Thanksgiving Day ReadsPosted: November 24, 2011
Happy Thanksgiving!! I’m going to devote this Thursday post to Thanksgiving-oriented material. Feel free to talk about whatever you want in the comments.
Here’s a little background on the origins of the Thanksgiving feast from Wikipedia:
Thanksgiving in North America had originated from a mix of European and Native traditions. Typically in Europe, festivals were held before and after the harvest cycles to give thanks for a good harvest, and to rejoice together after much hard work with the rest of the community. At the time, Native Americans had also celebrated the end of a harvest season. When Europeans first arrived to the Americas, they brought with them their own harvest festival traditions from Europe, celebrating their safe voyage, peace and good harvest….
In the United States, the modern Thanksgiving holiday tradition traces its origins to a 1621 celebration at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts. There is also evidence for an earlier celebration on the continent by Spanish explorers in Texas at San Elizario in 1598, as well as thanksgiving feasts in the Virginia Colony. The initial thanksgiving observance at Virginia in 1619 was prompted by the colonists’ leaders on the anniversary of the settlement. The 1621 Plymouth feast and thanksgiving was prompted by a good harvest. In later years, the tradition was continued by civil leaders such as Governor Bradford who planned a thanksgiving celebration and fast in 1623. While initially, the Plymouth colony did not have enough food to feed half of the 102 colonists, the Wampanoag Native Americans helped the Pilgrims by providing seeds and teaching them to fish. The practice of holding an annual harvest festival like this did not become a regular affair in New England until the late 1660s
I don’t really know how accurate that is. The Christian Science monitor has listed five myths about Thanksgiving that they believe will surprise people. Number three on the list was news to me:
3. Pilgrims dressed in all black and wore buckles
Not so fast. This modern-day likeness of the first American Pilgrims was conjured sometime in the 19th century, when the popular image of Pilgrims was formed – but it’s mostly false. The garb of the Pilgrims was actually brightly colored and buckle-free.
Pilgrim women normally dressed in red, earth green, brown, blue, violet, and gray, and the men wore white, beige, black, earth green, and brown clothing. Buckles were not commonly worn until much later in the 17th century, and black and white clothing was typically only worn on Sundays and when observing formal occasions.
So why give the Pilgrims this now-iconic appearance?
Former Plimoth (yep, we double-checked the spelling) Plantation historian James W. Baker writes that, in the 19th century, buckles were assigned to Pilgrims because they served as an emblem of quaintness, which is the same reason illustrators gave Santa Claus buckles. Also associated with Pilgrims – the blunderbuss, a muzzle-loading firearm with a stout caliber barrel – was so designated because of its old-fashioned, unthreatening look. But the Pilgrims probably didn’t use that either.
According to The Boston Globe the Thanksgiving travel rush was going full tilt yesterday.
Undeterred by costlier gas and airfare, millions of Americans set out Wednesday to see friends and family in what is expected to be the nation’s busiest Thanksgiving weekend since the financial meltdown more than three years ago….
About 42.5 million people are expected to hit the road or take to the skies for Thanksgiving this year, according to travel tracker AAA. That’s the highest number since the start of the recession at the end of 2007.
Heavy rain slowed down early travelers along the East Coast. Snow across parts of New England and upstate New York made for treacherous driving and thousands of power outages. And a mudslide covered train tracks in the Pacific Northwest. But most of the country is expected to have clear weather Thursday.
Quite frankly, some of my happiest Thanksgiving days have been spent alone. I find holidays somewhat stressful, and besides I have kind of a crazy family. This year I’m going to spend the day with my brother’s family at the home of some of their friends. I’m pretty sure everyone will be nice, but if not I can always excuse myself early. Here’s an article from Time for people with big crazy families like mine: 5 Ways to Keep Your Family From Ruining Thanksgiving. Here’s my favorite (Number 5):
The key to maintaining your calm is to send yourself the right mental messages. That means practicing mindful awareness, loving kindness and compassionate self-talk. Sound like new age psychobabble? The truth is, you’re already sending yourself messages all the time. “You’re telling yourself throughout the day what you’re bothered by and disappointed in….It’s worse at holiday time when your expectation of what you thought your life was going to look like is most acute.”
