Brauns Law November 2017


A Closer Look at the Thanksgiving Table

Thanksgiving is a day spent with stomachs grumbling in anticipation of what will be on the table: savory turkey, homemade gravy, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, tart cranberry sauce, creamy green bean casserole, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream. We’ll take a moment to let you grab a napkin and wipe away the drool. But how did we end up with these culinary traditions? Many of the dishes we now consider Thanksgiving staples have roots in our early colonial history. While most use ingredients that were shared between Native Americans and settlers, how some of them came to be on our table is another story. Turkey is one of the original menu items that Native Americans and early settlers shared, as birds flocked to the area. Colonists of Plymouth Colony hunted and ate wildfowl in abundance, including wild turkey. Because of our domestication of the bird, the turkeys we eat today are lighter in color, but not all that different from the wild turkey the early settlers ate. Another bird that may have been part of their meal? Carrier pigeons. They were so abundant that settlers added them to the spread. Thankfully, that’s one tradition we don’t carry on. Cranberry sauce was also on the menu from the beginning. Native Americans introduced settlers to the idea of boiling cranberries with sugar to create the sweet and tart sauce. As a pairing for the variety of meats that early settlers ate, cranberries were a tasty and readily available addition, and obviously, our taste buds still agree. Much newer to the table, sweet potatoes weren’t introduced to the United States until later, and the most popular way to enjoy them is even more modern. Thank our European cousins and ad agencies of the 1900s for coming up with the idea to add marshmallows to the already sweet root vegetable. The French brought us marshmallows when they combined the root of the marshmallow plant (yes, it’s actually a plant) with sugar and egg whites, and

Americans took to the idea, eventually replacing the plant root with gelatin. Looking for a way to market the treat, advertisers created a cookbook that included a marshmallow recipe featuring sweet potatoes, and the dish has been a staple of the harvest holiday ever since. And for dessert … well, the early colonists didn’t get to enjoy pumpkin pie like we do. While pumpkins were definitely available and an important food for Native Americans, with no butter or flour, it would have been difficult to make a pie crust. Later, when butter and flour became available, so did pumpkin pie, and its deliciousness has earned its place at the table. The way we celebrate Thanksgiving today is a blend of traditions: a bountiful plate of food, time spent with loved ones reflecting on what we are grateful for, and a nod to all those who came before us. As Godey’s Lady’s Book (the most popular magazine of the pre-Civil War era and a primary source of Thanksgiving traditions) suggests, “It is to Thanksgiving that we must give all the honor and glory of being the day of days, when everyone rejoices that we have a land of our own and a home in which to keep good cheer.” -David Brauns


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