Everyone (almost) celebrates the last Thursday in November. It isn’t a religion-based holiday, so it rivals Christmas on it’s scale of importance. Once the retailers figure out how to market it better (turkey themed gifts only appeal to a few), it’ll likely become the biggest holiday in the US.
It’s the holiday where young ‘uns trek/drive/fly/train and bus it across the country to spend a few nights back in the bosom of their family.
In sum, it’s A VERY IMPORTANT OCCASION (said with enormous gravitas).
Expect a feast. A gi-huge turkey. Lots of stuffing (Grandma’s recipe, bien sûr). Booze—usually plenty to help in oiling the strained and creaky familial reunions (our two countries have this in common, we all have “that uncle”). Expect side dishes such as green bean casserole, roasted squash, chestnut soup, sweet potatoes and the Brit Christmas sides of mashed potato, brussel sprouts and other veggies. Basically, a Christmas dinner. One dish which you might not have is hush puppies. No, not the orthopaedic-looking shoes that elderly or style-challenged people wear; hush puppies at a meal are pretty much a staple side in the US. Every time I hear the words, I expect to see a bowl of pale grey or pooh brown ugly shoes piled up, errant Velcro strap fastenings scratching against sensible rubber soles.
Anyway, the PUDDINGS! This is more important than the turkey. Pecan pie, check. Apple pie, check. Pumpkin pie, check.
Expect A LOT OF PUMPKIN. Hallowe’en is done and dusted but the orange “in my opinion, only good for decorations” vegetable comes into all its glory now.
The supermarket shelves are packed with cans of pumpkin purée etc. Like the spirit of giving thanks, it is all around. If you’re a curmudgeon, a Scrooge-like character, you’re sh*t out of luck.
Pumpkin soup. Pumpkin latte. Pumpkin flapjacks. Pumpkin yoghurt. Pumpkin toffee. Pumpkin bread. Pumpkin muffins. Pumpkin juice (What in god’s name?). Pumpkin-anything-one-can-think-of. See attached photos for a small selection of pumpkin-related products.
So, to the tradition. Like the references to Red Coats on the 4th of July, I had no real understanding of what Thanksgiving is about. I quickly learnt several facts:
1. It happens on the last Thursday of November every year.
2. Everything is closed. If a store dares open, they are pretty much publicly chastised. I always tell myself that the employee is given a choice – work on Thanksgiving at 1.5 times regular pay, or spend the day with your family. I’d hazard a guess that many employees would happily choose the former. It’s why places like the Ministry of Defence in the UK never really closes its doors on Christmas Day – you’d cry if you knew how many scientists at one establishment in Worcestershire spend the 25th of December in their windowless offices “working”.
3. Turkey. The President of the United States traditionally pardons one turkey a year. Right. Anyway, it’s the bird of choice for millions of families across the country.
What is everyone celebrating? I know. I know. All the Brits cry “You’re celebrating the scalping, pillaging and degrading of the Native American Indians and kicking them out of their own country. They were there first. You Are Bastards.” They have a point.
The Americans do not agree with this point of view. Obvs. Right, I am here to write about the food not the history, so if you’re interested, please see this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thanksgiving_(United_States). You’ll see there’s far more to it than first meets the untrained (British) eye. In short, it’s a day for families to rejoin and give thanks. Thanks for their loved ones’ health, thanks for the opportunities they’ve been given, thanks for anything and anyone they so choose. It was originally a sombre day, but now it’s definitely a celebration.
Across the country, different states celebrate Thanksgiving with their own state-specific food. Turkey is the common denominator, but as you may know, there are stacks of different side dishes to be enjoyed.
Hawaii has mushrooms and spring onions; Massachusetts has mussels; Indiana has persimmon (?); Maine has lobster and North Carolina has sweet potatoes. I’ve no clue what Iowa, Kansas or Kentucky have as the pictures are a little ambiguous. Your guess is as good as mine.
I’ve spent 12 Thanksgivings in the USA. My first in Vestal, New York with a dear friend and her wonderful family. A very happy memory. My first time baking an acorn squash with copious amounts of butter and brown sugar. Try it, you won’t regret it. My second was in Tennessee, and the rest have been here and there in and around DC. This year’s will be with family and friends at home. The only yank will be my son, all others will be British, Canadian and Mexican. I have no doubt that it will be another memory to add to the previous 12 happy ones. My 13th Thanksgiving. I was born on the 13th of the month many moons ago. I hope it’s a lucky number…