First of all, please know that I honestly do not lose sleep over what you drink for Thanksgiving. If you happen to enjoy white zinfandel or whipped cream vodka or Martinelli’s sparkling cider or Mountain Dew or kombucha… by all means, please enjoy that. I don’t care a whit if you pair the holiday bird with a Fuzzy Navel, a shot of Jagermeister and a chaser of Milwaukee’s Best. I’m not really one to offer unsolicited advice on what you should imbibe. Otherwise, I would probably have jumped off a bridge long before the holidays.
But since I write about booze for a living, each November I am asked—by people such as my readers or my editors or even my neighbors—to weigh in on what may be the ultimate First World Problem that we face: What beverage shall I ever pair with the Thanksgiving meal? Oh. My. God. Let the handwringing begin! MORE
At an early age, I learned that the best way to get out of the endless cleaning and dish-washing activities that accompany the Thanksgiving holiday is to help my mom in the kitchen. Each year, from Wednesday until Thursday evening, I am her prep cook, her errand runner, and her preserver of sanity. Over potato peeling, apple chopping, turkey basting, and some perfunctory wine sipping, my mom and I simply click. The conversation flows, punctuated only by her showing me, for perhaps the tenth time, how to properly roll out a pie crust, and by me reminding her, for the hundredth time, that she needs to relax. Beyond the company and holiday cheer, cooking with my mom is what makes Thanksgiving special. MORE
When I set out to learn more about the source of the word turkey and some of its idiomatic variants, I had no idea that the research would lead me, well, on a wild goose chase.
Let’s start with the word for the bird. Turkeys are North American in origin; the domesticated fowl we raise today is the descendent of a slightly smaller wild bird found throughout the continent, though a cousin of this bird was domesticated in Mesoamerica long before Spanish explorers arrived. The Spanish called Mexican bird pavo, or peacock, after another fowl with spectacular plumage. Further north, English colonists thought the wild turkeys looked more like guineafowl, a small African bird that was imported to England through Turkey. Due to their trade origin, the guineafowl were sometimes called turkeys—and thereafter, so was the wild North American bird. In the nation of Turkey, as it happens, the bird is referred to as hindi, or from the country of India; in India, the bird is called peru, after the South American country; elsewhere in Europe, the turkey is known most commonly as “French chicken” and or “Indian chicken”—the latter generally refers to continental India. MORE
When it comes to Thanksgiving menu items, my family is the type that prefers tradition to experimentation. Throughout my childhood years, we ate nearly the same meal. A turkey, prepared and stuffed with seasoned bread cubes from Pepperidge Farms. Mashed russet potatoes with butter. Hubbard squash, steamed, drained of extra liquid and creamed with butter, salt, and freshly grated ginger. Briefly blanched green beans, dressed with more butter and toasted almond shards. Canned cranberry sauce. And two pies (apple and pumpkin) with vanilla ice cream for dessert.
It’s a fairly traditional spread, with just one glaring omission. There are no sweet potatoes to be found. My mom, unimpressed with the classic casserole constructed of canned potatoes, brown sugar and marshmallows she had been forced to eat as a child, banned orange tubers from her holiday table. MORE
The Ethiopian cooks had two antelopes brought in from the zoo. They gutted, skinned, and roasted them in spices and butter. Twenty turkeys — stuffed with herbs and bread — were thrust into the antelopes and the empty crevasses filled with hundreds of hardboiled eggs. A bleating camel, feeling something sinister in the room, was soon slaughtered as well, his innards replaced with the antelopes, whose innards had been replaced with the turkeys and eggs, whose innards had been replaced with breads, spices, herbs, and fish. And the Emperor of Ethiopia ate only just a little.
Bawdy, exorbitant, unethical. In the most mythic banquets, everything is permitted, nothing impossible. Mile-high desserts carved to resemble palaces, grapes served upon platters of young boys, vomit buckets. But aside from the slaves, drunkenness, and orgies, it is perhaps the dining upon outrageously prepared animals — much like the stuffed camel Bohumil Hrabel describes in I Served the King of England — that is most…indelible. Heliogabalus enjoyed ostrich brains and eels fattened with Christians. The Emperor Vitellius once served a dish including flamingo tongues and lamprey milt in the name of Minerva. Hampton Court under Henry VIII was often the stage for feasts of whale, peacock beaks, and the ever-popular flaming boar’s head. No organ was left unturned. MORE
The way some people love antique furniture, I love antique pie recipes. Vintage American cookbooks are full of with mysterious, alluring recipes that hardly anyone bakes anymore — Marlborough pie, Osgood pie, syrup pie, brown-sugar pie, boiled cider pie — and they fascinate me. What does a Kentucky transparent pie taste like? Is it actually transparent? Why did people stop making Tyler pies? Are we missing out on something? Or do recipes go extinct for a reason?
About fifteen years ago I baked a chess pie, a vintage dessert still popular in the South, and I have baked one for Thanksgiving ever since. It is my favorite pie in the world, filled with a blond, jelly-like custard. What other lovely vintage pies would I discover if I started searching? This year, I decided to try to find a great old American pie to resurrect for the Thanksgiving table. I mined my old cookbooks for intriguing recipes, ruling out any that sounded remotely familiar. No chocolate pies, no lemon pies, no apple pies. As I told my daughter Isabel, “The pies have to be antique.” MORE