We all have different traditions and family favorite foods for this holiday. Here at Dorkfood, we thought exploring some of those traditions and our own favorites would be a great way to get into the Thanksgiving mindset.
On almost all of our tables, turkey is the star of show. And while it is undeniably delicious, why is turkey our Thanksgiving meal of choice? Elementary school folklore would have us believe that the Pilgrims ate many of the same foods we eat today, including turkey, at the First Thanksgiving. Historians say, however, that turkey may not have been on the menu at all. According to colonialist Edward Winslow’s journal, the only mention of turkey around the time of the First Thanksgiving in 1621 is an entry detailing how he had joined a hunting party for the birds a few months prior. In fact, those meats that are mentioned at that first meal between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people are “wild fowl” (most likely ducks or geese) and venison.
It wasn’t until 1863, when Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln, that turkey became a staple of the meal. Historians believe that there were a few reasons that turkey became the meat of choice for the holiday. Turkey had become popular in England high society, and therefore eating turkey was fashionable for a celebration. Another reason was the popularity of A Christmas Carol, in which Scrooge gives out Christmas turkeys as a sign of his changed heart.
Whatever the reason for its initial popularity, the turkey now takes center stage at most Thanksgiving tables. So, whether your turkey cooking tradition is roasting for hours and hours with stuffing, spatchcocking the bird with herbs for more even doneness, or deep frying (please, for the love of your house, do this outdoors), gorging on turkey and slipping into tryptophan bliss this Thursday sounds pretty great indeed. But a delicious bird does not a Thanksgiving dinner make. Let’s look at the supporting cast.
Mashed Potatoes and Sweet Potato Casserole
These two tuber dishes are now a staple of almost every Thanksgiving meal and often rival the turkey in their popularity. And, like the turkey, neither of these dishes were served at that First Thanksgiving meal. The Pilgrims and Wampanoag would not have had potatoes in 1621. They may have had other root vegetables to tide them over, but the potato and sweet potato were not introduced to the North American diet until later.
As for our modern potato dishes, the historical use of these tubers can generally be split into northern and southern traditions. The white mashed potatoes we know today more than likely started in the northern states while sweet potato and yam casseroles came from the south.
We here at Dorkfood have our own family traditions. Some of our Dorks make those smooth, delicious mashed potatoes with fat drippings from the turkey and a bit of margarine, instead of milk and butter, to adhere to Koshrut laws about not mixing milk and meat. The results are delicious because the turkey drippings add a nice bit of fat and flavor to the potatoes.
Other Dorks have had the southern traditions of sweet potato casserole passed down through the generations. These casseroles certainly vary from recipe to recipe, but the sweet comforts of brown sugar and marshmallow seem to bring back many happy, Dorky memories.
Stuffing (or Dressing)
As far as long-standing traditional foods go, stuffing has been around in one form or another since the Roman times. The French called it farce until the word “stuffing” finally came onto the scene. In Victorian England it was decided that the word “stuffing” was not acceptable in polite company and the word “dressing” was substituted. Nowadays, one generally refers to the stuff that was cooked inside the turkey as “stuffing” and the food that was cooked separately in a pan as “dressing.”
Most people have their own favorite stuffing recipe and it is usually very similar to whatever was served when they were growing up. Many have fond memories of Stovetop stuffing with its bread, herbs, stock, celery and onions. Here at Dorkfood, we have those traditions, as well as a few different takes on an old theme. Some of our Dorks have discovered that substituting wild rice and chestnuts for the bread makes for a delicious stuffing that is also gluten free.
Another Dorky variation on the stuffing theme is using the Stovetop ingredients, adding sausage, and baking in muffin tins for even and quick cooking. These “Stuffin’ Muffins” are a fun way to preserve the stuffing heritage while providing equal portions to many hungry mouths.
Pumpkin or Sweet Potato Pie
Let’s finish off our meal with pumpkin pie. Finally, a dish that’s main ingredient probably was at that First Thanksgiving! While pumpkins were available, sugar was not. They would not have had quite so easy a time satisfying their sweet tooths. Since sugar was not readily available to the colonialists, their pumpkins would most likely have been served roasted, maybe with some honey or herbs.
The pumpkin pie as we know it probably sprung up in the mid 1800’s as sugar was more accessible and stove ovens became more popular. Since then, people have been serving their traditional pies for Thanksgiving. Some Dorks make use of the canned pumpkins and some go whole gourd and get small pie pumpkins to roast and puree for their traditional meal cappers.
Another dessert custom is the sweet potato pie, again exemplifying the differences between northern and southern traditions. The northern traditions usually involve the pumpkin pies while the southern traditions embrace the sweet potato again. The sweet potato pie has many of the same spices, but the flavor is all smooth potato-y goodness.
Whether you demand pumpkin or sweet potato pies (maybe some of each?) for your final bite of Thanksgiving, both desserts offer an orange/brown, spicy, sweet finale to a great meal.