The Story of Thanksgiving

Norman Rockwell Freedom From Want

The holidays are closing in and we will enter 2014 in 34 days, which has me thinking about holidays past.  I loved the holidays as a child and I still do to this day. I tend to “Norman Rockwell” them, wanting them to be enjoyable and filled with memories, but the trick is to remember that each moment during the holidays is creating a memory.  And as I think back on the holidays, more specifically Christmas, my list for Santa was filled with books and chemistry sets. I’ve always enjoyed learning, discovering and “getting to the bottom of it.” Yes, I loved Harriet the Spy as a child, and can sit for an entire day watching Law & Order reruns today. When a piece about the History of Thanksgiving and the foods most associated with the holiday came across my desk, I was thrilled.  And then I read some more. And more.  Until I found out more than I ever learned from elementary school history class.  I was intrigued and am about to nerd out on the history of Thanksgiving and it's traditional food.

Did you know...

The first Thanksgiving on Plymouth Rock happened in 1621, but did you know the first official Thanksgiving National holiday wasn’t on the calendars until Abraham Lincoln declared such in 1863? Why, then, do we associate Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims? The Washington Post says “In the late 1800s, with immigrants — Jews, Italians, Chinese, other outsiders — pouring in, America’s cultural leaders took two bits of shaky historic evidence from the early 1600s and embraced a story of a Pilgrim Thanksgiving in an effort to Americanize an increasingly diverse population.”  While the Thanksgiving tradition has remained, the food has changed over the years. 

1.     The feast on Plymouth Rock didn’t have pumpkin pie, as we know it today.  Without butter, flour or an oven to bake the pie, the Pilgrims and Native American Indians most likely carved out a pumpkin and filled the hallowed out gourd with milk, honey and spices to make pumpkin custard.

2.     Guess what else was missing from the first Thanksgiving? Potatoes. The potato was introduced to the Europeans in 1570, but weren’t favored enough to make the overseas voyage when coming to American.  Turnips were the likely root vegetable served in 1621. 

3.     Sweet potatoes, enjoyed for years in the southern states, were first enjoyed by northern states approximately 200 years ago, long after the first feast in 1621.    

4.     Marshmallows were created and handmade in France, by beating the roots of the marshmallow plant with egg whites and sugar to make a chewy treat. Most couldn’t justify the cost, until the widely available gelatin was used in lieu of costly marshmallow plant.  But, American’s didn’t add these sugary confections to their sweet potato casserole until 1917, when marshmallow manufacturers created a cookbook that taught Americans how to best use them.  Viola. The Sweet Potato Casserole, with Marshmallow, was born!

5.     Sugar storage had depleted during the voyage, which meant the cranberry sauce, as we know it today, didn’t exist.  The first Thanksgiving most likely included fruit that was indigenous to the Northeast, such as blueberries, plums, grapes, gooseberries and raspberries.  Chefs didn’t start experimenting with cranberry sauces and relishes until the early 1700’s. 

6.     Another misnomer? The source of the post-Thanksgiving Dinner sleepiness.  “Turkey often gets blamed because it contains tryptophan, but studies suggest it’s the carbohydrate-rich sides and desserts that allow tryptophan to enter the brain,” says the History Channel. 

How do you celebrate? Do you go the traditional route, with family, friends and Thanksgiving Fare or something more contemporary with unique foods and your own traditions? Either way, I hope it’s a wonderful day, full of Thanks, Gratitude and Joy. Happy Thanksgiving from our family, to yours!