Gratitude · Recipes · Reflections

Giving Thanks: Holiday Recipes and Reflections

It’s not uncommon to want to give one’s children everything lacked in one’s own childhood. I know I’m not alone in trying to overcompensate for what I did not have in my early years. What were holidays like for you, and how does that influence your celebrations now? My mother and I depended on the hospitality of others at Thanksgiving and Christmas. She never learned to cook, and turkey was too expensive anyway. Before the age of 10, I was not unfamiliar to hunger regardless of the season.

On the holiday occasions when we visited friends from church, and gathered at their tables, the feast was especially meaningful to me. We were sharing more than just food. I felt cared for, something most young children take for granted. I’m glad that my children haven’t experienced the sort of deprivation I did in my earliest years. For them, holidays have always been a time to indulge the senses, while surrounded by loved ones.

When I was a child, we learned that Thanksgiving originated as a harvest festival where the Pilgrims and Native Americans set aside their differences to celebrate together. It’s a lovely sentiment, but the New York Times published an article a couple of years ago dispelling many myths about the American holiday. Apparently Everything You Learned About Thanksgiving Is Wrong.

To begin with, we were taught that the Pilgrims came to the “New World” seeking religious freedom. In actuality, they sought to create a theocracy as well as an opportunity to make money. They succeeded in both. I do not recall, during my primary school education, being taught that Squanto was sold into slavery after the English captured him in 1614. This was his thanks for helping the Pilgrims by showing them the best places to fish and the most effective method of planting corn.

Possibly the most common misconception is that the Pilgrims extended an invitation to the Native Americans for helping them reap the harvest. The truth of how they all ended up feasting together is unknown.

“The English-written record does not mention an invitation, and Wampanoag oral tradition does not seem to reach back to this event,” Ms. Sheehan (spokeswoman for the Plimoth Plantation) said. But there are reasons the Wampanoag leader could have been there, she said, adding: “His people had been planting on the other side of the brook from the colony. Another possibility is that after his harvest was gathered, he was making diplomatic calls.”

It is true that the celebration was an exceptional cross-cultural moment, with food, games and prayer.

The deadly conflicts that came after, though, created an undercurrent that is glossed over, Mr. Loewen (sociologist and author) said. Still, “we might as well take shards of fairness and idealism and so on whenever we find them in our past and recognize that and give credit to them,” he said.

Written by Maya Salam, November 21, 2017 (see above link for full article)

Did you know that there is no mention of turkey being served at the first Thanksgiving? Nor was there pie. Venison was more likely to have been on the menu. Regardless, every family has their own traditions and recipes, which embody the spirit of the holiday, and authenticity is secondary.

I’m suggesting adding Butternut Squash Soup as a starter this year. Check out this recipe by the Happy Pear. It’s suitable for vegans. Even the picky eaters like it at my house because of the natural sweetness.

Tins of pumpkin are not available where I live in Ireland, but I don’t mind because I’ve always disliked Pumpkin Pie. Instead I make Chocolate Pecan Pie. The recipe I’m sharing is from the cookbook A Paradiso Year: Autumn and Winter Cooking. I also own the companion book for Spring and Summer. I’d recommend buying both, especially if you’re aspiring to be a seasonal cook.

Although Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated in Ireland, I’ve tried to keep the tradition alive within my family. When my kids were in primary school I’d let them have the day off, and their dad would stay home from work. Sometimes we’d invite American friends to join us for the traditional meal. Over the years I’ve also attended potlucks hosted by other Americans.

Last Sunday a friend of mine invited us over for a small gathering. There was so much food and everything was delicious! I was reminded of times past when my mother’s friends extended their hospitality to us. I’ve hosted every Christmas for the last 20 years. As a result, I felt so grateful being served a turkey that I didn’t have to cook myself! I love the holidays, but it’s a lot of work for me.

