For Thanksgiving last year — a year ago to the day, in fact — I talked to a bunch of the players about how they prepared their turkey. It turned into a much livelier debate than I expected — and introduced the word Fred-o-synthesis to the world — but ultimately boiled down to two major choices: roasted or fried.
This year, I thought it might be interesting to hear about something a little less binary, so I posed one question to a bunch of guys in the locker room: what’s your favorite Thanksgiving side dish? And that seemingly simple question led to some surprisingly elaborate answers.
The Importance Of Dressing
“Dressing,” Fred Smoot said when I asked for his Thanksgiving favorite. There was no pause, no hesitation, no rumination. Smoot, as usual, is supremely confident in his likes and dislikes. “I am a FIEND for dressing.”
But Smoot declined to provide specifics of his family’s dressing recipe. “If I tell you, I’m'a have to kill you,” he said. “But I will tell you something: I love dressing. I could eat dressing 365 days a year. But the key to a good dressing is a great giblet gravy. ‘Cause no matter the range of your dressing — if your dressing’s great or it’s okay or it’s good — you got the right giblet gravy, it’ll turn out great.”
Just the mention of dressing got Chris Wilson fired up.
“I’m ’bout to make some dressing,” Wilson said. “I might make some dressing to-NIGHT. You get some chicken broth, get some Bob Evans sausage, the Italian Bob Evans, you know–”
“Bob Evans sausage is nasty,” Kedric Golston said.
“You crazy,” Wilson replied.
“Man, that Bob Evans is disgusting,” Golston repeated, getting up to leave.
“That guy doesn’t know food,” Wilson said, shaking his head.
“You don’t know anything,” Golston said. “Look at you.”
“He don’t know food,” Wilson reiterated. “And we all got here from eatin’. None of us are skinny guys.”
Then there were the regional variations. Lendy Holmes won’t make his dressing without Jiffy mix, and he wasn’t the only one. D’Anthony Batiste swears by the oyster-cornbread dressing of his Louisiana upbringing. (Fred Smoot on oyster dressing: “Oyster dressing? That’s all Louisiana right there. I’m gonna keep my dressing straight regular.”)
And Reed Doughty had an even more specific dressing request. After some debate as to the difference between dressing and stuffing (stuffing is cooked in the bird; dressing isn’t), Doughty shrugged.
“I like stuffing,” Doughty said, “but I think we literally made, like, Stove Top stuffing.”
Albert Haynesworth has a locker near Doughty’s. He had been largely ignoring the conversation, but this was just too much. “Damn,” he said, “You got a [jacked] up childhood! You had Stove Top for Thanksgiving? That ain’t even real. I won’t even eat that [stuff] NOW.”
The Unexpected Racial Implications Of Macaroni And Cheese
One overwhelming favorite answer to the question was macaroni and cheese.
“My momma’s homemade mac and cheese,” Jeremy Jarmon said.
“Always have macaroni and cheese,” Santana Moss said. ”That’s one of the dishes that it ain’t Thanksgiving unless you’ve got macaroni and cheese.”
“My favorite side dish is my grandmother’s macaroni and cheese,” Antwaan Randle El said. “Unfortunately for me, I’m lactose intolerant. Unfortunately for everybody else, I’m still gonna eat it.”
“Macaroni and cheese,” Haynesworth said. “Now, I’m talkin’ about baked [stuff], not, like, Kraft. My mom MAKES it. She bakes it.”
“Mac and cheese or something,” Devin Thomas said. I must’ve looked slightly surprised. “Damn right! Why not?”
“Well,” I said hesitantly, “I just don’t think I’ve ever considered macaroni and cheese part of Thanksgiving dinner.”
Thomas was aghast. “Never had mac and cheese on Thanksgiving?!?!”
“You gotta go to a black Thanksgiving, then,” Fred Davis suggested.
Haynesworth agreed. “What kind of family do you have?” he asked rhetorically. “It’s cause you’re white and you’re from here.”
So I figured I’d see if that was true in the simplest way possible: by specifically asking white players if they’d eaten mac and cheese as part of Thanksgiving dinner.
Shaun Suisham: “Never.”
Hunter Smith: “I wish I did, but I don’t.
Todd Yoder: “I don’t know. Maybe. But it’s not a staple or anything.”
Casey Rabach: “Mac n’ Cheese? No. Nope. It’s a black thing.”
Whenever you do research like this, though, it seems like someone else has already published on the subject. In this case, Reed Doughty, who had really thought the thing through. “It’s ’cause you’re white,” he said plainly. “It’s not prejudiced, it’s just true. It’s also ’cause you’re not from the South. Bein’ from Colorado, fried turkey and baked macaroni and cheese was not a staple at our Thanksgiving.” And it was something he didn’t see until his first year in the NFL. “It was just kinda funny — I was just like, ‘What is going on?’ There was some fried turkey leg, some ribs. It was good, but it was different.”
There was only one outright outlier: practice squad tackle Clint Oldenburg. He’s white, he’s from Wyoming, and he considers macaroni and cheese an essential part of the Thanksgiving experience. “I don’t know if it’s a state-wide thing,” he said, “but my family definitely did it.”
“He’s from Wyoming,” Doughty said, shaking his head. “What does he know about that?”
And D’Anthony Batiste fell somewhere in the middle. “Mac and cheese isn’t a staple,” he said.
Jeremy Jarmon took some umbrage at this suggestion. “WHAT?!?!?” he said. “It’s a staple.”
“That’s more of a Memphis type thing,” Batiste suggested.
“It’s a STAPLE,” Jarmon insisted.
Batiste shrugged. “We don’t really have mac and cheese. We more believe in the oyster dressing.”
The Question Of Cranberry Sauce
“I love cranberry sauce,” Jarmon said. Then he laughed at me when I asked if he preferred canned or fresh. “I was just kidding about that,” he said. “I never really use cranberry sauce.”
On this question, Jarmon and Batiste agreed “Yeah,” Batiste said. “If you need cranberry sauce, you’re trying to cover up the taste of something.”
Reed Doughty again had a different take on the situation. “The cranberries are my favorite,” he said. “Not canned. I don’t know what it is: the tartness, the way it goes with the turkey. My favorite really is the day after Thanksgiving, a cold turkey sandwich with little bit of the cranberries on top.”
Hunter Smith was onboard. “Amazingly,” he said, “the cranberry [is the favorite]. And not because of its solo ability, but because it is an amazing complement. A bite for me will have turkey, stuffing, gravy and cranberry, all on the fork.”
Smith isn’t even choosy about where the cranberry comes from. “It doesn’t matter,” he said. “I prefer the real stuff, but … cranberry altogether, just to have that taste.”
In fact, Smith has condensed his feelings on cranberry sauce into a tidy little maxim: “The cranberry is to the thanksgiving dinner,” he said, “what ketchup is to a burger and fries.”
And there was Albert Haynesworth’s take: ‘”I hate cranberries. Hate ‘em.”
Greens Versus Green Beans
Practice squad wide receiver Anthony Armstrong was ticking off his Thanksgiving requirements. “You got the dressing, turkey, yams, collard greens–”
“No greens at my table,” Casey Rabach interjected.
“Not greens on Thanksgiving,” Haynesworth said. “Probably green beans.”
Jeremy Jarmon was going through the Thanksgiving must-haves: “Let’s see … the ham, the turkey, the green beans — or greens, either/or.”
“Not with Thanksgiving dinner!” D’Anthony Batiste said, sounding scandalized.
Jarmon nodded. “Last few years,” he said, “I’ve started to accept the green bean casserole.”
Batiste was not mollified. “Nah,” he said. “See, y’all just throwing things together. You can’t have collard greens with Thanksgiving dinner, now.”
“Why not?” Jarmon asked.
“Because … because you’re supposed to have TURKEY. And … and ham hocks! You could put the hocks in the greens, but you’re still doing too much. See, you gotta understand: you need your turkey, your turkey dressing. You can smoke the turkey, you can bake it, you can deep fry it — or you can mix it up — then you gotta have your green bean casserole.”
Brian Orakpo listed green bean casserole as his favorite side dish — “Cheese, the whole works in there,” he said — but refused to be drawn into the contentious argument at this festive time of year. “We do greens too, because that’s one of my favorites too. We try to put in everything. Every meal that anybody suggests, we put it in there so everybody can be happy.”
The Relatively Non-Controversial Marshmallow Issue
“My favorite thanksgiving side dish has to be the candied yams,” Santana Moss told me. “Man, I’m talkin’ about … man.” He got a faraway look, like he was already envisioning the plates of sweet potatoes.
But, I asked, what about marshmallows on top?
“Naw,” he said. “I just eat ‘em like they is, man. I like mine real sweet. I make sure whoever’s makin’ ‘em has a lot of sugar in them, you know what I mean? And if you know how to make ‘em right, trust me, you’ll have me going back to the table all night.”
Casey Rabach agreed, to a point. “Come on, now,” he said. “Yams with the marshmallows. You gotta do marshmallows. If you don’t, they suck.”
I explained Moss’s philosophy of marshmallows, and Rabach looked completely flummoxed.
“Does he put sugar on it?” he asked, and I allowed that he did. “Well, what’s the difference. It’s fluffy sugar versus granulated sugar.”
(Fred Smoot and noted sweet-tooth Malcolm Kelly were also in the pro-marshmallow camp; Lorenzo Alexander grew up without but can take them or leave them at this point.)
Malcolm Kelly Is Unique
“Favorite side dish?” Malcolm Kelly repeated when I asked him. “Dang, man, I don’t even know, cuz. Maybe … dang.”
This was clearly an important question. “I like broccoli casserole,” he finally said, and I stammered out some kind of surprise. “You gotta see how it’s made, man. It’s off the chain. I’ll find the ingredients, I’ll let you know.”
No one else even mentioned broccoli casserole.
Anthony Armstrong was still trying to think of all the components of his Thanksgiving table. “Maybe chitlins,” he said. “They’re good until you mess around and clean them one time.”
“You stink like hell when you cook ‘em, though,” Casey Rabach said, shuddering. “You gotta clean all of the [crap] out of ‘em.”
A brief aside, for those who are unfamiliar with chitlins — or, to be more technical, “chitterlings.” I’ll just let wisegeek.com go ahead and define. Chitlins, the site says:
are a type of food made from pig intestines. In the US, they are a common soul food offering, though their cleaning and preparation can take a good deal of time. They are especially popular served during Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations among African American families.
Wikipedia helpfully adds the following, which speaks to Rabach’s point:
Chitterlings are carefully cleaned and rinsed several times before they are boiled or stewed for several hours. A common practice is to place a halved onion in the pot to mitigate what many regard as a pungent, unpleasant odor that can be particularly strong when the chitterlings begin to cook.
It’s something that Armstrong remembered all too well. “You literally gotta pull the lining off the insides of the intestines,” he said, “and there’s leftover corn, and … it smells like –”
“[Crap],” Rabach said flatly, although he didn’t actually say “crap”. “You take the [crap] out of ‘em,” he said.
Armstrong was becoming visibly shaken by the memory. “And the house stunk forever,” he said, “and …” he shook his head as he trailed off as if to clear the memory. “I haven’t been the same since.”
Albert Haynesworth Wraps It Up
It was at about this point that a TV crew came up to Albert Haynesworth and asked if they could grab him just for a second to shoot a quick “What are you thankful for” question.
Haynesworth looked at the camera briefly, then laughed and shook his head. “I don’t do Thanksgiving,” he said. “I’m Amish.”
(Yes, he was joking. Yes, he eventually did the segment.)
Wishing everyone a healthy, happy holiday today.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
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