Whether you're from the U.S. or abroad, the imagery that comes to mind of Thanksgiving is that of a perfectly browned roast turkey surrounded by heaping mounds of various dishes and the entire family, eagerly awaiting a slice of the juicy poultry. But why is the turkey the most intrinsic part of the Thanksgiving meal? And where do some of the other most enjoyable, but uniquely Thanksgiving dishes (marshmallow topped roasted squash, bread stuffing, and mashed potatoes to name a few) come from?
Many people believe that the classic Thanksgiving dishes get their origins from the first Thanksgiving held in 1621 when the English Pilgrims put aside their differences with the Native Americans and shared a fall harvest meal together. However, Thanksgiving didn't actually become a widely celebrated annual holiday until about 200 years later. The first celebrated Thanksgiving was in fact in celebration of the pilgrim's first successful harvest in the new world. The main dishes of this first Thanksgiving in the 1800's would probably have included venison, corn, fowl (often turkey) and barley - no potatoes, pumpkin, or even stuffing were yet commonly eaten in New England. Although turkey, cranberries, and sweetened pumpkin rinds were most likely eaten in this celebration, none of the recipes quite resembled those of today.
So how did the holiday evolve if it wasn't from the classically cited harvest meal of the pilgrims and Native Americans? It turns out that the writer of the classic children's tale "Mary had a Little Lamb" petitioned for the holiday to become nationalized after reading about the pilgrim's first fall harvest event. To gain a following in her campaign she published a number of recipes as suggestions to be used for the holiday celebration including the classic roast turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie recipes still used today. During the Civil War Abraham Lincoln (one of the most famous U.S. presidents) made the holiday a national annual event on the last Thursday of each year.
With the history in mind and for preparation for the holiday here are a few of the most common Thanksgiving dishes and their most classic recipes.
A whole raw turkey is typically simply seasoned with butter, salt, and pepper and filled with aromatic vegetables and fruit such as apples, celery, carrot, onion and bread (this is where the stuffing comes from) and roasted in the oven for around three hours.
Potatoes are boiled until soft and then smashed into a smooth and chunky mash. Butter, salt, pepper, and sour cream are typically added making a creamy addition to the Thanksgiving meal.
Green Bean casserole is a one-dish plate using green beans as the main ingredient. Adding creamy soup or cheese and sour dream, caramelized onions, and fried onions on tops and then baking the dish adds a unique spin on this vegetable.
A flaky crust that lines the sides and bottoms of a pie pan provides the base for this decadent dessert. Pumpkin puree from a roasted pumpkin with added sugar, spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg, molasses, egg, and heavy cream make the custardy filling. Once baked the golden orange pie becomes one of the most iconic Thanksgiving images.
So is your mouth watering yet? Or did we miss any classic Thanksgiving dishes? How will you be celebrating the holiday? We want to know!