Thanksgiving, that classic food-filled American holiday is upon us, and we won’t lie, we’ve been waiting for it. A holiday of eating, cooking, and napping? There’s really nothing better. While we have a few Thanksgiving classics and a couple of recipes we swap in and out, we were curious about varieties and histories of some of the holiday’s staple dishes. So, without further ado, a little behind-the-scenes on some Turkey day eats…
It’s no coincidence that turkey is the ultimate American centerpiece of Thanksgiving. Turkeys are, in fact, indigenous to the Americas, and populated the United States, Mexico, and Central America long before the arrival of Columbus or the British. But, just because it’s at the heart of the traditional Thanksgiving meal, this doesn’t mean we’re afraid of changing up our preparation of the bird. In recent years, we’ve seen myriad exciting approaches to preparing the bird, from brining, which ensures extra-juicy and flavorful meat thanks to a salt-water soaking solution to deep frying, which makes for very (very) crispy skin and juicy meat on the inside. We’ve also come across a couple of original ways to differ with tradition. The tofurky is, as you might have guessed, a vegetarian-friendly form of the prized poultry, which is made out of wheat gluten, tofu and a host of other ingredients. It’s paired with an entirely vegetarian stuffing to complete the meal for your non-carnivorous friends and family. On the complete opposite side of things is the turducken, a concoction of three birds in one: a de-boned chicken is stuffed inside a de-boned duck, which is stuffed inside a mostly deboned turkey. Traditionally, the space between each bird and the chicken’s cavity is filled with stuffing. We’re doubting this is what the Wampanoag Native Americans and Pilgrims had in mind…
Whether you call it stuffing or dressing, this starch-based dish is a staple of the Thanksgiving table that many of us enjoy just once a year. We love stuffing for its versatility, and the ability to doctor it based on personal taste, seasonal ingredients, and regionality. With stuffing, there are options at every turn, for the starch one can use bread (challah, wheat, sourdough, semolina…), cornbread, wild rice….the opportunities are endless! If you’re including protein, sausage and oysters are popular choices, while add-ons like fruit (dried and fresh), nuts, vegetables (kale and butternut squash are favorites), and even cheese are endlessly customizable. Herbs are in abundance in stuffing, we particularly like sage and thyme in ours. Regional specialties include crab stuffing in the Chesapeake region, wild rice stuffing in Minnesota and other parts of the Midwest, Southwestern accents like jalapeño show up in the stuffing throughout the region. You can go traditional, and bake some of the stuffing inside the turkey itself, or simply cook it in a casserole dish by itself. We love to fill acorn squash with stuffing, a treat that shows up in our menu this week
Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows
Although they are native to Central and South America, sweet potatoes were not present at the original Thanksgiving meal. In fact, it is said that they were brought to the U.S. after Columbus introduced them in Europe, and then introduced them to North Americans. According to Saveur, they were widely eaten in the South, but didn’t become a common ingredient in the North until the 19th century. An 1887 cookbook mentioned Sweet Potato Pie as a classic, and then in the early 1900s, when marshmallows became mass produced, the marketers of Angelus Marshmallows released a slew of recipes featuring the sweet treat including a casserole of mashed sweet potatoes baked with gooey marshmallows. Though there were some early skeptics, many Americans soon embraced this as a Thanksgiving classic, and the sweet potato casserole lives on today!
Cranberries are a crop native to North America, and were eaten by Native Americans as well as used for medicinal properties. This would suggest that cranberries in some form were present at the original Thanksgiving table, as they are certainly present at Thanksgivings today. The crop grows in cooler climates like Massachusetts, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Washington, and Oregon. According to The Kitchn, cranberry sauce was served with meat in the United States as early as the 19th century, with many varieties of recipes and preparations existing. Though we love to make our own cranberry sauce, canned jelly is a favorite of many, thanks to technological advances! After cranberries became mechanically harvested, many of the fruit were too imperfect to sell, so companies like Ocean Spray decided to preserve the fruit in a can in jelly-form, creating the jiggly red side we know today!
Green Bean Casserole
Unlike some other dishes, we can 100% assert that green bean casserole was not present at the first Thanksgiving. The dish was invented by home economist Dorcas Reilly in 1955 in the Campbell’s Soup test kitchen. Using cream of mushroom soup, the recipe was created after a reporter from the Associated Press requested a recipe for a vegetable side dish and Reilly was inspired to make something that every home cook could put together. Although the test kitchen was in New Jersey, the dish became a classic Midwestern dish featuring canned green beans, milk, Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup, and soy sauce mixed together and baked with French’s fried onions on top and a dash of pepper. According to NPR, it’s now served in 30 million homes on Thanksgiving—even 60 years later!