On November 27th, in just 2 days, Americans will celebrate a holiday that is classic for our nation only; and since the early 1600's, this day is observed as a time honored tradition to give thanks for the blessings we enjoy as a country of immigrants. As reported from History.com, in 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast which is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. This harvest meal has become a symbol of cooperation and interaction between English colonists and Native Americans. Although this feast is considered by many to the very first Thanksgiving celebration, it was actually in keeping with a long tradition of celebrating the harvest and giving thanks for a successful bounty of crops. Native American groups throughout the Americas, including the Pueblo, Cherokee, Creek and many others organized harvest festivals, ceremonial dances, and other celebrations of thanks for centuries before the arrival of Europeans in North America.
Also according to History.com, historians have also recorded other ceremonies of thanks among European settlers in North America, including British colonists in Berkeley Plantation, Virginia. At this site near the Charles River in December of 1619, a group of British settlers led by Captain John Woodlief knelt in prayer and pledged "Thanksgiving" to God for their healthy arrival after a long voyage across the Atlantic. This event has been acknowledged by some scholars and writers as the official first Thanksgiving among European settlers on record. Whether at Plymouth, Berkeley Plantation, or throughout the Americas, celebrations of thanks have held great meaning and importance over time. The legacy of thanks, and particularly of the feast, have survived the centuries as people throughout the United States gather family, friends, and enormous amounts of food for their yearly Thanksgiving meal.
According to History.com, the most detailed description of the "First Thanksgiving" comes from Edward Winslow from A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, in 1621: "Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, among other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed upon our governor, and upon the captain, and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."
Historians are no exactly sure what was eaten at the first Thanksgiving back in 1621 according to AssociatedContent.com, but they are certain that the Pilgrims and the Indians didn't sit down at a table and consume cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, or pumpkin pie. Many of the culinary delights that are placed on our Thanksgiving tables are very similar to those foods that were around during the Pilgrims time, but the dishes that were actually served were not similar to modern dishes. For example, cranberries were available back in 1621, but sugar had not yet come to the New World. So, it is hard to believe that cranberries were part of the first Thanksgiving menu. However, the Thanksgiving holiday is chock full of symbolism which provides the perfect occasion for sharing an American tale about determination, freedom, survival, and celebration. Telling the story of Thanksgiving is a great way to teach kids American history and the idea of giving thanks. American history may be a boring subject as far as kids are concerned, but recounting the story of Thanksgiving by using some of the food that the Pilgrims ate for their Thanksgiving could make children view American history in a more positive and creative way.
So, what might have been served on that 17th century menu? According to the folks at AssociatedContent.com, wild turkey might have been on the menu but it would have been served with venison, which is deer meat. In addition, fishes such eel, sea bass, and cod might have made an appearance for the first Thanksgiving. However, potatoes, yams, and sweet potatoes wouldn't have made it on the menu because they had not yet been introduced in New England. In addition, there was a large variety of corn including red, yellow, white, and blue corn. As far as dessert was concerned, at the first Thanksgiving there were no pumpkin pies topped with whipped cream or apple pie a la mode. However there were a wide variety of nuts and fruits such as walnuts, acorns, dried cherries, plums, blueberries, and strawberries. Regardless of the early dishes of food, today's Thanksgiving is creating a tradition all of its own because the turkey is still the culinary symbol of Thanksgiving. In fact, 91% of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving; and of the 300 million turkeys raised each year, 45 million turkeys are eaten on Thanksgiving. It doesn't matter whether the first Thanksgiving dinner had roasted turkey or baked eel. What matters is that Thanksgiving has an important place on our calendars and in American culture. The Pilgrims celebrated a fine harvest after a cold winter, and we also celebrate what we have accomplished over the past year. Thanksgiving is another holiday that celebrates faith, family, friends, and food.
Better Homes and Gardens offers some tips on making sure your turkey doesn't make you sick for the Thanksgiving holiday:
--Also check for the "sell by" date on the label of a fresh turkey. This date is the last day the turkey should be sold by the retailer.
--The unopened turkey should maintain its quality and be safe to use for one or two days after the "sell by" date.
