Thanksgiving Traditions

By Ann Thelen

As we celebrate Thanksgiving, we asked Iowa Food & Family Project partners to share their favorite foods or traditions with us. These Iowans celebrate in special ways – much like your own families have sentimental ways to enjoy this season of gratitude. 

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The Great Food Debate

The Ford family of Pleasantville and Orient, Iowa, debates whether the Thanksgiving ham should be spiral or boneless. Some family members, specifically grandma, insist on a spiral ham because it is more traditional, and the bone adds more flavor. On the contrary, other family members prefer a boneless ham because it does not dry out as quickly. At the end of the day, we can all agree leftover ham is the best for sandwiches and everyone wants their share to take home! One of Kelsey’s favorite pork recipes is Sweet Southern Slow Cooker Ham. - Kelsey Sutter, Marketing and Programs Director, Iowa Pork Producers Association

Why we are thankful for Iowa’s pork industry

Iowa farmers raise more pigs than any other state – 40 to 50 million annually, or almost one-third of the nation’s total. Farmers today provide one pound of pork using 41% less water and 78% less land than they did in 1959.

Thanks and Giving

A tradition Earl May Seed and Nursey has implemented the past several years is making a donation in honor of our employees to the Shenandoah Food Pantry. - Deanna Anderson, Director of Marketing, Earl May Seed and Nursery

Why we are thankful for Earl May Seed and Nursery

Earl May, founded in 1919, is a company with deep roots in Iowa. In the early days, the company sold baby chickens, tires, batteries, radios, paint, shoes, clothing and seed, mostly by mail. Today, Earl May operates 30 garden and lawn care stores throughout Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas. Every store is family-owned and operated.

Parade, Potatoes and Potluck Style

When I was a child, my mom and I always watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade while we prepped the meal. Peeling pounds of potatoes is a lot more fun when it’s done while being entertained by some of the most amazing performers from across the country.

I still watch the Macy’s parade live as I prep for the Thanksgiving meal. Our dinner – for some 40 people – is served potluck style, and it’s a real feast for the senses! My aunts, cousins and I have all become known for bringing certain dishes. My daughter always makes a beeline for my cousin’s macaroni and cheese with corn. One of my aunts always brings cranberry salad. Because I raise acres of pumpkins and squash, I like to try new recipes to savor those fall flavors. Amish Squash Casserole has become one of my favorites. - Shannon Latham, Co-owner and Marketing Director at Latham Hi-Tech Seeds

Why we are thankful for Latham Hi-Tech Hybrids

The Latham family has served farmers for 70 years with the latest seed genetics, highest quality products and hometown service. Today, as the third generation of seedsmen operate the business, they continue to build on the foundation their grandfather Willard provided with a commitment to personal service and tailored solutions and the same spirit of families helping families.

Full of Grace

The one tradition that my family started when I was a kid was to go around after saying grace and say what we are thankful for. We still do it today. It helps us reflect on the meaning of Thanksgiving and what we are fortunate to have in our lives. - Sarah Todd, Senior Account Executive – Public Relations and Marketing, Mercy Medical Center – Des Moines

Why we are thankful for Mercy Medical Center

Founded in 1893, Mercy is the longest continually operating hospital in Des Moines. With approximately 7,000 staff members and a medical staff of about 1,200, Mercy is one of the state’s largest employers and one of the Midwest’s largest referral centers.

Food that's Soy Good

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I make Tofu Pumpkin Pie and Edamame Corn Salad every Thanksgiving! I host my family, and everyone brings a dish. My sister and I make the turkey and dressing using my Grandmother Funk’s dressing recipe! I set a very formal and elegant table, and we serve all the traditional dishes we grew up with! - Linda Funk, executive director, The Soyfoods Council

Why we are thankful for Iowa’s soybean farmers

Iowa is the nation's leader in soybean production! Iowa’s soybean farmers have invested more than $40 million in research and conservation efforts. When it comes to eating soyfoods, you’re in for a delicious treat. Edamame serves up 11 grams of protein in just half a cup, making the edamame corn salad delicious and nutritious! 

Sharing Gratitude

My favorite Thanksgiving tradition is my family sharing “what I am thankful for.” Everyone ages 2 to 85 sits around a large dining room table and shares what they are thankful for before our Thanksgiving dinner. One of my favorite holiday recipes involves corn! - Shannon Textor, Director of Marketing, Iowa Corn Growers Association

Corn Bread Corn

  • 1 can cream corn
  • 1 can corn
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 box of Jiffy corn muffin mix

 Mix together and pour into a greased baking dish. Bake for 45 minutes at 350˚F.

Why we are thankful for Iowa’s Corn Growers

In an average year, Iowa grows more corn than most countries! Corn can be found in more than 4,000 everyday items, including corn-fed bacon cheeseburgers and fuel that gets you where you need to go!

Making Memories

I love baking pies with my kids on Thanksgiving. It is bittersweet because I love to do it so much, and each year, they become more independent and don't need as much of my help. The kids grow up quickly, but traditions that stay alive are the ones worth celebrating. Our favorite pie is pear, my daughter likes a two-crust pie and my son likes a crumble topped pie, this year I think we'll make both! - Cristen Clark, Farmer and Blogger, Food & Swine

Cristen Clark bakes a pie with her daughter.

Why we are thankful for Cristen

Cristen is an Iowa farmer whose family raises corn, soybeans, pigs and cattle. She loves cooking and writing, and passionately shares information about agriculture.

Dairy Good Times

I love Thanksgiving for the food, of course! Midwest Dairy has so many great recipes on our website; it’s hard to choose one! From Pumpkin Pie Squares to Roasted Acorn Squash with Brown Sugar and Bacon they are all delicious. - Mitch Schulte, Industry Relations – Program Manager - Iowa, Midwest Dairy Association

Why we are thankful for dairy farmers

Iowa’s 1,200 dairy farmers produced approximately 560 million gallons of milk last year. Milk is one of the freshest ingredients in the grocery store – going from the farm to the store within 48 hours!

Brown-bagging It

I have several wonderful Thanksgiving traditions and memories, and the best are those I shared with my grandmother. My grandmother was a small – 4’10” to be exact – but mighty woman, and was known for her cooking and baking skills! Every Thanksgiving, I looked forward to grandma’s apple pie, as did the entire family, which resulted in her making multiple pies (bless her heart!). Grandma’s apple pie is actually quite simple to make, and my favorite part of the pie (other than its delicious taste) is that it is baked in a brown paper bag! There is something about brown paper that floods my memory of childhood days – school lunches, field trips, hand puppets, book covers, and of course, grandma’s pie. - Katie Nola, Director of Marketing, Iowa Egg Council

Why we are thankful for Iowa’s egg farmers

At just 70 calories, one egg serves up 6 grams of protein and all nine essential amino acids! The Iowa egg industry is comprised of nearly 60 million laying hens, which produce 16 billion eggs!

Grandma's Apple Pie in a Bag


  • 1 unbaked 9-inch pastry shell
  • 6-8 Jonathon apples
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Cut and place apples in bowl. Combine sugar, flour and cinnamon and sprinkle over apples to coat. Spoon mixture in pastry shell and drizzle with lemon juice.

Topping for Filling

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup margarine
  • Combine sugar and flour in a bowl. Cut in margarine. Sprinkle over apple mixture.

Slide pie into a brown bag. Fold over twice and fasten with paper clips. Place on a cookie sheet. Bake at 425˚F for 1 hour. Remove from over. Split bag open, remove pie and cool on wire rack.