Linda Schubert will spend Thanksgiving alone this year.
She will slice stalks of celery in her Catonsville home and smear a mixture of garden vegetable cream cheese and diced olives with a drop of ketchup between its folds, remembering the young girl who learned to grip a butter knife inside her mother’s kitchen.
Like many Baltimoreans, Schubert does not quite know where this food tradition came from. Perhaps it began with her grandmother? Or maybe it was some foreign ancestry that would one day be revealed by an iPhone app. But without it, the holiday season is incomplete and even the most well-dressed bird appears naked.
More than 50 readers shared their favorite unconventional Thanksgiving sides with The Banner on X. For some, that’s stewed tomatoes, crab cakes, pumpkin ravioli or French onion soup. Others swear by more eclectic plates such as persimmon pudding, oyster stuffing, a gelatin cheese and mayonnaise salad, and a jello, pear and cream mixture one reader nicknamed “Pink Stuff.”
For many, many, many Baltimoreans, that critical addition is sauerkraut. Kielbasa, or bratwurst if the former is difficult to find in good quality, are also mainstays on local Thanksgiving tables. “It’s not a surprise to us, we grew up with it,” said reader Treva.
In Treva’s case, that also includes raw oysters on the half shell outside before dinner, and stuffing with oysters and cornbread, a keepsake from her mother’s Kentucky roots, to accompany the main course.
No matter what the dish, every year it sits beside the turkey — or in Schubert’s case, a Quorn-brand vegetarian substitute made from roasted corn — calling back to a childhood gone by.
Stuffing the celery brings back pleasant memories for Schubert, who considered performing the task in her mother’s kitchen an honor.
“It was a big deal. I’d finally come of age, you know, I was a big girl now,” she said.
Her mother, a June Cleaver-type born in 1933, did not outsource tasks. A PTA volunteer, Girl Scout leader, Cub den mother and wrangler of four children, she did all that was expected of her in “that generation,” Schubert said. Thanksgiving was her greatest trick yet: a high-flying act where kids ran rampant, dishes came together at a moment’s notice and Schubert got to peek behind the curtain.
But time has changed. The Kraft Foods-brand olive pimento spread used to coat each strip of celery is no longer sold in stores and Schubert’s mother now sits in a home care facility suffering from dementia. Schubert visited for the holidays last Friday, but was hesitant to bring her famous celery sticks along for lunch.
“I don’t think she can chew them anymore,” Schubert said. She’ll still make them for her own solo Thanksgiving on Thursday, though.
“It’s been a much smaller affair for a while,” she said. “But there’s always stuffed celery!”
For Jason Molidot, the “copper pennies” recipe found on a wrinkled page of a 1960s Better Homes and Gardens cookbook became a family heirloom.
“My grandmother would always make them,” he said. “And now that she’s no longer with us, I always make them.”
The plate consists of two pounds of carrots tossed with green peppers and onions that are boiled until tender while a can of condensed tomato soup and a cup of white wine vinegar is placed into a sauce pan. The concoction is slathered in chili sauce, Worcestershire and sugar, which later dissolves over heat.
Once cooked, the sauce and vegetables are mixed, creating a sour “weird” fusion, according to Molidot.
“It is usually a 50/50 on whether people like them or not,” he said. “Same even with my family. And it is either you like them or hate them. Nothing in between.”
Barbara Nelsen’s go-to side dish is one you can occasionally find versions of at your nearest IKEA. But, she said, few lingonberries come close to the jar of red pearled fruits brought back from her grandparents in Sweden and Norway.
The berries, which are similar to cranberries, but sweeter and much smaller, are seasonal and rarely found fresh. As a child in Baltimore, Nelsen would search through Lexington Market in the hopes of surprising her father with the Scandinavian treat.
She uses the berries on Thanksgiving as a condiment, adding a tart bite to the roasted turkey. She also incorporates them into dessert, making tiny pastry shells with whipped cream, topped with a few lingonberries.
This year, after a long and at times feeble pursuit for the perfect canned lingonberry, she discovered some on Amazon and will be surprising her pals with them for a Friendsgiving celebration.
The berries weren’t cheap, Nelsen said. But “they are worth it.”