I found two writers (probably both conservatives) who claimed that the lesson of the first Thanksgiving is that capitalism trumps socialism.
When they first started the colony, their overseas investors forced them to share all their property together. According to Bradford, “all profits and benefits that are got by trade, working, fishing, or any other means” were to be shared, and that “all such persons as are of this colony are to have their meat, drink, apparel, and all provisions out of the common stock.”
In other words, put into the common stock all you can, and take out only what you need. “To each according to his need; from each according to his ability.” Sound familiar?
Communism may be okay for a small group like a family or a Boy Scout patrol, but it doesn’t scale very well for larger groups.
According to Arneson “communism” made the pilgrims lazy and selfish so William Bradford, the governor of Plimouth, decided to try “free market capitalism.”
Bradford and the colony elders divided up the property among the families. Whatever produce a family did not use for themselves, they were free to trade away with others for something else they wanted.
It was an astonishing success — the harvests of 1623 and beyond provided a bounty of excess food, not just for a single Thanksgiving meal as in the previous two years, but enough to last the winter….
Once the creative powers of individual rewards were unleashed, where every person was allowed to keep the fruits of his own labor for his own family or for trade, everything was different.
The Plymouth colonists were socialists before socialism was cool. They entered into a contract with one another and a finance company called Merchant Adventurers to create an egalitarian commune in which their wealth, food in particular, would be collectively stored and redistributed equally among members. This was the forebear of the modern-day American counterculture collectivist commune or even Israel’s more mainstream kibbutz, which survive on government subsidies. Equality is put before freedom or even productivity.
And so on…with even more right-wing propaganda included than in the article by Arneberg. I guess the first Thanksgiving was about sharing, but a couple of years later the pilgrims learned that greed is good. Incidentally, the author’s bio at the end of the article says the Wolf is Barack Obama’s cousin. Is this meme the latest White House effort to push austerity?
Since we were talking about mac and cheese on Thanksgiving last night, I thought I’d share my favorite alternative Thanksgiving story. For many years, humorist Calvin Trillin has led a campaign to change the official Thanksgiving dish from turkey to spaghetti carbonara. I located Trillin’s piece about it on-line, and since it was copied from Trillin’s book Third Helpings, I figured it would be OK for me to copy it too.
I have been campaigning to have the national Thanksgiving dish changed from turkey to spaghetti carbonara.
It does not take much historical research to uncover the fact that nobody knows if the Pilgrims really ate turkey at the first Thanksgiving dinner. The only thing we know for sure about what the Pilgrims ate is that it couldn’t have tasted very good. Even today, well brought-up English girls are taught by their mothers to boil all veggies for at least a month and a half, just in case one of the dinner guests turns up without his teeth… (It is certainly unfair to say that the English lack both a cuisine and a sense of humor: their cooking is a joke in itself.)
It would also not require much digging to discover that Christopher Columbus, the man who may have brought linguine with clam sauce to this continent, was from Genoa, and obviously would have sooner acknowledged that the world was shaped like an isosceles triangle than to have eaten the sort of things that the English Puritans ate. Righting an ancient wrong against Columbus, a great man who certainly did not come all this way only to have a city in Ohio named after him, would be a serious historical contribution. Also, I happen to love spaghetti carbonara.
[In our family]…Thanksgiving has often been celebrated away from home. It was at other people’s Thanksgiving tables that I first began to articulate my spaghetti carbonara campaign–although, since we were usually served turkey, I naturally did not mention that the campaign had been inspired partly by my belief that turkey is basically something college dormitories use to punish students for hanging around on Sunday… I reminded everyone how refreshing it would be to hear sports announcers call some annual tussle the Spaghetti Carbonara Day Classic.
