2009-11-25 / News

Food that goes ‘plop’ and other issues

Flotsam and Jetsam
By Donna Drago

I have always enjoyed Thanksgiving. It’s the best holiday of the year for many reasons. It gives families a chance to get together to enjoy a fine meal. The weather is usually good enough that the kids can still go outside and kick a ball around while the grownups catch up on current events or family scandals.

But one of the best things about this particular holiday is that there are no gifts involved. Or copious amounts of shredded and balled-up gift wrap to deal with. Just people who enjoy each other, spending time together.

That is something to be thankful for.

I do have a problem with Thanksgiving. All of the traditional side dishes make a plopping sound when you put them on a plate. I don’t like food that plops.

Think about it. Mashed potatoes, butternut squash, stuffing, cranberry sauce…they are all mashed, pureed or made into a paste of some sort. When you put them on a plate, it requires a sharp flick of the wrist to get them to come off the serving spoon.

Plop!

Now all of this stuff tastes great — I have no issue with the flavors of Thanksgiving, just the textures.

The foods that I take exception to are not even considered part of the likely menu that was shared in the 1620s between the Pilgrims and the Native peoples at Plimoth, in Massachusetts.

According to a food historian at Plimoth Plantation, the likely side dishes included peas, beans, radishes, lettuce, carrots and parsnips. All of these foods are traditionally served chunky, not mashed. Some of the vegetables can be eaten raw in a healthy salad. The meats included an array of locally obtained game like duck, swan, partridge and even eagles. Seals, eel and venison may also have been on that first table. Lobster, cod and clams were also plentiful, and were likely served at that first celebration.

The historian specifically calls out sweet potatoes, white potatoes and cranberry sauce as items that would definitely not have been on the table at the first Thanksgiving feast. And, there was no recorded recipe for pumpkin pie at that point in history, but stewed pumpkin was a food staple.

So my question is this: Why am I not eating grilled eel with peas, lima beans and parsnips for dinner tomorrow? How about a clambake?

Apparently, the turkey, which is an animal native to the Americas, was brought back to Europe by the explorers who had tasted them in Mexico and the West Indies. After some time, the turkey caught on as the preferred meal to be enjoyed at a feast, especially in England, and word traveled back to the new world that any proper feast prominently featured a turkey at the center of the table. There is evidence that the stuffing of birds before roasting them was a practice carried out by cooks as early as Roman times — a practice that carried over to the turkeys. For anyone who wants to learn more about the history of Thanksgiving foods, go to www.foodtimeline.org/ foodthanksgiving.html. This website will also tell you when various food items were first grown, raised or eaten.

I actually tried shaking things up one year. I served mashed chestnuts instead of mashed potatoes.

Big mistake.

Everyone got to the end of the buffet line and all they could think about was the lack of mashed potatoes, not the seven other tasty items encircling their plates. If I had left out the turkey and fed them a vegetarian dinner, with mashed potatoes, they would have complained less. It was like being at a reception after a funeral.

This year, my plan is to serve some of the traditional components of the holiday meal, but I am not going to mash or puree any of them. Peas can skitter across the plate, green beans will slither. Potatoes and turnips will be roasted. I think I will make a nice, healthy green salad just to see if people will venture into new territories. Raw cranberries have a lovely bounce when you drop one on the floor, but I can’t think of a good way to serve bouncing cranberries. Yet.

I can already imagine the conversations going on at next year’s Thanksgiving dinner: “Remember when she made those weird square turnips? And the salad? Who eats salad on Thanksgiving?”

“Thank goodness,” they’ll say behind my back. “We’re back to eating food that plops.”

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