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Traditional Thanksgiving Feasts
How Traditions Have Evolved
Americans have been celebrating Thanksgiving for centuries. Most families gather around a table filled with such foods as turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, squash, and pumpkin pie. Many people probably take for granted that these foods have been Thanksgiving staples since the very first Thanksgiving, but in fact, the first Thanksgiving included very different foods. When you think about it, pilgrims and Native Americans did not have double ovens, Nescos, microwaves, and electric ranges. There was no such thing as the domesticated turkey, Cool Whip or Durkee French fried onion rings.
The original Thanksgiving feast likely included such items as wild fowl, venison, fish, lobster, and rabbits. Popular vegetables included squash, chestnuts, onions, leeks, cabbage, carrots and beans, which were easy to cultivate. Potatoes were not yet available. Meats had to be cooked on a spit that was constantly attended and turned by hand. Because sugar was not available in those days, sweet treats that we enjoy today such as cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie were likely not made. Corn was also not eaten the way we eat it today. Corn was stripped from the cob and turned into corn meal that was used to make corn mush and corn puddings.
The focus of the first Thanksgiving has also varied a bit over time. Pilgrims celebrated the first holiday in honor of their safe voyage to the new world, whereas today, we celebrate any number of things that we are thankful for including good health, family, employment, love, having food on our tables, our homes and more.
Whatever you are thankful for this year, I wish you a blessed Thanksgiving filled with love, laughter and good health.
The following are some recipes made with traditional ingredients that you might enjoy. If you are looking to create a more authentic Thanksgiving meal, perhaps you might want to give some of these a try.
Herb and Mustard Crusted Venison Medallions
Mustard, breadcrumbs, and spices make for a tangy, crunchy crust over soft, buttery venison medallions. Serve this with your favorite gravy, mashed potatoes, and roasted vegetables. (Courtesy of Kim Stakal)
1 ½ pounds venison loin, cut into thin medallions
½ cup Dijon mustard
1 cup chopped toasted walnuts
1 cup chopped toasted pecans
½ cup breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1) Smother medallions on both sides in mustard. Set aside.
2) In a medium bowl, combine nuts, breadcrumbs, and spices. Dredge medallions in mixture, shaking off excess.
3) Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add medallions and cook until browned on both sides, about 10 minutes total. Serve immediately.
Fruit Stuffed Acorn Squash
1 large acorn squash, halved and seeded
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 to 1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup chopped mixed dried fruit and nuts (your choice)*
1 large pear or Granny Smith apples peeled, cored, chopped
* I like to use dried apricots, dried dates, dried cherries, and nuts.
Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
Cut squash in half lengthwise (from stem to end). Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff in the center of each squash half. Score the insides of each half several times with a sharp knife.
Place squash, cut side down, in a large baking pan or dish; pour water into bottom of pan around the squash. Bake 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven. NOTE: You want the squash to cook 1/2 done before stuffing.
Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine butter, lemon juice, cinnamon, brown sugar, fruit and nut mixture, and chopped apple or pear. Divide mixture evenly among partially cooked squash and return to oven for 30 minutes or until tender when flesh is poked with a fork.
Makes 2 servings.
CHESTNUTS WITH PORTABELLA MUSHROOMS
From Frank A. Marra Jr. of West Virginia
2 8 oz. packages of Portabella Mushrooms - diced
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 stick butter (not margarine)
6 cloves garlic - diced finely
16 oz.heavy cream (2 half pint containers)
1 tablespoon fresh parsley - chopped
2 tablespoons of flour - optional 1/2 pound to a pound of Chestnuts - Prepared (shelled and chopped into quarters)
Combine olive oil and butter in a saucepan over medium low heat. Add sliced Portabella Mushrooms and garlic. Sauté until reduced by half. Add the cut up chestnuts and continue to warm through. Add the heavy cream and work down again until warm and bubbly. Season to taste. Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley.
If sauce is too thin, up to 2 tablespoons of flour can be whisked in immediately after the addition of the heavy cream.
Serve over baked potato or pork chops.
CHESTNUT DRESSING WITH CHERRIES, LEEKS AND FENNEL
From Joel Dietz of Houston, Texas
1.5 lbs high quality crusty French baguettes, cut into small bite sized cubes
1 cup dried cherries 1 cup dry white wine
1.5 lbs Delmarvelous chestnuts,peeled
2 - 3 cans turkey or chicken stock (or equivalent homemade stock)
1 stick unsalted butter
1 large fennel bulb
small dice 3 celery ribs
small dice 6 medium leeks, white and tender green part only, sliced thinly
1 tsp ground white pepper
2 tbs fresh thyme
4 tbs fresh chervil (or flat leaf parsley)
salt to taste
1 egg, beaten
Two days before making, cube bread and spread on baking sheets to stale. (You may also put the baking sheets into a very slow oven for a couple hours until bread is dry and crunchy.) In a bowl, combine dried cherries with wine and macerate for at least 1 hour. Peel chestnuts using microwave method (described on this website.) Cover chestnuts with stock in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer chestnuts until tender. Drain, reserving stock to moisten dressing later. In a stockpot, melt butter over moderate heat until bubbly. Add white pepper, fennel and celery and sauté until they begin to soften. Add leaks, thyme, chervil and continue cooking until all are tender, but not browned. Turn heat to high, add the cherries and the wine and cook for 1 - 2 minutes to burn off the alcohol. Add bread and chestnuts and toss evenly. Add reserved stock gradually while mixing until dressing has desired moisture. Salt to taste if necessary. Chill before stuffing turkey. Toss remaining stuffing with beaten egg and spread in a greased baking dish. Bake at 350 covered loosely with foil while turkey rests after roasting.
2 rabbits, sections
1 tbs. olive oil
1 can chicken broth or stock
½ onion, diced
3 carrots, peeled and coined
3 bay leaves
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 small can tomato paste
¼ cup very cold water
2 tbs. flour
4 tbs. currant jelly
½ lb. mushrooms, sliced
Flour meat and brown in skillet with oil. Remove meat from pan. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Stir in onion, carrots, bay leaves and garlic and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Add tomato puree and continue to simmer. Remove ¼ cup broth from pan and combine with water and flour, mixing until smooth. Return rabbit to pan. When rabbit is cooked through, remove from mixture. Strain the mixture to catch bones. Sauté mushroom and add to broth or serve on the side. Servings 4-6
- 1 (4 pound) whole duck, rinsed
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil leaves
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger root
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 orange, quartered
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup honey
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1/2 cup undiluted, thawed orange juice concentrate
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
- In a small bowl mix together mix together the basil, ginger and salt and sprinkle mixture on inside and outside of duck. Stuff duck with orange quarters and lay in roaster. Add water.
- In a small saucepan combine the honey, butter, lemon juice and orange juice concentrate. Simmer together over low heat until syrupy; pour a little of the mixture over the duck, saving the rest for basting. Cover roaster.
- Bake/roast ducks in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Turn duck breast down, reduce heat to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C) and roast covered for another 2 to 2 1/2 hours, or until very tender. If desired, turn duck breast up during last few minutes of cooking, to brown.
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