Our food choices, even on national holidays like Thanksgiving, are as diverse as our accents. And while the basic idea remains constant, regional influences make each table across the country slightly different.
America is a vast country, and its diversity is expressed in the ingredients that appear on the holiday table in various parts of the country — like oyster stuffing in the Northeast or red chile gravy in the Southwest. Some are even city-specific: Baltimore residents, for instance, proudly serve sauerkraut (a nod to German influences in the area) next to their turkey.
To celebrate our nation's various heritages and traditions, we have rounded up a collection of the best regional Thanksgiving delicacies from across America. Maybe you’ll be inspired to try something new this holiday.
Decidedly American (and weird), cranberry fluff has made appearances on tables across America but really is a favorite in the Heartland. Similar to ambrosia salad, cranberry fluff is made with whole cranberries processed in a food processor and folded with non-dairy whipped topping, mini marshmallows, and crushed pineapple chunks. Best made in advance, the fluff is first frozen then thawed just before serving so it still contains slivers of ice.
Cranberry relish is a specialty of the Northeast; it’s served raw, chunky, and cold. The cranberries are processed In a food processor or meat grinder, then mixed with a variety of add-ins like walnuts, apples, and celery. For the Cranberry Relish recipe, click here.
Many regional dishes from the Southwest borrow flavors from neighboring Mexico, which is why it is no surprise that the Southwest opts for a spicier take on a traditional cranberry sauce. This version doctors a can of cranberry sauce with spicy chiles — like chipotles or jalapeños — and can include chopped onions, lime juice, cumin, and cilantro. Here, the chipotles mingle with whole berry canned cranberry sauce, thyme, and black pepper. For the Cranberry Sauce With Chipotle Peppers recipe, click here.
Guajillo and ancho chiles are the usual flavor influencers in this gravy. The spiciness combined with turkey pan drippings add up to a twist on Thanksgiving gravy that is sure you make you sweat a little.
Southerners are serious about their cornbread — the South is basically the cornbread capital of the U.S., after all — so it is hardly surprising that sweet, crumbly cornbread is a base for Southern-style Thanksgiving stuffing (or "dressing" to use the proper Southern vernacular). The rough, lively texture paired with the signature sweetness of the cornbread is a magnificent complement to the savory quality of the turkey. For the Classic Cornbread Stuffing recipe, click here.
Seafood at Thanksgiving is a longstanding tradition and oyster stuffing dates back to the seventeenth century. It was brought to America by the pilgrims (can you get any more Thanksgiving-y than that?). In this version, New England’s favorite stuffing is made with salty cured pork, hearty dried bread, canned New England oysters, and plenty of flavorful herbs. For the Herbed Oyster Stuffing recipe, click here.
Wild rice is one of America’s native foods, grown across the nation in brackish water. On the holiday, the Northwest, West, and parts of the Midwest tend to showcase a wild rice-based stuffing instead of a plain bread-based one. It is usually studded with dried cherries or cranberries or other fruits like apples that contain an inherent sweetness to offset the deep earthiness of the wild rice. For a textural contrast to the rice’s chewiness, nuts and fresh chestnuts are also often added into the mix. For the Wild Rice, Olive, and Chestnut Stuffing recipe, click here.
Interestingly, this dish for marshmallow studded sweet potatoes was the invention of The Cracker Jack Company in 1917 (they made marshmallow, too) as a campaign to encourage people to cook and eat more marshmallows. Southerners, in particular, have embraced this version and still prefer their sweet potatoes mashed with lightly browned marshmallows on top. For the Brown-Sugar Glazed Sweet Potatoes With Marshmallows recipe, click here.
Another Middle America gem: Grated carrots are mixed into a cakey batter and baked in a Bundt pan. For Thanksgiving, the center then is filled with green peas before serving. Click here to see the Fresh Carrot Ring With Buttered Peas and Cauliflower recipe.
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From the holiday’s inception, corn has been a wildly popular Thanksgiving vegetable — and corn on the cob, although simple (and not at all seasonal), is an enduring favorite for those in New England. For an epicurean upgrade, serve your corn on the cob with a spicy or herbaceous compound butter. For the Corn on the Cob With Feta and Herbs, click here.
The humble corn pudding — a dish eaten by the Pilgrims — is seldom seen or heard of these days. It is a fluffy savory custard made with whole corn kernels and is favored by New Englanders but has also gained some popularity in the South and Midwest. For this recipe for Corn Pudding With Bacon and Leeks, click here.
A bowl full of whole pearl onions in a rich sauce may not peak much interest, but this is a common dish served in New England and parts of the Midwest and South. The pearl onions gently braise in a sauce made from flour and cream, then is traditionally sprinkled with paprika. On their own, they may not seem like much, but next to the turkey is where these onions shine. For the Creamed Onions recipe, click here.
flickr: Steven Depolo
This comically named fruit salad is a lot like ambrosia salad and features chopped pineapple, maraschino cherries, marshmallows, and mandarin oranges. But here’s the strange part: orzo pasta, a whole egg, and non-dairy whipped topping are also added into the mix. This salad is popular in the Southwest and West (most famously Utah) where Jell-O salads reign supreme. For the Frog Eye Salad recipe, click here.
The classic green bean casserole mixes green beans (often canned) and a can of cream of onion or mushroom soup and is then topped with crispy onions, almost always from a can. It is a staple in Middle America and is sure to show up on any respectable Thanksgiving table in the region. For the Green Bean Mushroom Madeira Casserole recipe, click here.
Coconut and Lime
Sauerkraut is a popular classic set on tables and stuffed inside Thanksgiving turkeys in areas with large populations of people of German descent, such as Baltimore. For a recipe for Sauerkraut and Apples, click here.
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The Midwest, especially Michigan, uses the holiday to showcase a local favorite: cherry pie. For the Fresh Cherry Pie recipe, click here.
Using New England’s iconic and famously sweet and flavorful grape, this pie is a simple pleasure; it is essentially grape jelly baked inside a buttery pie crust.
Indian pudding is a tradition the Pilgrims brought with them from England, but since wheat flour wasn’t readily available, the settlers subbed in cornmeal, creating this distinctly American dish, still enjoyed today at New England Thanksgiving celebrations. This long-cooked cornmeal porridge is stewed with molasses and spiced with cinnamon and ginger, then served with a big scoop of ice cream. It’s surprising that this dish isn’t better-known. For the Indian Pudding recipe, click here.
This Utah/ Midwest staple is deemed quite delicious by those who partake. There are a few variations of the dish, but typically lime Jell-O, Miracle Whip, cottage cheese, pineapple, and pecans is a common version seen at the Thanksgiving table.
Mexican and Spanish culinary traditions have seeped into Thanksgiving food traditions in the Southwest, replacing classic pumpkin pie with a smooth, seasonal pumpkin flan. For the Pumpkin Flan With Maple Syrup recipe, click here.
This Indiana staple — often called Hoosier Cream Pie — is made exactly how the title sounds: Sugar, heavy cream, and vanilla extract make up the filling, which is poured into the flaky butter pie dough and baked.