GIVING THANKS ON THANKSGIVING
by Andrea Rademan
American Reporter Correspondent
Beverly Hills, Calif.
LOS ANGELES, California -- This is how Calvin Trillin, the wonderfulAme= rican food writer, described the first Thanksgiving: In England, a longtime=
ago, there were people called Pilgrims who were very strict about makingsu= re everyone observed the Sabbath and cooked Food without any flavor andthat= sort of thing, and they decided to go to America, where they could enjoyFr= eedom to Nag. The other people in England said, "Glad to see the back ofthe= m."
In America, the Pilgrims tried farming, but they couldn't get much doneb= ecause they were always putting their best farmers in the stocks for crimes= like Suspicion of Cheerfulness. The Indians took pity on the Pilgrims andhe= lped them with their farming, even though the Indians thought the Pilgrimsw= ere about as much fun as teenage circumcision.
The Pilgrims were so grate= ful that at the end of their first year inAmerica they invited the Indians = over for a Thanksgiving meal. The Indians,having had some experience with P= ilgrim cuisine during the year, took theprecaution of taking along one dish= of their own.
They brought a dish that their ancestors had learned many generations b= efore from none other than Christopher ColumbusE280A6The Pilgrims hated it.= They said it was "heretically tasty" and "the work of the devil"E280A6The = Indians were so disgusted that on the way back to their village after dinne= r one of them made a remark about the Pilgrims that was repeated down throu= gh the years and unfortunately caused confusion among historians about the = first Thanksgiving meal. He said, "What a bunch of turkeys!"
Nobody knows if the Pilgrims really ate turkey at the first Thanksgiving= dinner though we know Benjamin Franklin once proposed that it, and not theb= ald eagle, should be the national bird. We do know that whatever thePilgrim= s couldn't have tasted very good. They didn't have ham, pigs, sweetpotatoes= , corn on the cob, cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie.
They regarded shellfish with suspicion and used shad roe as fertilizer,= though they had lots of eel, a few oysters and many game birds, including = crane, swan and eagles. Nuts were plentiful but veggies were rare and fruit= s, out of season then, would have been dried. They made little use of the v= arious herbs andseasonings that were plentiful, including yarrow, carvel an= d brooklime. Fact was, they associated plain cooking with piety and vegetab= les with virtue. One John Winthrop, after overeating, wrote in his diary: "= God being merciful unto me ... at length I fell to prayer and fasting ... a= nd ....found that not keeping a strict watch over my appetite...the flesh w= axed wanton... ."
The Indians could see that illness and hunger were rampant among the Pur= itans, which puzzled them because the surrounding forests and rivers were o= verflowing with bounty. They taught the Puritans to hunt for turkey and dee= r, to harvest squash, yams, cranberries, and herbs, to fish, smoke and dry = salmon and oysters, and to use the herbs and medicines that were there for = the taking in the New England forests and meadows.
In truth, the Puritans were a haughty folk, religious fanatics with litt= le tolerance for people unlike themselves. But they planted the seeds for o= ur fascination with football and baseball, which they would have favored ov= er more violent sports such as hunting, horse racing, cock fighting, and wo= rse. And now, in accordance with the annual football schedule, we celebrate= their come-uppance. This year, as you sit around your Thanksgiving table, = appreciating the freedoms we took for granted just a few months ago, rememb= er the Pilgrims, religious fanatics who adapted to reality when they could = not control it. It can happen again.
Miriam Hospodar lectures on food history at Santa Barbara's Karppeles Mu=
seum (805-962-5322), which has Abraham Lincoln's original Thanksgiving proc=
lamation in their vast collection of manuscripts, though Washington had alr=
eady declared the holiday. In the bibliography of her book, "Old World Cook=
s and New World Foods," she recommends these books:Coe, Sophie D. & Mich=
ael D. America's First Cuisines (Thames & Hudson ,1994)