The United Plates of America: A List of Traditional American Christmas Dishes

With Christmas around the corner, households across America will now be planning their Christmas feasts. Armies of cooking enthusiasts will be scanning the web and watching their favorite TV chefs for new turkey stuffing, egg nog, and Brussels sprout recipes.

As this ancient tradition draws near, families across the land can start counting down the days to America's second cultural dining extravaganza after Thanksgiving. The remarkable thing about America is how Christmas changes across the map, which means Montana's interpretation of Christmas will look much different from Hawaii's.

With a population of over 330 million people, the USA boasts the largest connected Christmas celebration in the world, with 50 states comprising a diverse national heritage. This rich cultural tapestry means states' traditions are linked to their First Nations, European, Latin American, African, Asian, and Polynesian genealogy.

With vast swathes of the land colonized by European nations and blocs, Christmas traditions that mirror those in the U.K., Ireland, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, and Poland are abundant. Add to this the indigenous cuisine of Native America, the influence of Latin America, and more recent movements from Africa and Asia. It means Americans are spoilt for choice when sampling international cuisines and traditions.

From Arctic Alaska to Tropical Key West

However, European festivities are dominant because Christmas is traditionally a Christian holiday. Every year, corporations like Disney and Coca-Cola capitalize on this, driving sales through ad campaigns featuring snow-globe fantasy scenes and characters. However, there is something romantic and assuring in these classic White Christmas tropes.

White Christmases may seem unfair to communities that have grown up in the Mississippi Delta, the Mohave Desert, or the Florida Keys. However, each part of the great nation still enjoys its own festivities. Many people even head north in the winter to sample the snow and get into the winter holiday spirit.

The Christmas (and Thanksgiving) turkey remains a staple of American legend and has been canonized in modern art for decades. James E. Allan's Wild Turkeys and John James Audobon's The American Wild Turkey Cock are two works of art that exemplify this ethos.

We all know turkeys are in no short supply anywhere across the country. However, those living up near the Beaufort Sea and down in the Lower Florida Keys may have to order well in advance. In the past, they would use whichever ingredients were local to that region.

The great thing about Christmas in America is that one can join in with the traditions from Arctic Alaska, tropical Hawaii, and Hispanic New Mexico if one wishes. Christmas is the greatest American food celebration from the Arctic to the Caribbean.

Here are some tastes of Christmas from across the USA for those after new Christmas recipe ideas or those curious about the diversity of American Christmas food.

Christmas Flounder (North Carolina)

The dishes on this list were forged from years of tradition and reflect the ingredients in their origins. During the Great Depression of the early 1930s, fishermen from Cape Fear, desperate for something to bring their families' dining tables on Christmas Day, set off on Christmas Eve and brought back a score of flounder. Or so we are led to believe.

The romantic scene is likely fictional and was depicted by local journalist Paul Jennewein for the Wilmington Morning Star. However, the dish remains a tradition, and flounder stuffed with shrimp, crab, vegetables, eggs, and breadcrumbs is still on many menus across the state.

Christmas Lefse (North Dakota)

Throughout the mid to late 19th century, North Dakota's predominantly Native American population saw an influx of Norwegian, Icelandic, Swedish, and German immigrants. The fertile lands west of the Red River Valley attracted scores of blonde-haired, blue-eyed farmers and general laborers, all seeking their slice of the American dream.

With them came old Nordic recipes such as lefse. Lefse is simply a rolled-out potato pancake filled with anything from butter and cinnamon, berries — or, as Scandi-Americans prefer, peanut butter and sugar.

Oyster Dressing (Mississippi)

According to Mississippians, no Christmas table is complete without a tray of a Deep-South staple: an oyster dressing. As accusatory as the title sounds, it is just a layer of baked oysters mixed with breadcrumbs, herbs, spices, and eggs — like a stuffing. The oyster has a rich history in American culture. Once so abundant that rich and poor alike enjoyed them, oysters declined in the 20th century due to pollution from heavy industry and population growth. It is thought that oyster stuffing is a relic of a time when putting oysters in one's stuffing was affordable.