I even had a ready answer to the occasional turkey fancier at those meals who insist that spaghetti carbonara was almost certainly not what our forebears ate at the first Thanksgiving dinner. As it happens, one of the things I give thanks for every year is that those people in the Plymouth Colony were not my forebears. Who wants forebears who put people in the stocks for playing the harpsichord on the Sabbath or having an innocent little game of pinch and giggle?
Finally there came a year when nobody invited us to Thanksgiving dinner. Alice’s theory was that the word had got around town that I always made a pest out of myself berating the hostess for serving turkey instead of spaghetti carbonara…
However it came about, I was delighted at the opportunity we had been given to practice what I had been preaching–to sit down to a Thanksgiving dinner of spaghetti carbonara.
Naturally, the entire family went over to Rafetto’s pasta store on Houston Street to see the spaghetti cut. I got the cheese at Joe’s dairy, on Sullivan, a place that would have made Columbus feel right at home–there are plenty of Genoese on Sullivan; no Pilgrims–and then headed for the pork store on Carmine Street for the bacon and ham. Alice made the spaghetti carbonara. It was perfection. I love spaghetti carbonara. Then I began to tell the children the story of the first Thanksgiving:
In England, along time ago, there were people called Pilgrims who were very strict about making everyone observe the Sabbath and cooked food without any flavor and that sort of thing, and they decided to go to America, where they could enjoy Freedom to Nag. The other people in England said, “Glad to see the back of them.” In America, the Pilgrims tried farming, but they couldn’t get much done because they were always putting their best farmers in the stocks for crimes like Suspicion of Cheerfulness. The Indians took pity on the Pilgrims and helped them with their farming, even though the Indians thought that the Pilgrims were about as much fun as teenage circumcision. The Pilgrims were so grateful that at the end of their first year in America they invited the Indians over for a Thanksgiving meal. The Indians, having had some experience with Pilgrim cuisine during the year, took the precaution of taking along one dish of their own. They brought a dish that their ancestors had learned from none other than Christopher Columbus, who was known to the Indians as “the big Italian fellow.” The dish was spaghetti carbonara–made with pancetta bacon and fontina and the best imported prosciutto. The Pilgrims hated it. They said it was “heretically tasty” and “the work of the devil” and “the sort of thing foreigners eat.” The Indians were so disgusted that on the way back to their village after dinner one of them made a remark about the Pilgrims that was repeated down through the years and unfortunately caused confusion among historians about the first Thanksgiving meal. He said,
“What a bunch of turkeys!”
1 pound spaghetti Ask the
1/2 pound pancetta (sliced 1/4 “ thick at the deli, and cut into lardons)
4 large eggs (locally raised and cage-free if possible)
1 tablespoon garlic, finely chopped
1 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, freshly grated
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated parmesan reggiano to pass at the table
Put salted water on the boil for the pasta, grate the romano cheese and set aside, finely mince the fresh parsley and reserve.
In a very large skillet, saute the pancetta lardons in the olive oil over medium heat until the bacon has rendered much of its fat. You don’t want to cook the pancetta to the point of being crisp, it is better with a little fatty “chew” still left in it. Just before the pancetta is done, add the minced garlic to the pan and allow to cook until the garlic is golden brown. Set the pan aside to cool. (Allowing the pan to cool some at this point is important, because if the pan is too hot when you add the eggs later, they will immediately scramble, and not gently cook into the creamy sauce that is your ultimate goal.
Break the eggs into a medium sized bowl and whisk them till smooth. Add the grated cheese to the eggs and keep handy.
Cook the pasta to the maker’s instructions for “al dente”, and as soon as it is done, quickly strain it and toss it into the skillet with the pancetta, reserving a cup of the pasta cooking water to thin your sauce later if needed. Add the cheese and egg mixture to the pasta along with the parsley, and toss to coat. The heat from the pasta will gently cook the eggs, and melt the cheese into a luxuriously rich and smooth sauce. If the sauce is too thick for your liking, add some of the reserved pasta cooking water to loosen it.
To serve, place the pasta into warmed bowls, top liberally with freshly ground black pepper, and sprinkle with some freshly grated parmesan.
I hope everyone has a wonderful day and lots to be grateful for!