Traditional Thanksgiving Food

Everyone knows that the big, brown roasted stuffed turkey is the king of Thanksgiving Day.
Part 1

The original Thanksgiving meal of the Pilgrims was quite different from the Thanksgiving Dinner that is now laid out on our tables like pumpkin pie, cornbread, roasted turkey and so on. The Pilgrims celebrated a harvest festival in 1621 to thank God that he had saved their lives and guided them safely through their journey on the Mayflower and the following years of drought at Plymouth. The rain that marked the end of the drought had revived their crop of corn and other fruit and they decided to celebrate with their neighbors which were Massasoit, the chief of the Native Indians or Wampanoags, and his family. The chief came with all his extended family that consisted of ninety people and stayed for three days.

As things were there were only four grown up married ladies among the colonist to do all the cooking. Therefore, General Bradford sent four soldiers to hunt for fowl. They brought back so many that it could feed the whole village for a week. The Wampanoags contributed five deer and probably other supplies as a sign of courtesy. The food listed in Winslow's account consists of cornmeal, fish such as bass and cod and wild fowls or turkeys. Things that were not listed but were available to the Pilgrims as a part of the feast were lobster, rabbit, chicken, squashes, beans, chestnuts, hickory nuts, onions, leeks, dried fruit, maple syrup and honey, radishes, cabbage, carrots, eggs and perhaps goat cheese.

At that time potatoes were not available and butter and oil were scarce. As there were no ovens one could forget about pumpkin pie. Meat and poultry were roasted on spits over an open fire and took hours to cook and required constant turning. Therefore roast venison may have been served along with boiled fish and fowl or turkey and it is not unlikely that some of these birds may have still had an overlooked birdshot embedded in them.

Corn may have been ground into meal for bread and thickener. Cranberries were available but cranberry sauce could not be made because there was no sugar and a lot of labor would be required if they used honey or syrup. Of course there was no time to prepare things which took too much time because four ladies were cooking as it was all day to feed 150 people.

To conclude the Thanksgiving meal of the Pilgrims may have consisted of roasted venison, stewed or boiled fowl, lobster and fish, corn and wheat bread, stew of dried fruit and perhaps pumpkin, one or two boiled vegetables and water to drink.

Part 2 Thanksgiving Dinner

In both the United States and Canada the Thanksgiving meal consists of many different kinds of food with the centerpiece of course being a large, roasted turkey. A great deal of the dishes in the traditional American version of Thanksgiving Dinner are made form food native to the New World.

The use of the turkey in the US for Thanksgiving precedes Lincoln's nationalization of the holiday in 1863. Alexander Hamilton proclaimed that "no Citizen of the United States should refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day". However turkey was uncommon as Thanksgiving fare until after 1800. By 1857 it had become part of the traditional dinner in New England.

The Thanksgiving Day dinner which was served to the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935 consisted of pickles, green olives, celery, roast turkey, oyster stew, cranberry sauce, giblet gravy, dressing, creamed asparagus tips, snowflake potatoes, baked carrots, corn, hot rolls, fruit salad, mince meat pie, fruit cake, candies, grapes, apples, French drip coffee, cigars and cigarettes.

The family and friends present at a Thanksgiving table are expected to reflect upon and be thankful for everything that has occurred in the last year.

Since turkey is the common main dish Thanksgiving is sometimes colloquially called Turkey Day. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) estimated that 269 million turkeys were raised in the country in 2003, about one-sixth of which were destined for a Thanksgiving dinner plate. The average cost of an entire Thanksgiving feast was approximately $41 in 2007. It has also been estimated that 16 - 20 percent of annual turkey consumption in the US is attributed to Thanksgiving and as much as 30 percent of consumption occurs during the holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.

Most turkeys are stuffed with a bread-based stuffing and roasted. The traditional herb which is added to the stuffing (also called dressing) is sage, along with some chopped celery, carrots, and onions. Turducken, a turkey stuffed with a duck, stuffed with a chicken is becoming more popular from its Cajun base in Louisiana. Rising in popularity also is deep-fried turkey requiring a special fryer to hold the large bird and unfortunately leading to fires and bad burns for those who fail to take care when dealing with such large quantities of hot oil. In recent years it is also true that as the wild population of turkeys has rebounded in most of the US, some will hunt and dress their turkey in the woods and then freeze it until meal preparation.

Sometimes nontraditional foods are served as the main dish instead of turkey. Goose and duck, which were traditional European centerpieces for Christmas dinner have now been displaced by ham and are now sometimes served in place of the Thanksgiving turkey. In a few areas on the West Coast of the US, Dungeness crab (a species of crab that inhabits eelgrass beds and water bottoms from the Aleutian Islands in Alaska to Santa Cruz, California. Its binomial name, Cancer magister, simply means "master crab" in Latin. They measure as much as 25 cm (10 inches) in some areas off the coast of Washington, but typically are under 20 cm (8 inches). They are a popular delicacy, and are the most commercially important crab in the Pacific Northwest, as well as the western states generally) is a common alternate main dish, as crab season starts in early November. Variant recipes may be used for turkey such as a Chinese recipe for goose could be used on a similarly sized American bird. Vegetarians or vegans may try tofurkey a tofu-based dish with imitations turkey flavor. In Alaskan villages, sometimes whale meat is eaten. Since beef was once a rarity back in Ireland Irish immigrants have been known to have prime rib of beef as their centerpiece on Thanksgiving. In the US, a new global approach to Thanksgiving has become popular due to the impact of immigration on the country. Some take the basic Thanksgiving ingredients, and reinvent them using flavors, techniques, and traditions from their own cuisines, while others celebrate the holiday with a large festive meal with or without turkey.