Christmas Goose (Maine)

There is something Dickensian about a Christmas goose. Nobody can forget the Cratchit family in Dickens' fabled novel about Ebenezer Scrooge. The Christmas goose Bob Cratchit yearns to feed his family that Christmas Day represents the poverty of the time. However, a Christmas goose in 2022 will set you back over $300, so the opposite is true of today. Even though the turkey keeps its Christmas Day top spot on most Maine dinner tables, some Mainers splash out on a goose. It is a sound culinary investment: geese are full of healthy fats that contain oleic acid, which helps reduce cholesterol.

Okra Soup (South Carolina)

Few have visited South Carolina and not tried cuisine with African influences, and the influence of Gullah cooking is never far from view. Made up of many staples from across the Deep South, a typical Gullah Christmas table will have a steaming pan of okra soup for starters. The Gullah people inhabit coastal areas and the Outerbanks, a chain of islands stretching from SC to GA. They retain many customs from their African roots in the rice-growing regions along the Niger River in West Africa.

Kolaches (Texas)

There aren't many omnivores on the planet who wouldn't enjoy a Texas spread any time of the year. However, for a state so famous for its penchant for smoking protein, it is surprising that the dainty Czech cake might be on the menu in some households. Texas is a state that never ceases to surprise.

Kolaches are soft-bread pastries filled with various fruit compotes and topped with streusel, flour, egg, and sugar crumb. There is a Czech influence in Texan cooking, which apparently nobody outside of Texas knows about — or do they?

Coquito (Puerto Rico)

Technically, this is a drink, and technically, Puerto Rico is not a sovereign nation due to its status somewhere between protectorate or overseas US territory. Therefore, giving America's Caribbean connection a shout-out is only fair.

Anyone looking for an update on Christmas egg nog will enjoy this exotic version, containing similar spices but with coconut milk, coconut cream, and a generous helping of rum. This drink is an addition from Spanish settlers during Puerto Rico's colonial period, though it is enjoyed throughout the nation.

Julekake (South Dakota)

Like its cousin to the north, South Dakota has a strong Nordic influence from the days when those farmers from Scandinavia sought refuge from the icy mountains and glaciers of the Arctic. Humorously, they all settled in the coldest part of the Lower 48. With them, they bought an arsenal of baked goods, including many yeast-based bread and pastries.

Julekake is found all across Scandinavia and throughout much of this Midwestern region. Known as Norwegian Christmas bread, it is like a Nordic panettone. It can be enjoyed with some calorific, milk-based, warm drink.

Sausage and Hash Brown Casserole (Missouri)

Missouri is firmly in the middle of America's heartlands, and its cuisine could be described as hearty. Christmas Day in America's Midwest is the stuff of legend. In a state that receives a white Christmas consistently, sitting by the fire and watching the snow fall on Christmas afternoon is appealing to anyone who celebrates this festival.

This Christmas morning breakfast dish may be another good reason to visit the Gateway to the West this year. A mixture of fluffy, whipped potatoes, cheese, vegetables, and sausage meat is a perfect way to begin that frosty Christmas morning.

Clam Chowder (Massachusetts)

Turkey still keeps its gastronomic hegemony over America's biggest celebrations, but each region is still famous for certain ingredients. According to locals in Massachusetts, the region's famous clam chowder graces Christmas tables across the state. It is perfect fare for a snowy Boston afternoon, and even with a course of turkey to follow, the temptation to go all in must be hard to resist.

Clam chowder arrived in the Northeast in the 18th century with French, British, or Nova Scotian settlers. It is similar in some ways to the Scottish cold seafood soup Cullen skink, though ironically, a cold soup in a cold season makes little sense. However, clam chowder at Christmas makes perfect sense.

Mince Pies (Virginia)

Virginia favors the old British classic, which can be baked using a puff or shortcrust pastry and filled with mincemeat. Mincemeat is the weirdest ingredient to come out of the United Kingdom — and that is saying something.

Originally, King Henry V favored the mincepie, which would be stuffed with expensive meat and chopped dried fruits. However, meat was so scarce for the common pie lover that a blend of chopped fruits and nuts would suffice. This is the basis of the modern mince pie, a centerpiece of many Virginian Christmas spreads. It is even better if heated up and served with custard or heavy cream.

