Celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving
A fall tradition of giving Thanks.
The very first formal Thanksgiving in Canada was celebrated in 1578, by Martin Forbisher, at what is now known as Forbisher Bay. It was during Forbisher's third attempt to find a Northwest Passage; a voyage filled with trials and hardship, and the celebrants were giving thanks for their very survival!
French settlers began celebrating feasts of thanksgiving regularly, beginning in 1604, with other notable feasts of thanksgiving held over the next 300 years. The first Thanksgiving Day celebrated as a civic holiday by the Confederation of Canada was in April of 1872. Thanksgiving began to be celebrated yearly in October or November since 1879, with the date changing several times. Since 1957, Canada has officially celebrated Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October.
In our household, currently well away from our extended family, celebrating Thanksgiving has been a smaller, calmer holiday, focused on family, food and friendship.
Especially food. Lots of food.
Here are some recipes you might like to try for your own celebrations! I hope you enjoy them.
Bacon Wrapped Brined Turkey - The main event!
While turkey is traditionally associated with Thanksgiving, until I learned how to brine a turkey, we tended more towards ham as the main protein of our Thanksgiving meal.
Brining meat is a great way to keep it moist and juicey - important when roasting something as large as a turkey! By soaking the bird in brine first, it prevents the protein from losing too much moisture during the cooking process. It also begins to dissolve the proteins, resulting in a more tender meat.
Brine is essentially salt water. To brine a turkey, a mixture of 2 cups of salt (preferably sea salt) and 2 cups of brown sugar is added to 4 gallons of water. In addition to that, herbs, spices and other flavourings can be added to the brine.
Personally, I prefer to use less sugar. I also like to add lemon slices and whatever herbs and spices in my cupboards catch my fancy!
The challenge is to completely immerse the bird. I have a 16 quart stock pot that I used, but I have also used giant freezer bags as well. The other challenge is to keep the brining bird chilled - you'll need plenty of space in your refrigerator! Or, if you live in colder climates, you can do what we did; put the safely covered turkey in brine on the balcony overnight!
Once brined, I like to add a completely unnecessary extra - bacon! This is a trick I learned from my mother-in-law. Technically, the bacon is there to help keep the bird moist, but it's unlikely to actually accomplish that through the thick skin of a turkey. It does, however, serve two other purposes; 1) it adds a real hit of flavour and 2) as the turkey nears the end of its cooking time and little children are starting to get underfoot, wondering when it will be ready, the smart cook will tell them it will be a bit longer, while sneaking pieces of crisp bacon to them to tide them over until the feast is ready!
The photos below are of my most recent brined turkey, with a printable recipe to follow. Remember, however, that half the fun is experimenting to make it truly your own!
Brining our Turkey - A photo step-by-stepClick thumbnail to view full-size
Feel free to modify to your own personal preferences!
Prep Time: about 1/2 hour
Total Time: overnight plus roasting time
- 4 gallons water
- 2 cups coarse or sea salt
- 2 cups or less brown sugar
- 2 lemons, sliced
- several cloves garlic or 1 garlic head cut in half crosswise
- 6 or 8 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp whole peppercorns
- fresh or dried herbs of choice, such as savory thyme or rosemary
- onion, sliced yellow or chopped green
- 1 package sliced bacon
- In a large pot, combine water, salt and sugar. Stir to dissolve. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.
- Place turkey in bag or container large enough to immerse in brine. Pour cooled brine mixture over the turkey, adding more cold water to immerse, if necessary.
- Allow turkey to soak in brine overnight, or at least for several hours.
- Remove turkey from brine and pat dry, but do not rinse.
- Place turkey in roasting pan and cover with sliced bacon strips. They stay in place better if woven.
- Roast turkey in oven preheated to 350F. Use a meat thermometer to be sure it is thoroughly cooked.
- Remove turkey to platter and tent with foil. Let rest for 5-10 minutes before carving.
A Special Side for a Special Occasion
Mixing white and sweet potatoes
Scalloped potatoes is a favourite dish I've made for many years. Lately, I've been trying to incorporate the healthy sweet potato into our diets as well.
I came up with this recipe for my Crock Pot, because I needed the oven for the turkey. While it was a success, I would actually recommend baking it in an oven, as dairy tends to separate in a slow cooker. It tastes fine, but isn't particularly attractive.
Sweet and White Scalloped Potatoes - Step by stepClick thumbnail to view full-size
Prep Time: about 45 minutes
Sweet and White Scalloped Potatoes with Pecans - For the slow cooker or oven.
- 2 medium sweet potatoes
- 6 medium white potatoes or enough to match the amount of sweet potatoes
- 1 chopped medium onion plus butter for softening
- 1 small carton cream (about 2 cups)
- 1 small container sour cream (about 1 cup)
- 2 Tbsp flour
- 1 Tbsp dried herbs of choice*
- about 1/2 cup crushed pecan halves
- salt and pepper to taste (I used smoked salt and freshly ground black pepper)
- milk as needed
- * I used a mixture of paprika, dill and savoury
- In a medium saucepan, melt enough butter to cook your onion. Over medium heat, add chopped onion and cook until softened. Add flour, herbs, sour cream and cream and wisk together. Heat until just simmering, wisking constantly. Mixture will thicken.
- Remove from heat and set aside.
- Peel and slice potatoes, keeping white potatoes in salt water to prevent blackening.
- Butter or oil sides of slow cooker or roasting pan. Begin layering one type of potato. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then add second type of potato. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then add a small amount of the diary mixture, being sure to include some of the onion. Repeat layers until all potato slices are used up. Add remaining dairy mixture. If necessary, add milk until you can just see it along the sides of your roaster (less for the slow cooker).
- Top with crushed pecans.
- Set slow cooker to low heat and cook for 6 hours or until soft (time will change depending on the size and shape of your slow cooker)
- Alternatively, place roaster in 350F oven. Roast until potatoes are fork tender; about 1 hour.
Ginger Carrots - A sweet addition to any meal.
This is one of those recipes where I constantly adjust the ingredients to taste, so the quantities here are just approximate. Feel free to adjust to your own preferences!
- 3 pounds carrots
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 2 Tbsp brown sugar
- 4 tsp fresh or 2 tsp powdered ginger
- Peel carrots and cut into 1/4 inch chunks. Boil or steam until just tender. Drain and set aside.
- If using fresh ginger, peel and chop fine.
- Melt butter. When hot and bubbly, add the brown sugar and ginger. Stir until heated through and sugar is melted.
- Add carrots and toss until well coated. Serve immediately.