Thanksgiving has long been a holiday celebrated in the United States on the fourth Thursday in November and the second Monday in October in Canada.
It became an official holiday in 1863 during the Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens” and set that celebratory day to be Thursday, November 26. There are also some documents and reports that lead historians to believe that the proclamation was also signed by George Washington.
As a federal and public holiday in the United States, most people place it amongst the so-called holy trinity of holidays which include Christmas and New Years. It is a time for celebration with family and friends and a time to express our thanks.
The History of Thanksgiving
The actual first Thanksgiving dinner is the subject of debate with many taking credit for it undeservedly. It is to this very day the subject of debate with many people from Virginia, Florida and Texas promoting their respective States as the birthplace of Thanksgiving.
The actual first documented thanksgiving service was conducted by Spainiards in the early sixteenth century and by 1607 services were routine throughout much of Virginia.
Today, we enjoy the greatness that is our past and pay homage to those small feats and aspects in life that we’re thankful for. We praise a supreme being, our empires we’ve worked valiantly to build and those achievements like the home we own and the car we drive. We claim thanks for our children, our parents, our wives, husbands, nannies, maids and the people who make our lives worth living. We pay thanks. One day a year.
How do we do this? By remembering? Sure, but more-so by eating turkey and all the trimmings until we drop, watching football until we’re dizzy and spending the day with family when we’d otherwise be working, living and playing from dawn until dusk. Is the holiday without its critics? No. Many believe it’s nothing more than a celebration of genocide of the Native American people our land belonged to. Still, today we celebrate it, not with that in mind, but as a thanks for what we are grateful for today, in modern times.
Hosting family or friends for Thanksgiving can be a feat of it its own. From proper table placements to ensuring all the food comes out hot and well cooked. Turkey isn’t exactly the easiest fowl to make and for those with an army of guests, sometimes one turkey isn’t enough. In my home Thanksgiving is all about the traditions. The kids watch Charlie Brown while I cook and drink brandy by a roaring fire. My wife sets the table with our finest china and we await our guests with drinks in hand, usually wine, cognac and a selection of whiskies. I hate the term “foodie” but let’s call a spade a spade; that’s exactly what I am.
For me, everything comes down to the meal. It’s scratch made, takes the entire day to prepare and in my house, the kitchen remains my domain so I spend my time in their listening to Chet Baker and Miles Davis before we turn off the jazz and put on the classical as we sit down at the table to give thanks and enjoy one of the finest traditional meals we’ll have all year.
Setting the Scene
Take a look at our etiquette guides to learn how to properly set a table. For Thanksgiving however, try and incorporate seasonal attributes to decorate the table and room. Acorns, hollowed out pumpkins, fall leaves and other natural items can offer great decoration to warm the home. If you have a fireplace, start a roaring fire in it to keep your guests warm. I often will step outside with the other gents for a cigar or to regale each other with stories as we sip brandy or Scotch. Try playing some light classical music in the background. I love Chee-Yun and if you haven’t heard her before, I would encourage you to have a listen. Of course, the food is a must and here are some of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes:
Large Turkey, trimmed and cleaned
Butter and lots of it
Coarse Ground Pepper
Red Pepper Flakes
In a small mixing bowl whip the butter with pepper, garlic and 1/4 of all the herbs chopped finely.
Smear the herbed butter all over the turkey, inside and out. Make sure you get under the legs and the wings. Slice a tiny tear in the skin and shove some butter inside it right by each wing. Then, stuff the apple and two onions into the bird’s cavity until it’s full. Putting stuffing in is traditional but can also be a health risk. I always cook my stuffing separately. Okay, maybe not always.
Give the bird some generous salting all over it and put it in the roasting pan with some more onions, apples and any other vegetables you see fit. Cook in accordance with your local health department’s suggested cooking time and temperatures for the size of turkey you have. Final tip: Make sure you’ve plucked all the feathers before you begin seasoning.
One final thing I often do is take the gizzards and the neck and reserve them for the gravy.
Once that bird is cooking, brush it with melted butter or high quality olive oil every thirty minutes to get that great crispy skin. I never claimed it would be healthy; but it will taste great. Sometimes, I’ll even mix the butter or olive oil with some organic apple juice for a bit of a flair. Get creative, in the end all you really need for a great turkey is salt and pepper. I just like doing things a little bit different.
Here’s one of my favorite parts of a Thanksgiving dinner. The dressing.
2 Loaves of white bread, dried out
Chicken or turkey stock
Cut the loaves of bread into small cubes and place it in a bowl. Chop up the celery and onion and sauté it in a cask iron skillet until the celery is soft and the onion is translucent. Season it with a little salt and pepper. Pour the celery and onion mixture over the bread and add stock until it’s moist. Throw in a few handfuls of cranberries, some fresh sage, rosemary, salt, pepper and garlic and pour some melted butter over it. Give it a good mix. Pour it into a casserole dish and cook it at 350 degrees for about half an hour covered and ten minutes uncovered. Serve.
Thanksgiving dinner wouldn’t be complete without mashed potatoes. Here’s my recipe:
Partially peel the potatoes and rinse them (I like a little peel in my mashed potatoes). Cut them into quarters and boil them in salted water until soft and drain the water off.
My wife likes to whip them, but I prefer using a hand held potato masher. Do what you please and begin. Add all the seasonings and then the butter and enough cream until the potatoes are the consistency you want. Throw in a small dollop of ranch dressing for some extra flavor and rework the potatoes until they’re done to your liking. If you’re like me, add lots of garlic.
All Purpose Flour
Reserves from the turkey (gizzards and neck)
Turkey or chicken stock
In a small pot boil the stock with the gizzards and chicken stock. Allow it to simmer for a good while; I usually let it simmer for about an hour. In a separate pot, make a roux with the butter and flour. Once the roux has been mixed well and is brown (after about ten minutes), add the liquid from the other pot and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer while mixing occasionally until it thickens. You may need to add a little more flour or some corn starch. Season with salt and pepper to taste and strain off into your gravy boat. Some people like to leave the gizzards in their gravy whereas others don’t. I usually strain them to appease others, but if you’re dead set on keeping them blend the gravy in your blender before serving.
Butternut Squash Soup
Small Acorns (One for each guest)
Peel, chop and clean the butternut squash. Fill a stock pot with stock and place the cubed butternut squash in it. Cook until soft. If you like, you can do the same with the acorns. It takes great together.
Once done, place in blender and blend until it’s whipped. Return to stock pot and slowly add the heavy cream and spices. Add a touch of cayenne pepper for some heat if there’s no children present.
Carve out the acorns and serve using the acorns as soup bowls. It adds a touch of character and flair to the meal.
Sweet Potato Puree
Sweet Potatoes, skinned and diced
Salt & Pepper
Drizzle the sweet potatoes with olive oil and roast the sweet potatoes in the oven until soft and caramelized. Place in the blender slowly adding chicken stock until pureed. Place into a pot and add nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, pepper, melted butter and maple syrup to taste. Serve and enjoy.
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays and I treasure the time spent with loved ones. However, for me one of the best parts of the day is when I’m alone in the evening after everyone has gone to bed. It gives me a moment to reflect and think about what I’m most thankful for. Sure it’s the people I spent the day with and of course my health, but the evening is the time where I sit comfortably in my pajamas, I sip a hot toddy, listen to my records and smoke my pipe by the fire. Thank you for reading this article and I hope your Thanksgiving will be as joyful as mine. What are you thankful for this year?