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South Valley Journal

Thanksgiving culinary traditions and adaptions in 2020

Nov 24, 2020 09:39AM ● By Katy Whittingham

Apple, pecan, and pumpkin pies prepared for Thanksgiving 2019 in a household in Sandy. (Katy Whittingham/City Journals)

By Katy Whittingham | [email protected] 

Traditions of Thanksgiving, in terms of celebrations and foods served, has usually varied across cultures and regions in the U.S., and includes modern twists and trends. Utah is known for some unique holiday dishes that are both embraced as favorites and rejected by locals and newcomers alike with an either “love them or hate them” mentality. 

Levi Meyers, originally from Salt Lake and now living in Kanab, said he remembers two staple dishes at the Thanksgiving table when he was growing up — funeral potatoes and cottage cheese Jell-O, but he has not elected to continue the tradition of serving or eating either as an adult. His partner, Christelle DelPrete, also of Kanab and originally from Rhode Island, said that they don’t “really celebrate Thanksgiving,” but if invited to a Thanksgiving meal she brings her own contribution. “As a vegan, I try to find a vegan pumpkin pie recipe online. Vegan crust is tough. I've yet to make one I'd recommend, but the filling is generally easy and tasty,” she said. 

Funeral potatoes generally consist of grated potatoes, sour cream, cheddar cheese, butter, cream of chicken soup and frosted flakes. They are so much of a staple of culture here that according to a Thanksgiving Utah.com article some local restaurants have adapted their own “foodie” versions. The name seems to derive from what one would expect, the dish being served at funerals and sent to grieving families, particularly within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints community. Cottage cheese Jell-O recipes vary, but most consist of lime Jell-O, cottage cheese, Miracle Whip, pineapple and pecans, while other fruits and nuts may be substituted or added. Starr Wahlen of Cottonwood Heights, originally from New York State, said she makes cottage cheese Jell-O “sometimes,” but prefers another local favorite, sweet potato and marshmallow casserole, “but without the marshmallows.”

Another local and distinctive Thanksgiving and winter holiday beverage is root beer and eggnog, which is somewhat comparable to a root beer float, but with a nutmeg flavor and overall spicier taste. Several recipes can be found online on sites like allrecipes.com with some replacing ginger beer or cola for the root beer. 

Of course, Thanksgiving isn’t all about the food and drinks and is known for a time to gather together. Dixie-Jo Loveless of Eden said one tradition they have tried to uphold every year is “inviting those who have no one near.” 

With social distancing, travel restrictions, and group gatherings limited in numbers, there certainly will be more Zoom and FaceTime Thanksgiving celebrations this year, but overall we all hopefully can find reasons to celebrate and be grateful. Wahlen said she is most grateful this year, “For my family, friends, and especially my kids and their good health and spirits during these uncertain times.”