While we ate and made conversation, my friend and remarked that Thanksgiving is her favorite holiday, and I agreed. Although it’s similar to Christmas, the absence of gifts somehow makes it more enjoyable. We puzzled over this and she suggested that there’s too much pressure associated with Christmas. Once again simplicity seems to be best. During Thanksgiving the emphasis is on being grateful for family, food, and for what you already have.

Which brings me to Black Friday. I’ve come across several posts where people are preparing and getting excited for the big day. The phenomena began after I’d already moved to Ireland, so I don’t have any firsthand experiences of what it’s like in America. While my oldest son was living in Ohio a few years ago, he and my bonus mom went to Walmart on Black Friday just to see what it was like. He couldn’t get over the melee and had never seen anything like it! To his young adult eyes, it seemed like people had lost the run of themselves in an aggressive shopping frenzy: carts piled high with stuff bought on impulse because of the reduced price, people fighting over stuff they didn’t really need. All of this just one day after a national holiday of giving thanks….

One post I read recently alluded to cutting coupons and scouring the papers in preparation for the annual event. I would hate for my Thanksgiving Day to be dominated by consumerism. I really just don’t get it. I love a bargain as much as anyone, but there’s no way I’d get out of bed at 4:30 in the morning just to go shopping and face those sorts of crowds.

What about you? If you’re in America, will you be taking part in the Black Friday chaos? I’m sure my opinion isn’t a popular one; even in Ireland we’re starting to see more and more Black Friday marketing. While I’ll probably avail of online discounts, I will only purchase items already on my list for Christmas- no impulse spending here this year as we embrace the principle of less is more!

However you choose to celebrate, I’d like to wish my American friends a very Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow! If you try either of the recipes I’ve shared, let me know how they turn out. The Pecan Pie is served with vanilla ice-cream, and I’ve also made the “darling clementines soaked in Irish whiskey and cinnamon syrup” featured in the cookbook mentioned.

Pecan Pie

Ingredients:

  • 175g light muscovado sugar
  • 150g maple syrup
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon cream
  • half teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 70g dark chocolate
  • 250g pecan halves
  • 1 pastry case, blind baked (use frozen or make your own)

Directions: Gently heat the sugar and maple syrup until dissolved. Boil for 2 minutes, then leave it to cool a little. Beat the eggs, egg yolk, cream and vanilla gently, then beat in the syrup mixture. Melt the chocolate and stir it in.

Roughly chop two-thirds of the pecans and scatter them over the base of the prepared pastry case. Pour the custard over and arrange the remaining pecans n top. Bake at 200 degree C/ 400 degree F for ten minutes, then at 175 degree C/ 340 degree F for 30 minutes until the centre is just set. Leave the tart to cool before slicing. (Denis Cotter, author)

*Note: Follow the baking instructions precisely. I have a fan assisted oven and for the first time this pie did not turn out well last weekend. It looked burned on the outside, but the center was a gooey mess. We were running behind and short on time so I only cooked it for 25 minutes at 180 degree C. Usually this pie turns out wonderfully and everyone wants the recipe. Good luck!

Photo Credit: Debby Hudson

3 thoughts on “Giving Thanks: Holiday Recipes and Reflections

  1. I found this interesting, I always wanted to give my future child everything I didn’t. It is great that you have been taught to share more than just food. You share the experience of love and togetherness. It is unfortunate that everything we learned as kids isn’t true about Thanksgiving. At the same time, this has been a tradition for so long that we forge a new meaning of Thanksgiving. Thanks for sharing the recipe for your delicious pecan pie!

    Nancy ♥ exquisitely.me

    Like

  2. Really interesting reflection on Thanksgiving, and the comparison between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Being English, I’ve never done Thanksgiving, but I do think the sentiment of a day to appreciate what we have is really beautiful (even if it does have some dubious origins, as you discussed).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for taking the time to stop by and leave a comment. I only spent one Christmas in England (when I was in college) and was impressed by how my friend’s family celebrated. It’s a special memory. I do love seeing how different cultures celebrate holidays.

      Like

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