The American Thanksgiving

For most people, the mention of Thanksgiving brings to mind visions of roasted turkey filled with stuffing, pumpkin pie, family get-togethers, football, and young schoolchildren acting out stories of the Pilgrims sharing the first feast with native Indians . But was that day of feasting at Plymouth really the first Thanksgiving in this country? Let’s take a look into some of the history concerning this popular American holiday.

Ancient cultures around the world have always held festivals to celebrate the harvest and pay tribute to their gods for the bounty bestowed upon them, a practice causing some church leaders to proclaim Thanksgiving a religions event. In fact, history has recorded a number of such ceremonies and feasts far predating the Pilgrims’ landing on America’s shores.

Evidence exists that the first such celebration in America was a thanksgiving Mass held in 1598 by Spanish explorers to thank God for their successful arrival at San Elizario, Texas, after weeks of crossing arid wastelands with a group of 500 colonists. There is also the founding of annual “Thanksgiving” services documented in the 1619 charter of Berkeley Hundred, a settlement near Virginia Colony, more than a year before the Mayflower’s arrival to America.

When the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth Rock in December of 1620, the 102 passengers, known today as the Pilgrims, were ill prepared for the severe New England winter. While constructing their new settlement, most spent the nights back aboard the ship in an effort to escape the harsh conditions. Even so, by March more than half of the passengers and crew had died from exposure, scurvy, and other diseases.

With the onset of Spring, the Mayflower survivors moved ashore to their homes. Soon afterwards, they were surprised when Samoset, an Abenaki chief, walked into their settlement and greeted them in broken English. The next morning, Samoset left but returned some days later with Squanto, an English speaking member of the Pawtuxet tribe who was living in the nearby village of Pokanoket. With him was Massosoit (Ousamequin), leader of the Wampanoag Nation. With Squanto’s help, the Pilgrims formed an alliance with Massosoit and the Wampanoags that lasted for more than forty years. He also showed them how to hunt, fish, extract sap from maple trees, and grow corn and other vegetables.

In November 1621, Plymouth’s governor organized a three day feast to celebrate the Pilgrims’ first successful harvest, inviting about ninety Wampanoag allies to join them, and becoming the model for our modern day Thanksgiving. Although there is no record of the exact menu served during the revelry, it has been chronicled that in preparation for the event, Governor William Bradford sent four men to hunt for all sorts of fowl, including wild turkey. It was also written that Chief Massasoit and the Wampanoag contributed five deer to the celebration. And while some historians have suggested that most of the dishes were prepared using Native American seasonings and cooking methods, one thing is almost certain–that first Thanksgiving was void of the vast assortment of pies and other desserts that are a hallmark of today’s festivities.

Although the Pilgrims did hold a second celebration two years later, followed by occasional days of thanksgiving in other New England settlements, it would be 1789 before George Washington issued a proclamation naming November 26 as America’s first “Day of Publick Thanksgivin” in recognition of the successful conclusion to the Revolutionary War. Subsequent presidents, including John Adams and James Madison, also issued Thanksgiving Proclamations, but the dates and sometimes months of those celebrations varied.

Over the next four decades, several states attempted to adopt annual Thanksgiving holidays, although the efforts were disjointed with each choosing a different day. In fact, most southern states were largely unfamiliar with the custom. Then in 1827, Sarah Josepha Hale, noted magazine editor, writer and author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” undertook a personal campaign to establish a national Thanksgiving holiday. Finally in 1863, after thirty-six years of Hale’s editorials and letter-writing to the top politicians, Abraham Lincoln finally named the last Thursday in November as the national day of celebration. That date remained in effect until 1941, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a Congressional bill making the fourth Thursday in November America’s official Thanksgiving Day (some years have five Thursdays in November) and a legal public holiday.

Celebrations of harvests and plentiful bounty have been recognized by cultures on every continent for millennia. In fact, Native Americans were commemorating their fall harvests with feasting and merriment long before Europeans set foot on their shores.

