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Balancing Tradition With Experimentation at the Holiday Dinner Table

Tradition is a powerful force when we gather to eat with family and friends for the holidays. For some people, the idea of serving anything other than mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts with their prime rib would practically be sacrilege. Stick to an age-old script and never vary or face a chorus of questioning glances and grumpy muttering.

For other people, like Sunrise Organic Farms co-founder Andrew Gibson, side dishes are more spontaneous, sourcing from a seasonal vegetable cornucopia that’s readily available in the fridge. Given how fluid a farmer’s existence is, it’s tough to plan meals ahead of time and raiding the fridge typically doesn’t happen until the last minute. This year’s menu was still loaded with question marks the last time we spoke, though Gibson plans to use kohlrabi for the first time this season and to experiment with sunchokes, surprisingly versatile sunflower roots, which he’s only tried pickled in the past.

Many home cooks don’t have access to the sheer variety that farmer like Gibson does, though our Farmfluence boxes do provide people with Sunrise’s weekly pick of the litter. Our latest selection presents people with nearly limitless options on how to best use ingredients like little gems (for salad?), gold acorn squash (roasted or soup?) and passion fruit (perhaps in a tart?). 

Of course, holiday meals don’t have to be constant battles between tradition and variation. There’s always a middle ground that will make most people - never everybody - happy. Maybe start by simply saving one slot for a wild card side featuring a seasonal vegetable. That way, if you really want to try that garlicky creamed parsnip and stinging nettle casserole topped with crushed almonds, which is bound to be divisive, go for it, especially if you’re cooking.