--If you buy a frozen turkey, look for packaging that is clean, undamaged, and frost-free.
--Keep it in the fridge. Never marinate or defrost poultry on the counter. Always keep poultry in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook it.
--Keep it clean. Always wash your hands, work surfaces, the sink, and utensils in hot, soapy water after handling raw poultry, to prevent spreading bacteria to other foods.
--Cut right. When cutting raw poultry, use a plastic cutting board; it's easier to clean and disinfect than a wooden one.
--Don't wash the bird. Washing raw poultry is not necessary, and the splashing water may contaminate surrounding objects. In general, the less you handle poultry, the safer it remains.
--Avoid cross contamination. Never use the same plate or utensils for uncooked and cooked poultry unless you have thoroughly washed them first. This rule applies to basting brushes as well. If you are going to baste the bird, wash the brush each time.
--Don't stuff it early. If you're planning to stuff the bird, do so immediately before cooking.
--Never allow the stuffing to touch raw poultry unless you are going to cook both right away.
--Heat any marinade or basting sauce that has been in contact with the raw poultry if it is to be served with the cooked poultry. Juices from the uncooked poultry may contain bacteria. Or, before you start basting, set some of the sauce aside to serve with the poultry.
--Serve poultry immediately after cooking it. Don't let it stand at room temperature longer than two hours, or bacteria will multiply rapidly -- especially in warm weather. Refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible.
--Reheat wisely. Heat leftover gravy to a rolling boil in a covered saucepan, stirring occasionally, for food-safety assurance.
And now, from Better Homes and Gardens, for the perfect Thanksgiving holiday treat--Traditional Pumpkin Pie. Ingredients:
1 recipe Pastry for Single-Crust Pie (see below)
1 15-ounce can pumpkin
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 slightly beaten eggs
1 5-ounce can (2/3 cup) evaporated milk
1/2 cup milk
1. Prepare and roll out Pastry for Single-Crust Pie. Line a 9-inch pie plate with the pastry. Trim to 1/2 inch beyond edge of pie plate. Fold under extra pastry; crimp edge as desired.
2. For filling, in a mixing bowl combine pumpkin, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Add eggs. Beat lightly with a rotary beater or fork just until combined. Gradually stir in evaporated milk and milk; mix well.
3. Place the pastry-lined pie plate on the oven rack. Carefully pour filling into pastry shell.
4. To prevent overbrowning, cover edge of the pie with foil. Bake in a 375 degree F oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil. Bake about 25 minutes more or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Refrigerate within 2 hours; cover for longer storage. Makes 8 servings.
Pastry for Single-Crust Pie: Stir together 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Using a pastry blender cut in 1/3 cup shortening until pieces are pea-size. Using 4 to 5 tablespoons cold water, sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the water over part of the mixture; gently toss with a fork. Push moistened dough to side of the bowl. Repeat moistening dough, using 1 tablespoon of the water at a time, until all the dough is moistened. Form dough into a ball. On a lightly floured surface, use your hands to slightly flatten dough. Roll dough from center to edge into a circle about 12 inches in diameter.
Make-Ahead Tip: Prepare, bake, and cool pie as above. Cover and refrigerate for up to 8 hours.
Test Kitchen Tip: You can use 1-1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice for the spices in this pie.
Nutrition Facts: Calories 286, Total Fat (g) 13, Saturated Fat (g) 4, Cholesterol (mg) 86, Sodium (mg) 120, Carbohydrate (g) 38, Fiber (g) 2, Protein (g) 7, Vitamin A (DV%) 130, Vitamin C (DV%) 9, Calcium (DV%) 7, Iron (DV%) 13. Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
Thanksgiving is a time to be with family and friends, to honor our nation, freedoms, and heritage, and to give thanks for all the blessings provided by God. Take time during the holiday to stop and actually give thanks for everything you have. Thanksgiving means more than a big meal with lots of food and people around the table. It's more than all day football on TV or going to the mall for the beginning of the Christmas Season. The real meaning of Thanksgiving reaches deep into our soul and spirit and represents all that is good. Make this Thanksgiving a great one to remember.
Until next time. Let me know what you think.