Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!


There is one day a year when food and family take center stage and that day is Thanksgiving.  Families come together across many miles to spend the day eating food prepared from recipes passed down for generations.  It is a time for grateful appreciation of being together and having the comfort of being "home".   Thanksgiving is a time for traditions. The traditions vary from family to family, from city to city, from state to state, but one thing is certain food is always center stage!

A few fun facts about Thanksgiving:
  • President Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November as a national day of thanksgiving in 1863. In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt decided that the holiday should be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November in order to extend the holiday shopping by a week as requested by The National Retail Dry Goods Association. This caused controversy since in 1939 there happened to be five Thursdays in November. Two years later, the House of Representatives passed a resolution making the last Thursday in November a legal holiday.  The Senate amended the resolution, setting the date as the fourth Thursday and the House eventually agreed.
  • Macy's was not the first department store to sponsor a Thanksgiving Day parade. Gimbel's, a Philadelphia department store sponsored a parade in 1920. Macy's parade began four years later and has become a Thanksgiving tradition as well as the kick-off to the Christmas shopping season.
  • Domesticated turkeys, which are the ones we traditionally eat on Thanksgiving, cannot fly.  They are also slow with females being a bit faster than the males.  Wild turkeys can fly for short distances at a speed of almost 55 mph!  They also have better vision and hearing than the domestic turkeys.  Benjamin Franklin actually suggested that turkeys be our national bird instead of the bald eagle!
  • The White House has a long history of issuing pardons for turkeys. The practice may have begun when President Lincoln granted a pardon to his son Tad's pet turkey. President Obama pardoned a turkey named courage in 2009.
  • The Pilgrims adopted the Native Americans use of cranberries.  The Native Americans used cranberries in foods such as "pemmican" which was a nourishing, high protein combination of dried deer meat, crushed berries and melted fat.  They used cranberries also as a medicine to treat wounds and as a dye for fabric.  The Pilgrims named it "craneberry" because the drooping pink blooms in the spring reminded them of a crane.
  • The first Thanksgiving was a 3-day harvest feast held by the founders of the Plymouth colony in 1621.  Attending were 53 colonists and 90 Wampanoag. They feasted mainly on venison, swan, goose, and duck. 

There are several recipes and dishes that are required eating on Thanksgiving.  It is interesting to see how the recipes and names of dishes change depending on the Mason Dixon Line! One the most popular is "dressing" or "stuffing". Southerners call it "dressing" and most Northerners call it "stuffing", although a few Pennsylvanians have "filling" with their turkey.  There is no way to know if the Pilgrims had stuffing at the original feast, but it is likely that combinations of wild game and rice were featured in some way.  Boston cookbooks include stuffing recipes that contain oysters. Mennonite women used left-over mashed potatoes, stale bread, and butter to make their "filling" to serve as a casserole with the main dish of poultry.  

In the south, the dressing is cornbread based.  Many homes serve dressing cooked by a recipe that has been in the family for years.  Some cooks know the recipe by observing their mothers and grandmothers prepare the dish.  It is often hard to find two recipes exactly the same and sometimes a recipe isn't written down.  A grandmother may tell you to use enough broth until it "looks right" or you add a "bit" of salt and "some" stalks of celery.  Perfecting the recipe make take a couple of Thanksgiving failures to get it right!  

Many cooks used what was available to make their dressing or stuffing.  The Pacific Northwest recipes have oysters, clams, and mussels.  The American West cooks developed their own recipes by blending what they liked from the North and the South. San Franciscans took advantage of left-over sourdough bread for their dish.  The recipe shared below is an updated version of a traditional stuffing recipe from San Francisco.

San Francisco Stuffing
Serves 16

1 large loaf sourdough bread cut into small cubes ( about 13 cups)
8 links chicken apple sausage
2 large white onions, chopped
5 stalks of celery, chopped
4 tablespoons of butter
6 cups peeled and diced Granny Smith apples
3 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon dried sage
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon of dried savory
1 teaspoon of dried thyme
1 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spread bread cubes on a baking sheet and toast until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer cooled cubes to large bowl.
Cut open sausage links remove casing and finely chop meat.  Add 1 tablespoon butter to heavy skillet, heat over medium heat and add sausage.  Saute until browned. Remove sausage with a slotted spoon and add to bread.  In the same pan, saute onions and celery until translucent.  Add to bread mixture.  Put remaining butter in the same skillet and saute the apples until soft.  Add apples to bread mixture along with the sage, savory, thyme, pepper, and salt. Gradually add liquid until the bread has absorbed it and the bread cubes have no crunch.  Butter a 15x10x2-inch baking dish, add the stuffing, cover with foil and bake until top is golden brown and crisp, 45 minutes to 1 hour.



This stuffing is very different from most served in this area, but maybe your family would welcome a "new" tradition!

Tracey and her family would like to wish you and your family a very happy Thanksgiving!

Tracey Cole is a wife, mother, grandmother and entrepreneur. Living her dream on the banks of an Alabama lake just east of Birmingham, she remains an enthusiast for anything to enhance the well-being of her family and friends.