November 18, 2017

It’s Thanksgiving … so Let’s Talk Turkey

As you busy yourself making plans for today’s feast, we would like to wish all our readers a very Happy Thanksgiving and to republish a pertinent article about the evolution of this quintessential American meal that our good friend — and wonderful writer — Linda Ahnert of Old Lyme wrote for us back in 2007.

Who Doesn’t Love Thanksgiving?

Giving thanks_bookA few years ago, a book entitled “Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving Recipes and History, from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie” was published.  The co-authors are Kathleen Curtin, food historian at the Plimoth Plantation, Mass., and Sandra L. Oliver, food historian and publisher of the newsletter “Food History News.”

The book is a fascinating look at how an autumnal feast evolved into a “quintessential American holiday.”

Most Americans, introduced to the story of the Pilgrims and Indians during childhood, assume there is a direct link between the traditional holiday menu and the first Thanksgiving.  But we learn from the book that many of those food items—such as mashed potatoes and apple pie—were simply impossible in Plymouth, Mass., in 1621.  Potatoes were not introduced to New England until much later and those first settlers did not yet have ovens to bake pies.

What we do know about the bill of fare at the first celebration in 1621 comes from a letter written by colonist Edward Winslow to a friend in England:  “Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors.”

Later 90 Indians joined the party with “their great king Massasoit whom for three days we entertained and feasted.”  Then the Indians “went out and killed five deer which they brought to the plantation.”

So venison was a principal food on the menu.  It also seems safe to assume that mussels, clams, and lobsters (all in plentiful supply) were served as well.   According to other journals of the colonists, the “fowl” that Winslow described were probably ducks and geese.  But wild turkeys were also bountiful in 1621, and so it is very likely that they were on the Pilgrims’ table.  Thank goodness for that.

Throughout the New England colonies, it became common to proclaim a day of thanksgiving sometime in the autumn.  In period diaries, there are many descriptions of food preparation—such as butchering and pie baking—followed by the notation that “today was the general thanksgiving.”

By the 19th century, Americans were taking the idea of a “thanksgiving” to a whole new level.  The religious connotations were dropping away in favor of a holiday celebrating family and food.  Roast turkey had become the centerpiece of these fall celebrations.

Turkeys, of course, were native to North America.  (Benjamin Franklin, in a letter, had even proposed the turkey as the official U.S. bird!)  And turkey was considered to be a fashionable food back in the mother country.  Just think of the significance of turkey in Charles’ Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”  When Scrooge wakes up in a joyful mood on Christmas morning, he calls to a boy in the street to deliver the prize turkey in the poulterer’s shop to the Cratchit family.  (Earlier in the story, the poor Cratchits were dining on goose.)

It is thanks to a New England woman that Thanksgiving became an American holiday.  Sarah Hale was a native of New Hampshire and the editor of “Godey’s Lady’s  Book,”  a popular women’s magazine.  She lobbied for years for a national observance of Thanksgiving.  She wrote editorials and sent letters to the president, all state governors, and members of Congress.

Finally, in 1863, she convinced Abraham Lincoln that a national Thanksgiving Day might help to unite the Civil War-stricken country.   The fourth Thursday in November was now officially on the American calendar.

Connecticut’s own Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote this description of a New England Thanksgiving in one of her novels—“But who shall . . .describe the turkey, and chickens, and chicken pies, with all that endless variety of vegetables which the American soil and climate have contributed to the table . . . After the meat came the plum-puddings, and then the endless array of pies. . .”

The autumnal feast became a national holiday, but each region of the country put its own spin on the menu.   Not to mention that immigrants have also added diversity.  The result is a true “melting pot” of America.  The second half of “Giving Thanks” contains recipes that reflect what Americans eat for Thanksgiving in the 21st century.

In the South, for instance, the turkey might be stuffed with cornbread and there would be pecan and sweet potato pies on the table.  In New Mexico, chiles and Southwestern flavors may be added to the stuffing.

There’s the “time-honored traditional bread stuffing” recipe.  There’s also one for a Chinese American rice dressing and directions for a Cuban turkey stuffed with black beans and rice.  Desserts run the gamut from an (authentic) Indian pudding to an (exotic) coconut rice pudding.  Old-fashioned pumpkin pie is included as well as the newfangled pumpkin cheesecake.

But no matter what food items grace our Thanksgiving tables, it seems that we all end up stuffing ourselves silly.  Perhaps overeating started at that very first harvest celebration in 1621.  In Edward Winslow’s letter describing the feast with the Indians, he noted that food was not always this plentiful. But he wrote his friend in England “ … yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”

Share

A Historical Perspective on ‘Giving Thanks’

We are pleased to celebrate this Thanksgiving season by republishing an article written for LymeLine.com by Linda Ahnert to honor Thanksgiving 2007.

Who doesn’t love Thanksgiving?