Because of the amount of food that is usually served along with the main dish the Thanksgiving meal is sometimes served midday of early afternoon to make time for all the eating and preparations may begin at dawn or on days prior. Traditional Thanksgiving foods are sometimes specific to the day, and although some of the foods might be seen at any semi-formal meal in the United States, the meal often has something of a ritual or traditional quality. Many Americans would say it's "incomplete" without cranberry sauce, stuffing or dressing, and gravy. Other commonly served dishes include sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes or rice (in the South), dumplings, corn on the cob or hominy, ham, deviled eggs, green beans or green bean casserole, peas and carrots, wheat flour bread rolls, cornbread (in the south), or biscuits, rutabagas or turnips, and a Waldorf salad. For dessert, various pies are often served, particularly apple pie, mincemeat pie, sweet potato pie, pumpkin pie, chocolate meringue pie and pecan pie. In Puerto Rico , the Thanksgiving meal is completed with: Arroz con gandules pumpkin flan , Roasted white sweet potatoes and Spanish sparkling hard cider

Nontraditional regional differences regarding the stuffing or dressing may also be found. Southerners make their dressing from cornbread, while those in other parts of the country make stuffing from white or wheat bread as the base. Some of the following may also be added oysters, apples, chestnuts, raisins, celery and/or other vegetables, sausages or the turkey's giblets. The traditional Canadian version has bread cubes, sage, onion, and celery. Rice is also sometimes used instead of bread in Canada.

There are nontraditional dishes which reflect the region or cultural background of those who have come together for the meal. For example, many African Americans and Southerners serve baked macaroni and cheese and collard greens, while Italian Americans often have lasagna on the table and Ashkenazi Jews may serve noodle kugel, a sweet dessert pudding. Mexican Americans may serve mole (a special type of sauce with various ingredients) and roasted corn with their turkey. Vegetarians may also serve a large vegetable pie or a stuffed and baked pumpkin or tofurkey. Many Midwesterners of Norwegian or Scandinavian descent set the table with lefse (a traditional soft Norwegian flatbread made out of potato, milk or cream and flour, and cooked on a griddle) and green bean hotdish.

Beverages served at Thanksgiving often depend on who is present at the table and their tastes. Spirits or cocktails occasionally may be served before the main meal. On the dinner table, unfermented apple cider (still or sparkling) and/or wine. Beaujolais nouveau (a red wine made from Gamay grapes produced in the Beaujolais region of France. It is the most popular vin de primeur, fermented for just a few weeks then officially released for sale on the third Thursday of November.) is sometimes served as „Beaujolais day" falls one week before Thanksgiving. Pitchers of sweetened iced tea are common throughout the South. For children and those below the legal drinking age there are of course different kinds of juice and soda.

Some recipes for a Southern Thanksgiving Dinner

Southern Cornbread and Oyster Dressing
• 4 tablespoons butter, divided
• 1 cup chopped onion
• 4 green onions, chopped
• 2 stalks celery, chopped
• 3 cups crumbled cornbread
• 3 cups soft bread crumbs
• 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
• salt and pepper, to taste
• 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
• 1 pint shucked oysters, drained, reserve 1/2 cup liquid
Preheat oven to 350°.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Sauté onions and celery in the butter until tender, not browned.
Combine cornbread and bread crumbs in a large bowl; mix in sautéed onions, salt, pepper, and parsley.
Add beaten eggs and toss more; moisten with the oyster liquid until moist but not soggy. Gently stir in the oysters.
Pat the mixture into a large lightly buttered rectangular baking pan (it should make a 1-inch layer in the pan). Dot with remaining butter and bake about 45 minutes, until golden brown and set in the center.

Holiday Potato Casserole
• 3 pounds potatoes, peeled & quartered
• 1 1/2 sticks butter (6 ounces)
• 2 small (3 oz) packages cream cheese, softened
• 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
• 1 jar (2 oz) chopped pimiento, drained
• 1 small green pepper, finely chopped
• 6 green onions, finely chopped
• 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
• 1/4 cup milk
• 1 teaspoon salt
Cook potatoes in boiling water to cover 15 minutes or until tender; drain and mash. Add butter and cream cheese; beat at medium speed with and electric mixer until smooth. Stir in 1/2 cup Cheddar cheese and next 6 ingredients; spoon into lightly buttered 11x7x1 1/2 inch baking dish. Bake at 350° for 30 to 40 minutes, or until thoroughly heated. Sprinkle with remaining cheese; bake 5 minutes or until cheese melts.
You may prepare the night before (except for cheese topping) and refrigerate, covered, overnight. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes before baking.

Lemon Garlic Broccoli
• 3 tablespoons butter
• 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
• 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
• salt, to taste
• pepper, to taste, optional
Steam broccoli until tender but firm, about 5 to 7 minutes. Heat the butter in a heavy nonstick skillet over medium heat; add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the cooked broccoli, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste, cooking briefly to combine.
Published: 11/18/2008
Bouquets and Brickbats | What Others Said