November 26, 2014

It was around the Jewish High Holy Days, actually, when Sheryl Julian learned not to mess with people’s recipes. The menu was pretty much the same for the Jewish community in Boston, Julian said, who were then largely Ashkenazi.

“One year I found a Sephardic Jewish woman raised in north Africa and she gave me this wonderful menu,” said Julian, food editor for The Boston Globe.

About a month later, a woman stopped Julian after she gave a talk “and she said, ‘I have a bone to pick with you. What were you doing printing that recipe on the High Holy Day? That’s not what the Jews in Boston make.'”

Yes, Julian replied, but wasn’t it interesting?

“And she said, ‘it was different and I wasn’t interested.'”

Don’t you have your own recipes? Julian asked the woman.

“And she said, ‘of course I do, I just want to read everyone else’s.'”

Julian realized something just then. It doesn’t matter if someone knows how to cook a turkey. They still want to see how somebody else does it.

“If I decide I’m tired of the same recipes, I’m being a damn fool,” Julian said, “because nobody else is.”

With Easter, you can stretch a bit, she said. For Fourth of July, anything American is game, and people have different traditions for Christmas.

“Thanksgiving is the same menu every year,” she said. “You can add lemon rind to the Brussels sprouts and you can add Dijon mustard to the Brussels spouts and you can mash the potatoes with a special masher and make them more mashed, but essentially, it’s pretty much the same menu.”

I emailed several other food editors and asked them all the same question — what’s the one Thanksgiving food feature you’d love to stop running? Here’s what they said:

Bonnie Benwick, deputy food editor/recipe editor, The Washington Post

“I can’t think of any Thanksgiving features that I’m tired of doing – must be a rare bird, in that respect. (Stop the presses! Just thought of something – riffs on the crunchy onion-strewn green bean casserole. Over it.) But if I never had to edit or write another “Ham or Lamb?” episode for Easter, I’d be a happy camper.”

Kristen Aiken, executive editor, HuffPost Taste:

“‘Light Thanksgiving Recipes.’ It’s ONE day, can’t we give ourselves a break for ONE day? Though it’s a holiday that’s supposed to revolve around being thankful for the blessings of a good harvest, let’s be real — it’s all about stuffing. Ourselves. With food.”

J.M. Hirsch, food editor, Associated Press:

“I took over as AP food editor about 10 years ago. One of the Thanksgiving features I inherited was an annual roundup of cooking hotlines for home cooks to call when they need help roasting their turkeys or rescuing soggy pie crusts. It was awful to assemble. There were so many numbers, and at least half of them would change every year. I muscled through it for a couple years until it dawned on me just how outdated a concept it was. If people need help with their birds or baking, they’re going to Google it on their phones. So I killed that feature and never looked back. I haven’t run it for years now, but I still get the calls every September by the hotline people asking if I’ve changed my mind. And that would be a no.”

Miriam Morgan, food editor, San Francisco Chronicle:

“Thanksgiving in general is a real challenge. And that’s an understatement. How to say something new each year, when there is very little new and readers really just want you to hold their hand through the basic meal. Every year we go round and round about what to do differently, and it can seem forced. We always seem to come up with something fun, though. This year it was Tyler Florence’s spatchcocked turkey with stuffing under the skin. A real winner.
One year, we tested about 30 turkeys to compare and contrast the best way to roast (brined, air-dried). That was probably 10 years ago, and it’s still our fall-back, foolproof method. But bottom line? I wish we could skip Thanksgiving entirely!”

Sheryl Julian, food editor, The Boston Globe:

“I hate to say it, but the dreaded story is every holiday.”

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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