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Thanksgiving: An American Feast

Thanksgiving: An American Feast


Now that Autumn is well under way, we look forward to the time of year that is Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving traditionally celebrates the harvest and other blessings of the preceding year. It dates back to a harvest feast shared by the Wampanoag tribe and 17th century English pilgrims, as depicted in the painting above.

So why is thanksgiving important? Well, as a secular holiday it has no religious bearing meaning it can be enjoyed by everyone. And because it celebrates gratitude and being thankful (something we seem to do less of these days), it is a very positive holiday.

Forget the Turkey, Bring Me the Duck, Goose and… Lobster



According to historians, at the original feast between the Wampanoag tribe and the pilgrims that Thanksgiving traces its origins to, the native tribe brought deer and the pilgrims offered wildfowl. Of course, this ‘fowl’ could have been turkeys, but historians think that it was likely ducks or geese. It is also thought that lobster and seal were present too because of the availability of them in the area. Apparently, turkey wasn’t high up on the pecking-order at all.

So how did turkey come to universally represent the traditional bird of choice for Thanksgiving meals? Here are a few reasons; The wild turkey was very plentiful back in the day, with some experts estimating there were 10 million of the birds in North America at the time of European contact. Another reason is that it was a readily available animal for slaughter on most farms. Other animals such as chickens and cows remained useful for other purposes, such as providing eggs and milk. Turkeys on the other hand were generally only useful to people as a source of meat. Additionally, there was usually enough meat on a single turkey to feed a whole family. Bring on the turkey shoot.

So the beloved (or poor) turkey remains close to the hearts (and mouths) of many Americans, with on average 46 million of the feathered flightless birds eaten each Thanksgiving in the United States, with another 40 million estimated to be eaten at Christmas and Easter combined. On this evidence, the turkey’s spot at top table looks assured, partly helped on by its affordability and abundance due to modern rearing methods.

Putting the turkey aside for a moment, let’s take a look at some other delicious Thanksgiving classics.

Pumpkin Pie: A Thanksgiving Favorite



It’s hard to imagine any American dinner table at Thanksgiving without one ever-present that is, pumpkin pie. Pumpkins are native to North America and the ubiquitous orange squash was —in some form— almost certainly present at the feast between the Wampanoag and the colonists. Although the roots of pumpkin pie itself may lie across the pond.

You see, the earliest European explorers brought them back as early as 1536, and they soon began to be grown in England. The highly developed pie-making culture there helped produce what is known as pumpkin pie. When the pilgrims sailed for America in 1620, it’s likely most of them were already familiar with the waxy gourd and some form of pumpkin pie. Later, a French cookbook from 1653 describes boiling pumpkin in milk before straining it and putting it into a pie crust.

From there on it developed into the present-day pumpkin pie you know and love at every Thanksgiving. Next time you dip into this delicious dessert, consider the centuries of history behind it and the people that made it happen.

Stuffing: The Oldest Original?


Whilst most of the staple Thanksgiving dishes that we take for granted today were not part of the original feast, stuffing is probably one of the few exceptions. Stuffing fowl with herbs and onion before roasting them was a common practice of the day. Although unlikely resembling the present-day incarnation of what we think of stuffing, it does it make it the longest-standing Thanksgiving food tradition. Yay!

Mashed Potatoes: Simply Smashing


Who doesn’t love mashed potatoes? Enjoyed across the land, gravy-covered spuds are a favorite of all generations. But if you think you’re gobbling up a piece of original Thanksgiving history… we’ll have to stop you there. History says that the humble potato wasn’t introduced to America until shortly after the time of the original feast in 1621, and it didn’t become part of North American mainstream agriculture for almost another 100 years. Besides, even if they were present, it’s hard to imagine they were enjoyed in their current modern-day format.

Cranberry Sauce: A Must with Turkey

There’s just no getting away from the fact that roast turkey just isn’t the same without a good old helping of this classic condiment. Indigenous to New England, cranberries may have been part of the first Thanksgiving meal in one form or another, but not as the sauce we pair with turkey today. Sugar in the quantities needed simply wasn’t available and the method to make it had yet to be discovered. However, it is still one of the more traditional Thanksgiving foods, as by the end of the 17th century people were boiling cranberries with sugar. Sometime later on in the next century it began to paired with turkey and by 1800, was more or less a Thanksgiving staple.


Other favorite dishes that are likely to be found on a Thanksgiving table include:

Green bean casserole - A classic dish made from cooked green beans, cream of mushroom soup, and French-fried onions. Yummy.

Sweet potato casserole - Another baked dish consisting of sweet potatoes, white sugar, eggs, salt, butter, milk and vanilla extract. Mmm.. We can smell it already.

Candied yams - A sweet treat that sees sliced yams meet with brown sugar, butter and spices, baked until caramelized. Don’t leave this one out.

Brussel Sprouts - This little green veg is a packed full of nutrients and tastes great roasted with garlic, bacon, or olive oil and salt. Just remember to go easy on them.

Corn - Just a-maize-ing. Do you get it?

Pecan pie - Another sweet treat with many recipe variations but is generally made up of pecan nuts, syrup, eggs and butter laid in a tasty crust. A dessert enthusiast’s must.

Now, if the above classic dishes fail to wet your appetite or get you in the mood for a feast, head over to Delish.com and take a look at 35 sumptuous Thanksgiving dishes that’ll surely get the juices flowing.

Please let us know in the comments what you’re favorite Thanksgiving food is. And, how you intend to spend the holiday this year.

That’s it from us here at The Kovol Blog. We wish you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving!

 The Kovol Blog Team


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