Party like the Pilgrams
By TONI LELAND
Though our food choices and preparation methods have evolved over the centuries, one thing remains constant: As celebrated by our forebears, the Thanksgiving feast is a time for counting blessings and coming together with loved ones. And wherever family members gather, there will be food that evokes memories.
The Pilgrims at Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts, celebrated a successful harvest in 1621, and this is traditionally considered the “First Thanksgiving,” though technically, the Virginia colony on the James River held a thanksgiving feast on December 4, 1619-the day of their ships’ safe arrival. In Plimoth tradition, a thanksgiving day was not a feast day; rather, it was a religious observance. However, by the mid-17th century, Thanksgiving was held annually after the harvest, just not always on the same day. In 1863, at the height of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of November would be set aside as a day of thanksgiving for all citizens.
Those first feasts consisted of native foods or food the settlers brought from Europe. Native Americans were instrumental in helping the settlers learn to fish and grow native foods. An abundance of wild turkeys inhabited the land, and it is surmised that this is why the turkey became the traditional main course at Thanksgiving. Early settlers also feasted on venison, fish, lobster, clams, berries, fruit, pumpkin, and squash.
The familiar and beloved dishes that grace our Thanksgiving tables today include many variations of stuffing or dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, baked squash, sweet corn, cranberries, breads, relishes, and pumpkin pie. From traditionally rich and high-caloric recipes to slimmed-down versions, our Thanksgiving feasts are individual and different, yet always in step with the holiday’s theme.
So, with time-honored tradition in mind, what follows is a little history about some of the foods we cherish on this truly American holiday. And when November arrives with a chilly gust, take a moment to consider your own Thanksgiving traditions and how they evolved from those celebrated by a group of cold, tired, hungry Pilgrims whose prayers had been answered on the shores of the New World. And be ye thankful!
Green bean and sour cream casserole
“The green bean casserole” was invented in 1955 by Campbell Soup Co. and was a typical 1950s American food. The recipe was so wildly popular that the dish is now a must-have on most Thanksgiving tables. For a nice change, the following casserole is delicious, and you can even sprinkle those French-fried onions on top if you wish! (But it doesn’t need them.)
1 medium sweet yellow onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup margarine, divided
2 packages (10 ounces each) frozen green beans, thawed and drained
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
4 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup soft bread crumbs
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 1 1/2-quart casserole; set aside.
Saute onion in 1/4 cup margarine. Combine onion, beans, sour cream, flour, and seasonings. Pour into prepared casserole and sprinkle with cheese.
Melt remaining margarine; add bread crumbs, tossing to coat.
Sprinkle bread crumbs over casserole and bake 25 minutes. Yields 4 to 6 servings.
Cranberries were introduced to the Pilgrims by the Native Americans, who valued the fruit as a natural preservative thanks to its benzoic acid. During the Civil War, cranberry sauce was the inspiration of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, who ordered the sweet concoction be served to his troops during the siege of Petersburg in 1864. Forty-eight years later, the Cape Cod Cranberry Co. marketed the first commercially canned sauce.
1 pound fresh cranberries, rinsed
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup raisins
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
11/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup water
1 cup chopped sweet onion
1 cup chopped tart apple
1/2 cup chopped celery
In large, heavy saucepan, combine cranberries, sugars, raisins, spices, and water; cook over medium heat until juice is released from cranberries (about 15 minutes). Stir frequently.
Add remaining ingredients and reduce heat to simmer. Cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes, or until mixture thickens. Stir occasionally.
Chill before serving. Yields about 1 quart.
Note: This chutney keeps up to two weeks stored in an airtight container in the fridge.
Fruity cornbread dressing
The culinary term “stuffing” appeared around 1538, then apparently fell out of favor with upper-class Victorians who coined the term “dressing.” The two words are interchangeable, though “stuffing” is more common in the south and east regions of the United States. In some areas, “stuffing” is what goes into the turkey, while “dressing” is baked in a separate dish. Whatever you call it, the combinations are unlimited. Oysters, pecans, rice, cornbread, sausage, dried fruit, potatoes, or apples in combination with spices and herbs make each type a tasty treat.
12 ounces dried prunes, chopped
1 1/2 cups water, divided
1 pound pork sausage, herb or sage flavor
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup chopped onion
2 medium tart cooking apples, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup molasses
2 packages (8 ounces each) cornbread stuffing mix
Heat oven to 300 F. Grease 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking dish; set aside.
In small saucepan, bring prunes and cup water to a boil; reduce heat and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and set aside.
Saute sausage until lightly browned, remove from pan and set aside; discard drippings. Melt butter in skillet, and cook onion and apples until tender.
Combine all ingredients and mix well. Spoon into prepared dish; cover and bake for 45 minutes. Yields 12 to 15 servings.
Note: This dressing can also be used to stuff the turkey.
Sweet potato surprise
What’s not to like about a sweet potato? While its origins lie in Peru, the sweet potato was brought to the Western World by Columbus. This delicately flavored tuber is so versatile-from simply baked to garnished with exotic flavors and ingredients. Sweet potatoes are often called yams, but this is incorrect. The two vegetables are not even from the same family!
10 medium sweet potatoes
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter or margarine, divided
1/3 cup bourbon, or substitute ? cup apple juice plus 1 teaspoon bourbon flavoring
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans, divided
Heat oven to 400 F.
Wash sweet potatoes and rub with vegetable oil. Place on baking sheet and bake for 1 hour, or until tender.
Allow potatoes to cool; remove pulp (discard skins).
Reduce oven temperature to 350 F and lightly grease 1-quart casserole.
Combine potato pulp, cup butter, bourbon, and salt. Beat with electric mixer until light and fluffy.
Stir in all but 2 tablespoons nuts, then spoon mixture into prepared dish. Dot with remaining butter and sprinkle remaining nuts over top. Bake for 20 minutes. Yields 8 servings.
Glazed orange-pecan bread
Thanksgiving breads usually include Parker House rolls, crescents, biscuits, or the regional favorite. In the South, sweet quick breads are popular, and this aromatic loaf is sure to complement any feast.
1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 medium eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons grated orange rind
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup plus 2 1/2 teaspoons orange juice, divided
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar
Heat oven to 350 F. Grease 9-by-5-inch loaf pan; set aside.
Cream butter, gradually adding sugar and beating well. Add eggs and orange rind; mix well.
In separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to creamed mixture, alternating with cup orange juice. Begin and end with flour mixture, mixing well after each addition. Stir in pecans.
Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 50 to 55 minutes, or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.
Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely.
Combine remaining orange juice with confectioner’s sugar; drizzle over cooled loaf.
Wrap and store overnight before serving. Yields 12 servings.
Surprise pumpkin pie
Mm-mm! Pumpkin pie. This delicious tradition is a relatively new piece of culinary art, dating from about 1651 as found in a French cookbook, where a recipe for pumpkin includes a pastry crust. The early colonists did not have pumpkin pie as we know it; they cooked and seasoned the pumpkin to serve as a pudding-type sweet.
2 large eggs, beaten slightly
2 cups canned pumpkin, plain with no spices added
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup sorghum or light molasses
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk
1 9-inch unbaked pastry shell
Heat oven to 425 F.
Combine ingredients in order given and mix well. Pour into pastry shell and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 F, and bake additional 45 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.
Cool thoroughly before cutting. Yields 8 servings.
Excerpted from Grit. To read more articles from Grit, please visit www.grit.com, or call 866-803-7096. Copyright 2019 by Ogden Publications Inc.
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