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A Thanksgiving Tradition With Toppings

Image by Avery Robinson

While many Americans are busy gorging themselves on turkey, stuffing, dressing, pies, and a handful of other victuals, I’ll be enjoying my family time in lieu of a tryptophanic, calorie-induced food coma.

But how did my family get so lucky that we are able to avoid this (great?) American pastime? And what will we be doing if not carving a twenty-pound bird and screaming at each other?

For as long as I have been conscious of Thanksgiving, my family has been making turkey-shaped pizza on the fourth Thursday of November. Apparently, there were some in my family who did not love the taste of turkey. So rather than deny the iconic status of this New World bird, my mother decided that a pizza created in its image would suffice (and ensure that her children could relate to American culture).

And thus was born our alternative, delicious, easy, fun, and dietary-restriction-friendly Thanksgiving tradition. Who doesn’t like homemade/gourmet pizza? I have no scientific data for how this tradition might spread, but given our nation’s love affair with pizza—and frustrations with cooking turkey—this could be something big.

Where turkeys take hours of cooking, and even more preparation (defrosting, cleaning, brining, etc.), a turkey-shaped pizza takes no more than 15 minutes from rolling out the dough to enjoying a slice. And not only is this quick, it can be fun for the whole family. Where the bird was mom (or dad’s) job, everyone can lend a hand in rolling, shaping, and decorating the pizza, err… turkey.

One of the worst feelings, as a host, is knowing that you may not be able to appease all of your guests because of their dietary proscriptions and allergies. Fortunately, Thanksgiving pizza can accommodate those who are vegan, lactose-intolerant and dairy allergic, kosher-observant, have hypertension or IBD, and so much more. Gluten-free pizza dough is easy to make, dairy-free cheese is relatively common, and dietary restrictions can all be accommodated when you are making multiple pizzas.

Holidays should be enjoyable. As Rachel Shukert points out in her “very Tattler Thanksgiving” article on TabletMag, Thanksgiving is one of the few holidays where Jews can celebrate and enjoy themselves without additional prayers and liturgical devotions. So rather than force your kids to whine through another day (or kicking them out of the kitchen from stressing out about your bird), encourage the family to take an active hand in the turkey-pizza prep. Even those who will not touch the uncooked pizza may still be persuaded to “carve” the finished turkey. And if you have any creative family members, don’t stop with just the turkey. If you have any football fans, go for a green pizza of basil and spinach with cheese for the ten-yard lines. Make a flag from your immigrant family’s home country. Or just have fun, as a family, designing your own pizza.

And for the best part: dairy desserts. For those of us who keep kosher, making good pie or other iconic fall classics is difficult with a fleishig (meat) meal. But when you go dairy, the opportunities are endless. A simple apple-cranberry crisp is upgraded with real vanilla ice cream. Pie—be it sweet potato, pumpkin, or apple—while acceptable with substitutions, is so much better with butter crusts and a little cream. (Pumpkin) cheesecake should not be relegated to just Shavuot. The opportunities are endless…and for the most part, delicious.

So next year, while millions of America are dining on turkey, my family will be enjoying our traditional, turkey-shaped pizza. Regardless of your kosher or vegetarian leanings, if you are still frustrated with your turkey experience or want to try something new (and likely with fewer calories), roll out some dough and have some fun.

Avery Robinson is a graduate student at the University of Michigan researching Jewish American Culinary History. When he is not poring through cookbooks in the Clements Library, he enjoys camping, shmoozing, and hosting the annual Malka and Elimelech Kugelov Kugel-off at the University of Michigan.


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