Heartland Feast

John Super and Casey the dog in Lemont, Illinois.Beth Rooney

For me, Thanksgiving isn't about the turkey, and that's saying something if you're from Chicago, a meat-loving city if ever there was one. Personally, I'm all about the side dishes, and not just because I'm a vegetarian. At Thanksgiving meals at my sister-in-law's home in Lemont, Illinois (that's her dog, Casey, at right, begging for a bite from my father-in-law, John Super), there is my mom's herb-flecked stuffing, a portion of which she cooks outside the bird specially for me. We always have two cranberry sauces, both a chunky homemade version and the jiggly kind straight out of the can, which everyone claims is for my nephews, though we all love it. Everyone brings a vegetable cooked a different way: my parents' cinnamon-spiked pumpkin pie, my brother-in-law's garlicky green beans. And then there's the gorgeous apple strudel that my Croatian mother-in-law makes only for this occasion. Every year the menu changes, depending on what my dad and my father-in-law have raised in the garden plot they share at the local American Legion Post and what vegetables and fruits my family has canned and pickled over the summer. Last year, we'd bought a carful of pears on a trip up to Michigan, so I made pear sauce instead of applesauce; the year before that it was pickled beets. Everyone goes on and on about the turkey, but I don't mind. I just help myself to another piece of butternut squash tart. —Beth Rooney, a photographer based in Chicago, Illinois