Giving thanks_bookA few years ago, a book entitled “Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving Recipes and History, from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie” was published.  The co-authors are Kathleen Curtin, food historian at the Plimoth Plantation, Mass., and Sandra L. Oliver, food historian and publisher of the newsletter “Food History News.”

The book is a fascinating look at how an autumnal feast evolved into a “quintessential American holiday.”

Most Americans, introduced to the story of the Pilgrims and Indians during childhood, assume there is a direct link between the traditional holiday menu and the first Thanksgiving.  But we learn from the book that many of those food items—such as mashed potatoes and apple pie—were simply impossible in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1621.  Potatoes were not introduced to New England until much later and those first settlers did not yet have ovens to bake pies.

What we do know about the bill of fare at the first celebration in 1621 comes from a letter written by colonist Edward Winslow to a friend in England:  “Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors.”

Later 90 Indians joined the party with “their great king Massasoit whom for three days we entertained and feasted.”  Then the Indians “went out and killed five deer which they brought to the plantation.”

So venison was a principal food on the menu.  It also seems safe to assume that mussels, clams, and lobsters (all in plentiful supply) were served as well.   According to other journals of the colonists, the “fowl” that Winslow described were probably ducks and geese.  But wild turkeys were also bountiful in 1621, and so it is very likely that they were on the Pilgrims’ table.  Thank goodness for that.

Throughout the New England colonies, it became common to proclaim a day of thanksgiving sometime in the autumn.  In period diaries, there are many descriptions of food preparation—such as butchering and pie baking—followed by the notation that “today was the general thanksgiving.”

By the 19th century, Americans were taking the idea of a “thanksgiving” to a whole new level.  The religious connotations were dropping away in favor of a holiday celebrating family and food.  Roast turkey had become the centerpiece of these fall celebrations.

Turkeys, of course, were native to North America.  (Benjamin Franklin, in a letter, had even proposed the turkey as the official U.S. bird!)  And turkey was considered to be a fashionable food back in the mother country.  Just think of the significance of turkey in Charles’ Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”  When Scrooge wakes up in a joyful mood on Christmas morning, he calls to a boy in the street to deliver the prize turkey in the poulterer’s shop to the Cratchit family.  (Earlier in the story, the poor Cratchits were dining on goose.)

It is thanks to a New England woman that Thanksgiving became an American holiday.  Sarah Hale was a native of New Hampshire and the editor of “Godey’s Lady’s  Book,”  a popular women’s magazine.  She lobbied for years for a national observance of Thanksgiving.  She wrote editorials and sent letters to the president, all state governors, and members of Congress.

Finally, in 1863, she convinced Abraham Lincoln that a national Thanksgiving Day might help to unite the Civil War-stricken country.   The fourth Thursday in November was now officially on the American calendar.

Connecticut’s own Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote this description of a New England Thanksgiving in one of her novels—“But who shall . . .describe the turkey, and chickens, and chicken pies, with all that endless variety of vegetables which the American soil and climate have contributed to the table . . . After the meat came the plum-puddings, and then the endless array of pies. . .”

The autumnal feast became a national holiday, but each region of the country put its own spin on the menu.   Not to mention that immigrants have also added diversity.  The result is a true “melting pot” of America.  The second half of “Giving Thanks” contains recipes that reflect what Americans eat for Thanksgiving in the 21st century.

In the South, for instance, the turkey might be stuffed with cornbread and there would be pecan and sweet potato pies on the table.  In New Mexico, chiles and Southwestern flavors may be added to the stuffing.

There’s the “time-honored traditional bread stuffing” recipe.  There’s also one for a Chinese American rice dressing and directions for a Cuban turkey stuffed with black beans and rice.  Desserts run the gamut from an (authentic) Indian pudding to an (exotic) coconut rice pudding.  Old-fashioned pumpkin pie is included as well as the newfangled pumpkin cheesecake.

But no matter what food items grace our Thanksgiving tables, it seems that we all end up stuffing ourselves silly.  Perhaps overeating started at that very first harvest celebration in 1621.  In Edward Winslow’s letter describing the feast with the Indians, he noted that food was not always this plentiful. But he wrote his friend in England “ … yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”

Share

Memories of St. Paddy’s Day in the City

Linda Ahnert lives in Old Lyme now, but for more than 30 years she lived and worked on Manhattan and we’re delighted to republish her personal recollections of this memorable day in New York City.  Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all our readers and may the Luck of the Irish be with you!

This article was first published on LymeLine.com on March 17, 2008.

green_shamrockI was a New Yorker for 30 years and, although I love living in a quiet Connecticut town today, there are still aspects of city life that I miss.  There are the small things like being able to walk everywhere – to the supermarket, to the dry cleaner, to the movies.  And then there are the big things…

One of those is a grand old New York tradition – the celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day.  I’ll bet there are not many ex-New Yorkers (and there are a number of us in the area) who don’t get a little farklempt when calling to mind March 17ths spent in the city.  After all, is there any better place to toast the Emerald Isle than on the island of Manhattan?

