Since November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, I've been occupied with a writing project the last few weeks. Therefore, updates have been scarce. But fear not; I'm not letting the month go by without reference (and deference) to Thanksgiving, quite possibly the greatest food-related holiday I celebrate. Yes, yes, we all remember the photos of the feast I enjoyed on the Fourth of July. But for me, Thanksgiving is a special holiday for many reasons: Gathering with friends and family, the official (to me, anyway) start of the Christmas season, and of course, more food than a small army could consume.
For those who may not be familiar with the origins of Thanksgiving, it is widely believed to have begun in the 17th century when settlers from England ("pilgrims") arrived in North America ("the New World", today known as Plymouth, Massachusetts). Members of the Wampanoag tribe taught the pilgrims to grow crops and catch fish, and after a particularly harsh winter, the pilgrims held a three-day celebration to thank God - and their native friends - for their survival in the New World. Of course, the Wampanoag would eventually have their land stolen and be all but wiped out by their new friends - if, in fact, such a friendship was ever actually forged - but since this is a blog about food, I’ll try to stay on topic. Contrary to popular belief, the first Thanksgiving dinner probably consisted of venison, a porridge made of corn, and boiled pumpkin. Given the time of year, It’s unlikely that the feast included much in the way of produce or seafood, as the harsh winter probably destroyed much of their crops, and it would have been too cold to fish.
For those outside the United States (and Canada, which also celebrates the holiday), a contemporary Thanksgiving dinner frequently includes turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetables and cranberry sauce. Though these dishes will likely forever be associated with a traditional Thanksgiving feast, the actual menu varies from region to region, and between different cultures in any given region; note that an Italian-American household may serve pasta as a side dish, or even as the main entree, while a family from the southeastern United States may substitute the traditional pumpkin pie with pecan or sweet potato pie.
This menu is subject to extreme changes in certain situations. Children of the 1970s and 1980s will undoubtedly remember CBS’ prime-time animated special A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, which featured the title character serving his guests a Thanksgiving meal comprised of buttered toast, pretzel sticks, popcorn and jelly beans, much to the outrage of Peppermint Patty.
Additionally, wikibooks.org features a recipe entitled “One-Hour Thanksgiving Dinner”:
1 5–6 lb fully pre-cooked smoked turkey breast. Certain brands are readily available in almost every U.S. supermarket, however they must be fully-cooked frozen turkey breast, as they only require 1 hour of heating. Avoid processed turkey breast loaf. Average price: $10–$12
2 cans of desired vegetables. Average Price: $1.50
1–2 box package(s) of instant potatoes or stuffing. Average price: $1.50-$3.00
1 package of 12 instant frozen biscuits. The frozen home-baked butter variety works best. It is important that the biscuits in a can are not used. Average price: $2
1 package of turkey gravy mix. Average price: $1
1 small disposable aluminum turkey pan with built-in rack. Average price: $2.
1 can of spray oil (can be substituted with regular vegetable oil). Average price: $1
1 pre-made pumpkin pie. Average price : $6.
1–2 cans cranberry sauce. Average price: $1.
Make sure you have thawed the turkey breast. A frozen 5–6 pound breast thaws within one day in the refrigerator. It is also very important that you have purchased a frozen fully pre-cooked breast. The words "heat and serve" may be on the package.
Preheat your oven to 350°F.
Remove turkey from bag and place in aluminum roasting pan.
Spray the turkey with cooking oil. If using regular vegetable oil, rub the breast with it.
Place turkey breast in the oven on the middle rack.
Cook for 15 minutes.
Begin the gravy mix according to package directions.
Place the vegetables on the range set to low heat.
Prepare the instant potatoes or stuffing according to the package directions.
On a small pan lay out your frozen biscuits allowing them to touch one another. At this point the turkey breast should have been cooking for 30 minutes.
Place your biscuits on the lower rack. The biscuits will cook just fine with the turkey in the oven and will be ready in 25–30 minutes. Check them at 20 minutes to be sure they do not burn.
Finish preparing your instant potatoes or stuffing, instant gravy, and vegetables. Place them in serving dishes if desired. Place the cranberry sauce in a serving dish. If you are serving pie along with the dinner you will also need to place the pie on a serving dish. If a frozen pie has been purchased, follow the microwave directions.
At the end of the hour, remove the turkey. It is recommended that you use a food thermometer to make sure it has achieved a temperature of 160°F — the minimum temperature necessary to kill any bacteria which have survived the freezing process. Remove the turkey and serve.
For those who would like a chance to enjoy a sumptuous (albeit liquid-based) Thanksgiving feast, the Jones Soda Company has, since 2003, produced Thanksgiving-related soda flavors including “Turkey & Gravy”, “Sweet Potato”, “Dinner Roll” and “Antacid.” Inexplicably, these flavors proved a huge hit with consumers.
Here’s a video of Sacramento-area radio hosts Rob Arnie and Dawn performing an on-air taste test in November 2006.
Over the next week I’ll be taking a look at a different element of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner, from the bird itself to dessert.
So how do you celebrate Thanksgiving? What do you typically eat? Are there any foods other than the obvious that you associate with Thanksgiving dinner? And for that matter, what would be on your ideal Thanksgiving menu?
Tomorrow: Talking Turkey