Thanksgiving: A Day of Feasting, Reflection and Thanks

Although raised in modest, humble surroundings, my childhood was filled with happiness and more than my share of blessings. While we didn’t always have the luxuries of life, my father worked two and sometimes three jobs to make sure we had all the necessities. And my stay-at-home mom seemed to have an uncanny knack for stretching the dollar further than just about anyone I’ve ever known.

In spite of the fact that many evening suppers were simple, consisting mainly of vegetable dishes, there was one day each year that our dining table gave the appearance that we were fairly well off, if not rich–at least in my mind. That day was Thanksgiving.

Both of my parents were raised as hard working Oklahoma dirt farmers. And if there’s one thing that farmers know besides their fields it’s how to put together a family “feed,” especially on Thanksgiving. Obviously my father and mother were no different.

spratt_rockwell_fullThanksgiving at our house always started about a week before that Congressionally designated fourth Thursday of November–shopping for ingredients, making cornbread for momma’s famous cornbread stuffing, boiling up the fresh cranberry sauce (we never served the canned stuff at our house), and the baking of mincemeat pies (my momma’s favorite), pumpkin pies (actually sweet potato most of the time), and her famous coconut-pineapple layer cake.

Early Thanksgiving morning, it was all hands on deck in order to complete the meal and other tasks before relatives and friends arrived. Of course we always had green beans (in the mid-1950s it became green bean casserole), sweet corn or squash casserole, mashed Irish potatoes, creamy yams with marshmallow topping, and my momma’s ambrosia. About the only non-traditional thing we served was roasted chicken instead of turkey because my father didn’t like turkey. Some years we even had a small ham as well.

first thanksgiving2Have you ever wondered how the Thanksgiving traditions and foods of today compare to those of that first Thanksgiving feast? Let’s take a quick look.

Historians tell us that the original Thanksgiving festivities lasted at least three days. Not only did the colonists and their ninety or so Wampanaog guests hunt and feast, they also showed off the proficiency of their weapons with a little target practice.

thanksgiving_dinner_1280x1024The meat served at the first Thanksgiving was primarily venison and various birds. And while wild turkey was possibly among the fowl served, it was almost certainly not the centerpiece of the table as it is today. Research shows that during the early colonial period the fowl of choice for both the Pilgrims and Native Americans was goose, duck, and passenger pigeon. It is said that hunting passenger pigeonspassenger pigeons, although now extinct, were so plentiful in the 1620s that a man could bring down well over a hundred birds in flight with a single shot from his musket. Small birds were usually spit-roasted, while larger fowl were boiled before roasting.

Other meats enjoyed during these festivities likely included eels, clams, mussels, lobsters, and fish, since it is known that smoking and drying various sea foods was common during the time.

Stuffing is another food that differed greatly from that of today, since bread was made from maize instead of wheat. Pilgrims and Native Americans alike probably stuffed their birds with onions, nuts, and various herbs. One researcher mentions a 17th-century stuffing recipe for goose that was primarily just shelled chestnuts.

Potatoes, neither white or sweet, were not eaten at the first Thanksgiving since they were discovered in South America by Spanish explorers and had not yet been introduced to North America. The local Native American inhabitants did enjoy turnips and other root vegetables, which most were most likely served alongside other vegetables like squash, beans, cabbage, carrots, and peas. Corn was plentiful and would also have been served, although the kernels would have been removed from the cob and turned into cornmeal from which porridge or flat bread would have been made.

Various fruits, including plums, grapes, gooseberries, raspberries, and cranberries were also eaten by both the Native Americans and Pilgrims and would probably been included in the Thanksgiving bounty. However, it would be another fifty years before granny-with-piesthey would be boiled with a sweetener to make sauces and relishes to enjoy with meats.

Pies of any sort is another dish that was not served at the first Thanksgiving since they had not yet been developed in the New World. Pumpkins and other squashes indigenous to the area were probably roasted over hot coals and enjoyed as another accompaniment to the meal.

Hopefully there is one we have in common with participants of the first Thanksgiving–a celebration of thanks for all God has provided.

So whether you enjoy a huge family Thanksgiving meal or just sit around watching the football games with friends, take just a moment to give thanks for all of this year’s blessings.

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Try Em: Julia’s Deconstructed Turkey, Corn Casserole, Green Bean Casserole, Classic Pumpkin Pie

You Scream, I Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream

One of my all-time favorite desserts is ice cream. I mean, I could literally enjoy a bowl of ice cream every night of the week, year ’round. And when it comes to this light, creamy, frozen lusciousness, I’m really not very picky about the flavor–vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, banana nut, peach–almost any flavor will do.

kids making ice creamSome of my fondest childhood summertime memories revolves around neighbor and family backyard gatherings where we almost always made home-churned ice cream. The women would set about mixing eggs, milk, sugar and flavoring, while the men would break out the large hand-cranked mixers, ice and salt. And we kids knew that our job would be to take turns perching on top of the mixer so it wouldn’t “walk away” while my father or one of the other men turned the handle–a sort of love-hate thing, because while you loved the final results, you hated freezing your butt off to help make it happen. I could never understand why one of the women didn’t sit on the mixer. After all, they were heavier than us and would have made the mixer much more stable.

When the handle could no longer be turned, the men would drain the mixer of most of its salty water and carry it into the kitchen where they would carefully remove the dasher, repack the bucket with more ice and salt, and wait another twenty or thirty minutes before letting anyone indulge in the fruits of their labor. This last step was said to have allowed the remove_paddleice cream to become really hard. The truth is, I never understood this final ritual because the ice cream never seemed to get any harder than before, not to mention it always seemed to be the longest twenty or thirty minutes in my young life. Nevertheless this was a ritual my father stubbornly declared must be endured before anyone got to taste that wonderful concoction.