In the lyrics of the Irish-American showman, George M. Cohan, “every heart beats true for the red, white, and blue.”  But in New York, on Saint Paddy’s Day, the city goes all out for the wearing of the green, starting with the green stripe painted on Fifth Avenue.

As nice as it is to wake up in a New England village on March 17, it could just as easily be February 17 or April 17.  In New York, as soon as you walk out the door on St. Patrick’s Day, there is absolutely no mistaking which day of the year it is.

There’s always electricity in the city air, but on March 17, there is a festival mood along Manhattan’s avenues and streets.  There are vendors selling green and white carnations, businessmen on their way to work sporting green ties, and teenagers with shamrocks painted on their cheeks or with shocks of hair dyed green for the day.  In short, it’s easy being green.

And the great thing about New York is that whether you’re full-blooded Irish, a little bit Irish, or nowhere near being Irish … it makes absolutely no difference.

Everyone loves a parade.  And as you get close to Fifth Avenue, you see families on their way to the parade and you start seeing parade participants.Oh, those kilts and tartans and tam-o’-shanters!

It might be a long way to Tipperary but on the streets of New York, I learned the names of many of Ireland’s counties.  These names are emblazoned on banners carried at the head of each county society.  Counties Cork, Clare, and Kilkenny were already familiar to me.  But I soon discovered that there are other counties with the names like Armagh, Donegal, Mayo, and Sligo.

New York City Holds Annual St. Patrick's Day ParadeUnlike New York’s other great processional, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, there are no floats and balloons, no vehicles or commercial aspects to the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade.  It is truly a “people parade” with about 150,000 participants marching up Fifth Avenue.

The parade steps off at 11 a.m. from Fifth Avenue and 44th Street and, generally, the last of the groups pass by Rockefeller Center and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral around 5 p.m.  The marchers include military units, top high school bands, drum and bugle corps, members of Eire-based societies, New York’s finest and New York’s bravest … and, of course, any politician who is running for office in the tri-state area.

A fun thing to do is to walk along the side streets off Fifth Avenue where the various groups are whiling away time as they wait their turns to fall into the parade route.  Many of them are practicing and drilling and it’s like attending a giant muster on the city sidewalks.

Pipers_St_Patricks_Day_Fun_in_NYC_3-8-13

And, when those units step out on Fifth Avenue and begin the march uptown, there is nothing like the sound that they make.  The skirling of the bagpipes and the percussion of the drums echoing off the buildings thrills and stirs the soul.  Spectators give appreciative cheers as a band plays a rousing version of “McNamara’s Band” or break into spontaneous song when they hear “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.”

There were years when I spent hours at the parade and other years when I could only spend a few minutes, but it was always a special time.

If many New Yorkers are tucking into dinners of corned beef and cabbage or lamb stew on Saint Patrick’s night, I’ll always associate the holiday with another Irish specialty.  In my early years in the city, a woman I worked with always brought Irish soda bread to the office on Saint Paddy’s Day.

Kay was from an Irish family in Brooklyn and when she served the bread, she always put out a crock of butter with it.  I can still remember my first taste of that bread.  And today, even though I bake a mean loaf of Irish soda bread myself, nothing can ever quite compare with Kay’s.

StPattysDayBeerThe Irish pubs and saloons in the city are, of course, packed to the gills on the holiday.  And that is another great thing about New York – each neighborhood has its own Irish watering hole.  On my block of East 34th Street, the pub was Brew’s and it was where we ate at least twice a week.  It was the kind of place where you didn’t have to order your drinks because the wait staff already knew what you drank and automatically brought a round to the table when you came in the door.  Richie Brew, the pub’s owner, was warm-hearted and gregarious and called most of his customers by their first names.

We spent many memorable Saint Patrick’s nights at Brew’s.  One time, as we were arriving, a contingent of bagpipers, who had marched in the parade, were getting into formation and tuning up on the sidewalk.  Then, kilts swirling and bagpipes wailing, they marched themselves into Brew’s to the cheers of all the patrons.

The coda to the day’s festivities was watching “The Quiet Man” on TV.  One of the local New York stations (Channel 9 or 11) always screened this movie on Saint Patrick’s night.  (It was akin to airing “It’s a Wonderful Life” at Christmas.)

The movie, which stars John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara and Barry Fitzgerald, is a valentine to Ireland.  With its stunning scenery and depiction of life in the village of Inisfree, the movie always had me longing to jump on the next Aer Lingus flight back to the old countryThis Saint Patrick’s Day, I won’t be in New York.But I’ll still bake Irish soda bread and put on a CD of “The Irish Tenors.”  I’ll listen to songs about sweet Molly Malone, Dublin in the rare old times, and the last rose of summer.

And I’ll drink a toast to the green isle of Erin … and to the great island of Manhattan.

Share