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When tradition really matters

Why do we stick to the same customs every year when it comes to food and important holidays? Richard Ehrlich talked to five food writers to discover their treasured celebrations and traditions

On Thanksgiving morning two years ago my butcher told me my pre-ordered turkey had been sold in error to another customer. And there wasn’t a replacement. What did I do? I had a panic attack. I’m American by birth, and for most Americans Thanksgiving dinner without turkey is pretty much unimaginable (see p29). The closest UK equivalent I can think of is Burns Night dinner without haggis.

Happily, another butcher had the right size of bird but those minutes of panic made me think of the remarkable power of rituals expressed in and through food. Thanksgiving is the only day of the year, for me, when certain foods must be eaten: in addition to turkey, I must have sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie. As long as this holy trinity is in place, nothing else matters.

The irony is I don’t even like turkey very much. But it’s not the menu itself that matters most, it’s what the menu represents. Having eaten those dishes every Thanksgiving of my life, I take limitless comfort in the continuity they represent. They say to me: “Everything changes, often not for the better, but we are constant. We will never change.”

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About delicious. Magazine

Have you ever wanted to make your own Christmas pudding or cake for the big feast? Now you can with the new issue of delicious. It’s got the best recipes for Stir-up Sunday (26 November). Plus you can start planning for the festivities with our freeze-ahead casseroles, food lovers’ gift guide and cook book roundup. If that’s not enough to gladden the heart, Nigel Slater’s autumn classics, Paul Hollywood’s best bakes and a foolproof molten chocolate pud will definitely bring plenty of comfort and joy. Buy your copy today!