There are a number of myths dating ice cream’s origin back to the first century A.D. with tales of Roman emperor Nero, and later in the same century, China’s King T’ang sending runners to the mountains to bring back snow and ice for frozen desserts flavored with honey, wines, and fruits. And while there may be truth in these stories, what these nobles made was certainly not ice cream as we know it, but more like ices or sherbets. It was also a treat reserved only for royalty.

Lemon-SorbetAs we fast forward to seventeenth century Italy, we saw the creation of sorbetto, or sorbet as it’s now known. In the mid 1600s, Antonio Latini of Naples is credited with being the first to write down the recipe for a sorbetto. He was also responsible with coming up with a milk-based sorbet (gelato) most culinary historians consider to be the first true ice cream. Then in 1686, a Sicilian by the name of Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli opened Procope, Paris’ first cafe, where he introduced the French to their first taste of gelato.

It was also about this time that the French began to experiment with a frozen dessert of their own called fromage, which despite its name did not contain cheese. One fromage recipe, taken from the book La Maison Reglee by French confectioner Nicolas Audiger, included cream, sugar and orange flower water in its ingredients. Audiger also suggested stirring fromage during the freezing process to create a lighter, fluffier texture.

It’s hard to say exactly how and when ice cream came to this country, but it most likely arrived with European settlers in the early 1700s. And almost from the start, ice cream became one of America’s most popular desserts. In fact, the first ice cream parlor opened in New York in the summer of 1790.

Even governors, politicians, and presidents were among those Americans who craved ice cream–Maryland Governor Tom Bladen served ice cream and berries to the State’s VIP guests, George Washington had a collection of tin and pewter ice cream pots, and Thomas Jefferson built ice houses designed to hold sixty-two wagonloads of ice, much of it for the purpose of making this frozen treat. And Abraham Lincoln’s wife Mary often hosted parties, both before and after he became president, in which cake and ice cream were served.

ice cream makerUntil 1843, ice cream was commonly made using the “pot-freezer method” in which the cream mixture was placed in a large bowl placed in a tub filled with ice and salt. However in September of that year a Philadelphia housewife by the name of Nancy Johnson designed and patented the hand cranked ice cream freezer, a design still very much in use today. Five years later William C. Young patented his “improvement in Ice-Cream Freezers.” These hand cranked churns were not only faster than the pot method but made the ice cream smoother.

Up until the mid-1800s commercial ice cream was produced in small batches and sold only by small restaurants, confectioners and caterers. Then in 1851, milk and dairy broker Jacob Fussell built the first large ice cream factory as a way of utilizing his surplus cream before it spoiled. His venture was so successful that within two years he moved from his small factory in Pennsylvania to a larger facility in Baltimore and soon afterward began opening factories in a number of other cities. As word of new081411churningIceCream2Fussell’s success traveled, others built and operated their own ice cream plants throughout the country, a move that not only reduced the cost of ice cream but added greatly to its popularity as well.

soft serve bowlWith advances in refrigeration and technology, the 20th century saw many improvements not only in ice cream quality and consistency, but in its distribution, storage and marketing as well–the creation of the ice cream soda and sundae, an explosion of flavors, the creation of retail chains such as Howard Johnson’s and Baskin-Robbins. One of the most dramatic innovations from this time period was the invention of the soft ice cream machine, resulting in ice cream parlor giants like Dairy Queen, Carvel and Tastee-Freez.

While serving ice cream in edible vessels was mentioned in French books one hundred years earlier, it was only in the early 1900s that they really became popular in America.

Ice-Cream-ConesOn December 13, 1904 a patent was issued to Italo Marchioni of New York for a mold used to form pastry ice cream cups. Three years later Abe Doumar, in an effort to keep up with the demand for his ice cream cones sold at the St. Louis Exposition, designed and had built a four-iron cone baking machine. Later he bought a 36-iron semiautomatic machine which produced 20 ice cream cones per minute. Then in 1912 Frederick Bruckman, an inventor from Portland, Oregan, patented a machine for rolling ice cream cones. Bruckman sold his invention and business to Nabisco in 1928 and as of 2012 the original machine was still being used to make cones.

DrumstickOther 20th century ice cream advancements include the first filled and frozen ice cream cone sold in grocery stores. Known as the “ice cream drumstick,” this frozen novelty was created in 1928 by J. T. “Stubby” Parker in Fort Worth, Texas. Parker sold his company in 1991 to Nestle. And in 1959 an Italian ice cream manufacturer invented the process of applying a layer of sugar and chocolate to the inside of the waffle cone to insulate it from the ice cream. This cone (the Cornetto) has become the most popular in the world.

soft serve coneToday more than 1.6 billion gallons of ice cream and frozen dairy products are sold in America each year. That’s an average of four gallons of ice cream per person annually. And nobody has to freeze their butts off to enjoy it!

Buy em: Häagen-Dazs, Ben & Jerry’s, Blue Bell, Breyers, Edy’s

Try em: Eddies Sweet Shop, Forest Hills, NY; Bi-Rite Creamery, San Francisco; Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream, Seattle; Sabastian Joe’s, Minneapolis; Taos Cow, Arroyo Seco, NM; Beth Marie’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream, Denton, TX

Make em: Sugar’s Vanilla Ice Cream, Ricotta Ice Cream