A Gobble, Gobble Here, A Gobble, Gobble There
Prepare to have your feathers ruffled. Prepare to have the stuffing
knocked out of some of your long-held perceptions concerning the Big Day
that makes November what it is. Your idyllic visions of recreating a
Norman Rockwell scene around your table? Mashed!
I am throwing down the gauntlet of gravy; I am tuning up the turnip; I
will smugly smile as easily as peas roll downhill; I will cream your dream
of a proper Thanksgiving like so many pearl onions!
The reason, you ask? Because this is Little Siberia (a.k.a. Maine), and
until 1820, part of Massachusetts! You remember, don’tcha? Plymouth Rock?
The Mayflower? Pilgrims? Native Americans? Then, of course, you’ve got
those other states nudging up against us, and along with us, collectively
known as New England. Ok, get an image of me standing on Plymouth
Rock thumping my own chest…ready? Here goes; "WE OWN THIS HOLIDAY!!!!"
My goodness, I did not realize how serious my protective streak was
around this particular holiday! (My husband, reading over my shoulder, has
mentioned that I am out of line with my declaration.) I do think there is
a justified reason for my thinking. My paternal Great-great Grandmother
was Native American. For years it was thought that she was from the Mic
Mac nation, which originated in New Brunswick and migrated south and west
into Maine. Now, after some relative decided to re-climb the family tree,
it has been decided she may have been from either the Penobscot or
Passamaquoddy nation. These two nations are still well represented in
Maine, while the Mic Mac nation is not.
As I figure it, whenever people around me are talking about their
ancestors immigrating to this country, I’m safe in saying that my
ancestors were standing on the shore, waiting to greet them, not to
mention getting ready to teach them a thing or two about growing pumpkins
That first Thanksgiving was not much like we all grew up believing.
Yes, there were wild cranberries and a turkey or two. There was also
venison, lobster, cod, clams, pheasant and other fruits, nuts and berries.
I also have it on good authority that Pilgrim hats, feathered headdresses
and white collars made from colored construction paper were not present,
We here in little Siberia have a very well defined thought process on
most things, Thanksgiving being no exception. It is quite simple; there is
our way of doing things and then there is, well, every other way.
We have our gobble here and you have your gobble there. Pity
the poor "person from away", as we call them, who has the great misfortune
(depending on whom you talk to) of marrying into a New England family.
Every Thanksgiving dish that is a sacred tradition in their "from away"
family will be dashed at the door.
The infamous green bean casserole? Fugeduhboutit. And that sweet potato
thing topped with…marshmallows? In our kitchens, the marshmallows are
stored somewhere near the hot cocoa mix and nowhere near the sweet
potatoes. I mean, really! May I also just mention; no Brussels
sprouts, broccoli or cauliflower, either? A New England Thanksgiving
dinner has a very basic menu. We are taught to recite this along with our
time’s tables in third grade. It is: Roast turkey, celery and onion bread
stuffing (never "dressing", too fancy sounding), mashed potatoes, plain ol’
gravy (don’t even think of throwing chopped giblets in there), squash,
turnip (both simply mashed with butter, salt and pepper, same for the
potatoes), creamed onions and frozen peas (which, traditionally, should be
overcooked to the point of being as wrinkled and gray as school cafeteria
peas). Rounding out the traditional spread will be cranberry sauce, from a
can and sliced into rounds, homemade yeast rolls and the infamous relish
plate, which consists of black olives, green olives, sweet mixed pickles,
small dill pickles and celery stalks stuffed with cream cheese and
sprinkled with paprika. The paprika borders on being "too fancy" for some
true New Englanders. That’s it in a nutshell, as they say.
To the amusement (meaning envy) of many of my extended family and
friends, I am, well, ok, a pretty good cook. Well, actually… bordering on
gourmet. For that slip into vanity, forgive me. I am obsessed with more
than the things I’ve mentioned in earlier articles. To me, the cookbook
section in any bookstore is a treasure trove of beautiful photographs and
mouth-watering descriptions. I read cookbooks like some people read
novels. I subscribe to more food/cooking magazines than I have time to
read in a month. And I constantly try out what I’ve discovered on my
family and friends.
With Thanksgiving, however, I really feel it best to not rock the boat
(or the Plymouth Rock) with too much wandering from the sacred New England
traditions. Then again, I always try to make something new, trying my best
to smuggle it onto the table, discreetly, of course. I urge you to try to
do the same, wherever you live and whatever your traditions. Following are
some of the sly surprises I may try this year.
(Bon Appetit magazine)
Makes about 4 cups)
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 12-ounce package cranberries, rinsed
1 8-ounce can crushed pineapple in juice partially drained
1 large green onion, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped drained canned pickled jalapeno chile
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
Bring 1-cup water and sugar to boil in a heavy medium saucepan over
medium-high heat, stirring until sugar melts. Add cranberries. Reduce heat
to medium; simmer 8 minutes, stirring frequently. Add pineapple with
remaining juices, green onion, chiles, lime juice, and cumin. Continue to
cook until cranberries are just tender, about 2 minutes. Transfer salsa to
bowl, cover and chill for up to three days.
(From our local paper, stating that it is from Finland)
2 medium turnips, peeled, diced and steamed or simmered until tender
¼-cup plain breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons butter
After turnip is cooked, drain and mash. Add crumbs, cream, nutmeg, salt
and beaten eggs and mix thoroughly. Pour into a buttered casserole dish.
Dot with butter and bake in a 350F degree oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour.