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2020 has been a rollercoaster of a year, but we’re approaching the best part of it - the end! With that comes the plethora of holidays that spur across winter break, from Thanksgiving to the various religiously-affiliated winter holidays, to celebrating the year coming to a close with New Year’s. The common denominator in all of these events is that the central focus is on the soul-filled, home-cooked food, which is great news for me or any other college student sick of the dining hall after a grueling semester. So, to show my appreciation, I’m going to rank the most popular Thanksgiving food dishes from the worst to the best. Every point and argument is solely based on my opinion and my unmatched, refined taste and dedication for holiday side dishes!

Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows

If you weren’t convinced this list wasn’t extremely personal to me before, I hope this very underrated food winning gold for the Thanksgiving Food Olympics, located this year in my heart, is evidence enough. I’m not entirely sure how popular this dish is for families, but I know for mine, it’s a necessity in the holiday season. The natural sweetness of the sweet potato (who would’ve thought!) combined with the gooey, artificial sweetness of the marshmallows is surprisingly not overwhelming but rather the perfect combination. After some reflection, I don’t think my disdain of cranberry sauce stems from its ‘pre-game dessert’ nature, since that’s pretty much what sweet potatoes and marshmallows are, but rather that void is already full for me and anything else would be too much. The flavor profile of this dish is so unique from the sweet potatoes and melted marshmallows that it almost makes you forget that you’re eating vegetables under all the sugar!

Apple Pie

I was afraid including two pies in this limited food list would be a little redundant, but eating apple pie and pumpkin pie are two completely different experiences for me. For longer than I’d like to admit, I avoided pies. I liked pumpkin pie because of that silky consistency, but the idea of soft syrupy-sweet fruit turned me off. However, this all changed when my friend’s mom made an apple pie that completely blew my mind. The apple pie filling was neither as soft nor soggy as I once imagined it to be, completely changing my view on apple pies with just one slice. After my come-to-Jesus moment, apple pie has always had a special space in my heart above all others, I think because of how guilty I feel in my subconscious about not giving it a chance my entire childhood.

Mashed Potatoes

The Robin to turkey’s Batman, mashed potatoes are the sidekick to an iconic Thanksgiving dinner -- if Robin surpassed Batman in every way, shape, or form. Mashed potatoes’ versatility is what makes it Top 3 for me. Go to three different houses on Thanksgiving and I guarantee those three different bowls of mashed potatoes will not only taste different but have different textures. Use an old-school masher to retain some potato chunks or use the upscale ricer to make your potatoes creamy and smooth, both will taste fantastic! Do you like garlic? Add it! Do you like cheese? Add it! Do you like every herb under the sun? Add it, because nothing tastes bad in mashed potatoes!

Pumpkin Pie

What sets pumpkin pie apart from all the other aforementioned foods is that the only real excuse to eat it is over the holidays. You can have stuffing every day of the year and no one will blink twice but bust out the pumpkin pie in April and suddenly all of your friends are checking up on you. This is the exact reason why I regard pumpkin pie so highly, because eating it means it’s a special occasion! Who doesn’t love a dish that completely encompasses what it means to taste like the holidays?

Stuffing

Now that we’re past the foods that don’t pique my interest, we can really get into it. Stuffing is a ride or die Thanksgiving food. You can always count on stuffing to not only be at every family dinner you go to, but you also know exactly what it’s going to be like. Most of the stuffing I’ve had has had the same flavor (bread), texture (bread-y), and ingredients (bread, etc.). Sure, stuffing isn’t the most glamorous side-dish, but stuffing would be the friend who would pick you up from the airport, and that’s the kind of friend you need. I mostly use stuffing as a vehicle to get gravy into my mouth, but I’ve never met a more lowkey but reliable side-dish.

Cranberry Sauce

I’m not sure why I don’t jive with this one, but the vibes are just off and I can’t get over it. I love eating cranberries and drinking cranberry juice, but the sight of canned cranberry sauce/jelly completely throws me for a loop every year. It’s always the same no matter which relative’s house I go to, the jelly still ribbed from the can, standing as tall as a skyscraper in contrastingly very nice porcelain serving dish. Nothing about that scene makes me think, “Man, I can’t wait to cut off a chunk of that festive hospital Jell-O!” I don’t need to pregame dessert with something sweet on my dinner plate, especially not with a plain, solid stick of jelly.

Green Bean Casserole

I’m going to be frank with you, dear Reader, and confess that I have never gotten around to trying green bean casserole in the 18 Thanksgivings I have attended in my lifetime. However, I did what any good investigative journalist would do and Googled the recipe. Green beans, cream of mushroom soup, and onions mixed? I think my intuition was right in avoiding it because that sounds terrible. This casserole reminds me of the ’50s when they were advertising hot Dr. Pepper and putting meat in a Jell-O mold as real food.

Turkey

All I have to say about turkey is that I’m disappointed. How are you the star of the show, the icon of a holiday, and are the one that gives the least? The one that tastes the blandest and dry, out of everything on the table? How did the turkey get the reputation it has of being the spokesbird for Thanksgiving when it’s flavor presence is nothing noticeable? Turkey is the epitome of “over-promise and under-deliver”, and we should have left the tradition of eating it at Thanksgiving with the pilgrims. Normalize eating roasted chicken (or a fun tofurky) instead!

What’s better than the holiday season? Family sets of matching festive sweaters, having all the time to argue politics with your aunts and uncles, and of course, food! Every year I wait with bated breath until the wintertime comes around again to justify being in a food coma for three straight months, and every year I am not disappointed. That being said, all food was not created equal, which the holiday season seems to remind us of with the high highs of apple pies and the low lows of dry turkey. Nonetheless, I hope everyone has a safe and successful holiday season no matter what you’ll be piling onto your plate!

Grace Bradley

U Maine '23

Hello all! My name is Grace and I'm a fourth-year Communication major with a minor in Journalism here at UMaine! Originally from Connecticut, but I wanted more trees! Biiig music, art, and politics gal. Give me every outlet of expression!!
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