Thanksgiving Mussels Monday, Nov 23 2020 

The aroma of turkey roasting in the oven along with stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie lures us to the kitchen every Thanksgiving. However, this traditional meal has evolved since the first historic dinner. According to the pilgrim writer, Edward Winslow, crustaceans and mollusks were an important part of that first feast.

Europeans ventured through North America and established settlements since the 1500s. Friendly and hostile interaction with indigenous people occurred from the beginning. The holiday we celebrate today goes back to an event between the English setters who landed in Plymouth in 1620 and wanted to give thanks sometime in the fall of 1621 for their first abundant harvest and the assistance of their neighbors.

The little documentation we have tells of a three-day celebration between 90 Wampanoag indigenous people and about 50 English settlers. The food was prepared by the only four women (Eleanor Billington, Elizabeth Hopkins, Mary Brewster, and Susanna White) who survived the Mayflower voyage and first year in the New World. Young daughters and male and female servants likely assisted the women.

In addition to crustaceans, mollusks, and fish, one account states that the settlers hunted for fowl for the celebration. They returned with turkeys, venison, ducks, geese, and swans. Herbs, onions, and nuts were added to the meat before roasting.

Local vegetables likely included onions, beans, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, and carrots. Corn was ground, boiled, and pounded into a thick porridge that may have been sweetened with molasses. Neither white nor sweet potatoes were yet available in the area.

Fruits indigenous to the region included blueberries, plums, grapes, gooseberries, raspberries, and cranberries. The pilgrim’s sugar supply was depleted by then, so no sugared cranberry sauce reached their table that year.

The settlers also lacked butter and wheat flour to make pie crust. That prevented pie or bread stuffing from being on the menu. Nor did they have ovens for baking. Some accounts do say that early English settlers in North America roasted pumpkins by filling the shells with milk, honey, and spices and baked the pumpkins in hot ashes.

Although the holiday did, and continues to center on food, the occasion was to show gratitude. This year has been a tough one for so many, but we likely have things to be thankful for, none-the-less. It’s a good idea to take a few moments this week to recognize our gifts and give thanks.

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Stop! Reflect! Give Thanks! Wednesday, Nov 23 2016 

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I’m not one to long for the past. My life’s been a mix of extremes—excellent and dreadful times. I look back on the good ones with gratitude and prefer not to relive those that were difficult.

However, I do miss the Thanksgivings of my childhood. Thanksgiving weekend was relaxing. We laid around through the weekend, savored the leftovers, watched tv, and visited friends and family. We were happy doing nothing! The Christmas chaos didn’t begin for weeks.

There’s no down time anymore. We clear the lavish Thanksgiving table without digesting that last piece of pumpkin pie, and are off and running through the New Year. There’s so much to do: shopping, wrapping, card writing, baking, cooking, and partying.

Please don’t let this very important holiday pass without a moment of pause. Reflect on our abundance and give thanks. Acknowledge our many blessings and appreciate the food and friendship around us. These are the riches of life.

Happy Thanksgiving Wednesday, Nov 26 2014 

The last few years have been increasingly stressful for me. In addition to extensive physical and emotional demands, I’ve had the responsibility of making several difficult and heartbreaking decisions. It’s taken quite a toll on my health, however I do feel that I’m gaining strength and envision an easier tomorrow on the horizon.

No doubt, many of you have your struggles as well. Perhaps this has not been your best year either. And yet I’m sure you, as I, have much to be thankful for. It often seems that when we feel loss we are more aware of what else we do have. I never lose sight of the fact that my list of blessings is quiet extensive.

Together, let’s take a moment to give thanks and wish one another peace and love. Happy Thanksgiving.

©2014, Mary K. Doyle

Fresh or Frozen? Tuesday, Nov 26 2013 

For the last decade, I’ve hosted Thanksgiving for 20 to 40 people. With that amount of hungry mouths to feed, the decision to purchase fresh or frozen turkey was easy because of the considerable price difference.

This year, we will have one table of nine plus two high chairs. Thinking fresh turkey would be healthier and tastier, I checked it out but was concerned about the labels on most with sell dates up to a month away. After a discussion with my step-daughter, Anita, about her disappointment in the taste of her fresh turkeys the last few years and how turkeys are processed, I now realize frozen may be fresher and tastier.

“Fresh” turkeys are not necessarily fresh. The term refers to the fact that they were chilled to 26 degrees F after processing and not frozen. Most are then preserved in a solution, such as brine, for extended handling time. If the turkey really is freshly processed, it should be cooked within 1-2 days after purchasing.

Frozen turkeys are flash frozen at about 30 degrees below zero right after processing and held at 0 degrees or below. This helps to eliminate contamination. Frozen turkey is usually juicier because of the way the juices are immediately frozen with the meat. But it will dry somewhat if it is frozen for several months.

If you haven’t purchased your turkey as yet, it’s not likely that you will have enough time to defrost a frozen one before Thanksgiving. Defrosting should be done in its original packaging in the refrigerator, in a bag or container to avoid drippings that will contaminate other foods, and allowing at least one day in the refrigerator for every five pounds of meat.

I usually purchase at least one turkey and an extra breast with a total weight of at least one pound per person and a little extra so we have plenty of leftovers. Younger turkeys, which weigh no more than 20 pounds are usually better tasting and slightly more tender. Larger turkeys are meatier because of a greater meat to bone ratio. Hens generally weigh less, so if you want a bigger turkey, most likely you will be buying a Tom.

Most turkeys are raised in a barn with lots of other turkeys and given antibiotics. Organic turkeys are free-range, which means they were allowed to roam and given organic feed but no antibiotics.

Once on the table fresh or frozen, hen or Tom, organic or not, most say they can’t tell the difference. Thanksgiving is all about loved ones gathering to give thanks for our abundance, even in lean times – and of course, a delicious, hearty meal we all enjoy.

©Mary K. Doyle

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