The image propagated in schools and media of the “First Thanksgiving” is certainly an idealized one.
A few years back I read a most interesting book called “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver. It may be the book that turned me into a ‘foodie.’ She traced the adventure of her family’s attempt to eat locally grown food for a year. She talked a lot about “food culture,” and how we as Americans, a nation predominantly of immigrants, are without one. The exception to that is the one true ‘American’ meal: Thanksgiving.
The image propagated in schools and media of the “First Thanksgiving” is certainly an idealized one. Thanksgiving was not an actual holiday until the Civil War when Abe Lincoln declared a ‘day of thanks.’ The intent was to get people to sit down and eat a meal together and (hopefully) get along. That remains a lofty ideal to this day, and certainly one to be cherished and nourished. To actually slow down, catch up and savor family and friends; how appropriate to do that over food!
So what makes it an American meal and why is this important? Seasonal food, local food; it’s as simple as that. There was a first “Thanksgiving” and it was essentially a harvest celebration; squash, beans, carrots, maybe ‘popped corn’ and maybe a ‘Pumpkin Pie.’ It differed from our contemporary one in that it was a pumpkin with filling; hollowed out it was filled with eggs, maple syrup and spices, slid to the side of the hearth and baked. The whole mixture was then scooped out along with the pumpkin flesh that was now tender and delicious; more of a porridge than an actual pie. The pumpkin was introduced to the Pilgrims by the Native population because it was indigenous to North America, and as such was easily and plentifully cultivated along with other varieties.
Venison was the one meat verified to have been served but it is highly probable a gaggle of fowl was gathered, including duck, geese and what we call wild turkey (topping out at about 8lb a far cry from the fattened domestic turkeys that grace so many tables today). Cranberries may have made an appearance, but nothing like our modern version. Another indigenous crop cranberries played an important role in Native American commerce in the form of ‘Pemmican’ an early American ‘power bar’ that kept the hunter-trappers nourished during the long winter months. Potatoes of both the regular and sweet varieties came much later as an addition to the meal. Though also indigenous to the Americas they took a long and circuitous route to ‘New England’ and that will be discussed at another time……
I get excited when I think of the challenge of arranging this seasonal bounty on the table for all to share. This year our gathering will feature family from six states, but the food is dominated by New Hampshire and Vermont squash from Pierson Farm, potatoes from Edgewaterm Farm, sweet potatoes from Blue Ox Farm, turkey from Stonewood Farm, onions from Killdeer Farm, apples from Poverty Lane and sweet cider from Walhowdon Farm as well as the crust made from Cabot butter and King Arthur Flour, sweet cream from McNamara Dairy, maple syrup from Linda and Pat Temple, pumpkins from North Grantham and eggs from that guy with the farm stand in Newport. Not all of our food needs can be sourced from the Upper Valley; coffee, sugar (and chocolate!) to name but a few. But please, especially during this season of Thanksgiving, remember our fellow workers all over the world and purchase fairly traded products whenever possible.
So take a stroll through our Prepared Food Department and you will not have to lift a finger! The Chefs have put in long hours cooking squash and sweet potatoes and making delectable gravy. Or order a locally raised Turkey from one of those great people in the Meat Department. Gather up all of the wonderful locally grown produce, fresh and bountiful and pleasing to the eye. And remember- more of the dollar you spend on local products stays in your community, your economy! Happy Thanksgiving!
Stuffing or Dressing
Some people use the terms interchangeably; some people use one or the other. In the South, dressing is the more popular term; in New England it is stuffing (usually bread). The culinary distinction is, if it’s cooked in the bird it is ‘stuffing.’ This delicious side dish is a delightful alternative to its ‘stuffy’ bread counterpart.
2 cups quinoa rinsed
8 ounces zucchini small diced
8 ounces celery small diced
8 ounces Spanish olives small diced
2 cups sweet potato diced and roasted
6 cloves garlic chopped
1 qt vegetable stock
1/2 cup pecan pieces toasted
3 fl ounces olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tbl ground black pepper
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp curry powder
1 cup dry black currants
1) Toss zucchini, celery and onions with half the olive oil, thyme and sage; bake until aromatic (al dente); set aside.
2) Toss diced sweet potatoes with half the olive oil, chopped garlic and some salt & pepper; roast until lightly browned.
3) Bring veggie stock to a boil and add quinoa; reduce heat and cook until quinoa blooms and stock is absorbed, 10-15 minutes; remove from heat.
4) Mix all ingredients together gently, include any extra liquid from cooked veggies (flavor!)
5) Ready to go! Will serve 12-15.
6) This is a great Vegetarian side dish!
7) Use craisins, raisins, apples, walnuts and orange zest in a mix and match with similar ingredients; wild rice can also be incorporated for extra fun!