoy at Christmas time; dishes I have never fully understood but have always been intrigued to try (Rachel’s Beef Trifle is obviously excluded from this). I have compiled a list of traditional Thanksgiving dishes and desserts that generations of Americans swear upon, and although at first glance they appear confusing or just simply wrong, they can often turn out to be delicious.

Frog eye salad

Possibly the most unappetising and misleading name for this dish imaginable, the frog eye salad is neither a salad nor does it contain frogs eyes. In fact it bears no resemblance to its name whatsoever. This is a sweet dessert made of a bead-like pasta known as acini de pepe which is combined with a sweet custard (or vanilla pudding) followed by mandarin slices, pineapple chunks and dried coconut. Marshmallows are often added and the “salad” is topped with whipped cream. The name is apparently based on the similarity between a frog’s eye and the appearance of the pasta when covered in the creamy topping. Confusing? Yes. Delicious? Debatable.

Sweet potatoe casserole

This casserole is one of the most recognisable sides on the list and is quintessentially American. The basic recipe is simply mashed sweet potatoes which are further sweetened by maple syrup or brown sugar and are often spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg. They are then topped with mini marshmallows and baked until golden brown. The trouble with this dish is that it is sometimes considered sickly, however, if you reduce the amount of syrup or sugar added to the mashed potatoes themselves the marshmallow topping can make it a great addition to the dinner table.

Mac and cheese

Mac and cheese is a classic nostalgic dish that actually originated in the UK although it has now been adopted and, arguably, perfected by the Americans. Although some Thanksgiving variations of mac and cheese just seem to pack it full of random ingredients like chopped pecans, candied bacon and leeks others have, in my opinion, elevated the original. For example, by making a classic mac and cheese and topping it with bread crumbs mixed with herbs such as sage, thyme and rosemary it suddenly becomes age-appropriate to have my childhood favourite as a side dish at Christmas dinner.

Sweet potato pie

The idea of a vegetable in a dessert isn’t unheard of (for example in a classic rhubarb crumble) and this dessert has long been a Thanksgiving staple. Pumpkin pie is more widely recognised as the traditional holiday dessert however the debate about which is the better of the two is still ongoing. The pie is made of a buttery pastry crust which is filled with a mashed sweet potato combined with condensed milk, custard and eggs, possibly flavoured with cinnamon. The confusing part of this dessert is that I can’t imagine it would taste too different from the casserole above, either way it sounds delicious and autumnal.

Although there appears to be an undeniable confusion in regards to the difference between desserts and savoury dishes at the traditional Thanksgiving table, plenty of these deserve a chance to be added to this year’s Christmas celebration.

Although Thanksgiving is gaining popularity throughout the UK it still hasn’t quite caught on. However, the attitude of gratefulness that this holiday is meant to embody is definitely worth adopting this year even if you do decide to pass on the Frog’s eyes.

Featured image: Unsplash/Element5 Digital

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