We hope you have enjoyed reading this special story about some of the events leading up to America’s Thanksgiving. May you and your loved ones be blessed with the best “turkey day” ever. Just remember these immortal words of an unknown author:

May your stuffing be tasty
May your turkey plump,
May your potatoes and gravy
Have nary a lump.
May your yams be delicious
And your pies take the prize,
And may your Thanksgiving dinner
Stay off your thighs!

Make ‘Em: Libby’s Famous Pumpkin Pie, Corn Casserole, Julia and Jacques’s Deconstructed Turkey With Corn Bread Stuffing and Gravy

Mac and Cheese: America’s Favorite Comfort Food

The first known recipe for a macaroni and cheese casserole was recorded as far back as thirteenth century Italy. In the medieval cookbook Liber de Coquina, the anonymous author describes layering sheets of lasagne with powdered spices and cheese (likely parmesan) of choice. This recipe (called de lasanis), while certainly not the same as the modern version of macaroni and cheese, is none the less a viable predecessor.

As with many of today’s foods, the exact origin of macaroni and cheese has been lost over time. The most popular story is that this cuisine made its way to the United States by way of Thomas Jefferson who experienced numerous pasta dishes while in both Paris and northern Italy. When he returned to Monticello in 1787, he brought back a pasta machine so he could continue to enjoy the dishes he had grown to love.

Documents in the Library of Congress show that President Jefferson enjoyed serving “macaroni pie,” an earlier version of what we know as baked macaroni and cheese, to guests at state dinners. While he certainly did not invent the recipe, this helped popularize it throughout American, and the American South in particular.

The 1824 edition of the century’s most influential cookbook, The Virginia Housewife, written by Jefferson’s cousin Mary Randolph, includes a recipe for “Macaroni and Cheese.” It contains only three ingredients–macaroni, cheese, and butter–layered together and baked in a 400-degree oven. By the mid 1880s, recipes for macaroni-based casseroles appeared in numerous cookbooks as far west as Kansas.

The first pasta factory opened in Philadelphia in 1798, although it wasn’t until after the Civil War, with the development of the hydraulic press, steam-powered mill and the influx of Italian immigrants , that America’s pasta-making business started to grow. Still, many of the affluent families continued to import pasta from Europe. It took World War I and the resulting halt of imports, to have a major impact on this new American industry. The number of pasta factories almost doubled between 1914 and 1919.

In 1937, during the throes of the Great Depression, Kraft Foods introduced boxed macaroni and cheese. The company’s advertising slogan “make a meal for four in nine minutes,” resulted in an immediate success, and sales of over eight million nineteen-cent boxes of the product in one year. With the advent of World War II, Kraft’s boxed macaroni and cheese dinners continued to gain popularity due to its convenience and a shortage of fresh dairy products.

Today, chefs all across this great nation are putting creative twists on this popular comfort food, elevating it to a dish worthy of being served in the finest of restaurants. While still a mainstay of college student cuisine, there are now variations substituting brie and goat cheese for the familiar cheddar-based sauce; rotini and farfalle for elbows; and the addition of exotic mushrooms, caramelized onions, figs, and proscuitto.

There are even restaurants serving only macaroni and cheese, such as S’Mac in Manhattan’s East Village, NY ($7.75 to $10.75); Homeroom in Oakland, CA ($7.75 to $9.50); Cheese-Ology in University City, MO ($7 to $8.50); Macdaddy’s in Denton, TX (prices not listed).

So whether you go for the old standby mac and cheese common to barbecue and soul food establishments across the south, or hanker to try one of the gourmet varieties in a big-city sit-down restaurant, or just feel like enjoying the boxed version microwaved in your own home, know you’re in good company, because everyone from 3 to 103 loves macaroni and cheese–America’s most popular comfort food.

Try Em: (Top six mac & cheese brands) Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Annie’s Elbows & Four Cheese Sauce, Clear Value Shells and Cheese, Krasdale Macaroni & Cheese Dinner, Hodgson Mills Macaroni & Cheese Dinner, Pasta Roni Shells & White Cheddar

Make Em: Old-Fashioned Macaroni and Cheese, Fannie Farmer’s Classic Baked Macaroni and Cheese, President Ronald Reagan’s Mac and Cheese