Sand Tart Cookies (Pennsylvania)

The Pennsylvania Dutch label is a misnomer in some ways, considering those farmers and eventual Amish communities were more German (Deutsch) in origin. They bought a butter cookie, dusted with colored sugar designs, that sit atop many Pennsylvanian dining tables come Christmas.

Pennsylvania's Amish community is also partial to these, as are German farming dynasties. One could imagine Dwight Schrute dressed as Belsnickel and serving a tray to Mose and his family on a cold Pennsylvania winter's day. Serving them with milk, coffee, or hot chocolate is a must.

Feast of Seven Fishes (New Jersey)

New Jersey is famous for its Italian roots, which is reflected in the Feast of the Seven Fishes, a remnant of the southern Italian origins of the dish. In Italy, it is not known as a feast, nor does it contain seven fishes. It is connected to the pious Italians' tradition of abstinence from meat on the feast day.

It signifies Advent – the wait for baby Jesus to arrive. Dishes like cod or calamari can be found, and the more proud families will serve seven types of seafood on December 24th. This ritual can be witnessed in households all across Italian America.

Gingerbread Cookies (Delaware)

There are some holiday treats that cross over from holiday to holiday, and this Halloween treat is easily replicated for Christmas. Ginger is a prominent ingredient in much northern European baking, connected to East Asia's colonial past.

At some point, Germany became the arbiter of all good ginger-related baking, with gingerbread houses first decorated in the 18th century. This somehow made its way into American folklore, and Deleware natives love to decorate this delicious cookie every Christmas.

Green Bean Casserole (Georgia)

Green bean casserole is a staple of southern cooking, and no state does green bean casserole better than Georgia. Strangely, New Hampshire claimed this recipe when it appeared on Campbell's Soup cans in 1955. Since then, people across the nation have been cooking green beans in mushroom soup and crispy onions every holiday. Eating a turkey dinner without green bean casserole in the Deep South is a crime. Sometimes, simple ingredients make for a delicious plate of comfort food.

Kalua Pork (Hawaii)

In Hawaii, the locals need no excuse to throw a luau. This epic feast and celebration features an array of dishes and musical performances from music in the region. Being such a diverse island population with a strong influence from Polynesian, Filipino, and even Japanese heritage, Hawaiian food can be eclectic.

Every luau will have Kalua pork, which involves cooking a whole pig underground with hot coals before shredding and serving it with garnishes. There can be few people who have sampled a Hawaiian Christmas, though there must be so many that would like to. A warm, tropical Christmas with subterranean-roasted meat sounds like an experience indeed.

Christmas Gumbo (Louisiana)

Louisiana is famous for its great Creóle eating, and its list of dishes couldn't be further from the likes of New England or the Midwestern regions. But why would you want to eat turkey when you have an abundance of great seafood nearby?

For those not partial to Anglo-European Christmas dishes up north, Louisianans can rest assured that they have Christmas covered. Gumbo, a mixture of rice with a bold sauce base, sausage, and shrimp, is a common feature in the center of any Louisiana festive table. Gumbo has a complex base of spice and savory notes that excite any tastebuds, making a Creóle Christmas enticing.

Crabcakes (Maryland)

Crab is Maryland's most famous culinary treat, other than the commercial British chocolate-chip cookies. It is fascinating that the eastern seaboard states have many shared traditions. However, one thing that defines them is their abundant seafood.

Maryland is famous for its blue crabs, which have the advantage of maturing in the Chesapeake Bay and getting fatter than their competitors. Over the holidays, any Christmas lover in Maryland has the advantage of including this delicacy on their menu.

Mulled Wine (Washington DC.)

Another tradition from the old country is mulled wine — red wine warmed with a bomb of spices and fruit peelings to give it distinct spice and warmth. Naturally, this is not a custom shared in places such as Florida or California due to the overwhelming inner heat that drinking this will bring. Still, nothing can beat a hot glass outdoors on a freezing night at a winter market or gazing over a snow-covered valley after a day of skiing.

Cranberry Pear Pie (Alabama)

According to many Alabamians, cranberry pear pie is a must-have for every Christmas dinner table. Alabama, like its neighboring states, shares many traditions, and this dessert dish is one of them. Legend says that the best cranberry pear pies are found in the Yellowhammer State. Alabama makes great use of that evident winter cranberry surplus and provides a decent alternative to the sauce version. Roll-tide!

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.


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