Norman Rockwell shows us one way to celebrate Thanksgiving.
There’s an interesting backstory to this painting, which I’ll share quickly. This is one of “The Four Freedoms,” paintings inspired by FDR’s 1941 State of the Union address. All four — Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear — were wildly popular here in the US in the years leading up to our involvement in WWII.
When the painting appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, March 6, 1943, the story that accompanied it was written by the novelist and poet, Carlos Bulosan, who was later blacklisted during the Senate’s Hearings on un-American Activities (aka the McCarthy hearings). Ironic, to say the least. I’ve supplied the link to the original article.
But let’s get back to this post. It’s on food today, Thanksgiving foods to be exact; after all, this is our national feast day. And it’s the closest thing we come to having a “national dish.” Or is it?
Thanksgiving is a time when gluttony is forgiven with a wink and a smile. It’s a time for family and friends to gather. And, most importantly, it’s a time when talking about gratitude and thankfulness is not met with the usual eye rolling.
With a nod to tradition, I have always cooked turkey at Thanksgiving (an exception shall be made tomorrow). Let the record show, though, Thanksgiving is the only time I cook turkey — I actually don’t like it. The dark meat is OK with a lot of gravy, but nearly everyone fights for those two legs.
Still, in my mind, it’s the closest thing we have to a “national dish.” Think about that. What would you say if someone asked you what your “national dish” was?
We got that question a few times when we were in Kazakhstan. Here’s a scene from At Home on the Kazakh Steppe, my Peace Corps memoir, about the day we moved into our new quarters and were greeted with THE national dish of our assigned country (for the second time that day):
“What’s your national dish?” our new host mother asked us, intently, as we politely sampled the bishparmak before us. It was the second time that day that we’d sat before the boiled meat (beef, horse, or mutton) over a bed of homemade noodles that comprised THE national dish of our new homeland, Kazakhstan.
“I’ve never thought of that,” I answered, buying some time. Fried chicken, hot dogs and hamburgers, standing rib with Yorkshire pudding, corned beef and cabbage, pork and sauerkraut, turkey with all the trimmings … so many holiday meals I’ve enjoyed over the years. But one national dish? “It depends on what part of the country you’re in,” I told her.
“And what ethnic group you’re from,” Woody added, reminding me he was there.
Dina pondered this for a bit. I think she felt sorry for us: poor Americans, with no national dish
National dish or not, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and while we were in Peace Corps, I made sure we celebrated it.
Here’s a scene from the book about our second Thanksgiving, shared with our two site mates (i.e., new PCVs, Jessica and Anna) and a small group of local colleagues, friends, and counterparts.
Sunday, December 4th, was a combined Kazakhstan Election Day, Peace Corps Standfast, and American Thanksgiving in our little apartment in Zhezkazgan.
A student of Woody’s came through with a turkey for us and, though it was killed the day before, its legs stuck straight out in what we jokingly called “Heil Hitler” fashion, too stiff to bend over and tie before we put it in the oven. It made an odd sight, but turned out moist and tender. Woody made corn bread, mashed potatoes, and dressing to go with the turkey. I made pumpkin and apple pies.
Our new site mates brought their traditional dishes: a corn dish made with cream cheese, sweet potatoes with brown sugar and marshmallows, a green bean casserole, and a sweet potato pie with vanilla ice cream. I’d never had any of them before. Turkey may be our national tradition, but the side dishes, I came to see, were regional, maybe even family-based, and varied enormously...
Here we are, gathered around our table celebrating Thanksgiving, 2005.
This year we’re passing on the traditional turkey and have bought a goose, which we’ll have with delicata squash, green beans from our garden (via our freezer), wild rice, sweet potatoes, stuffing, and a fruit salad (oranges and grapefruit that I peel by hand that morning, on a bed of lettuce with a simple homemade dressing drizzled on top). On the side will be homemade applesauce I made a few years ago and forgot about in the cold cellar. We’ll soon see if it’s still edible.
My mom will make her traditional no-cook cranberry sauce and a pumpkin pie (with whipped cream). It would not be Thanksgiving to me if we did not have pumpkin pie; the whipped cream guilds the lily (IMHO). I’ll make an apple pie (served with your choice of cheddar cheese or vanilla ice cream) and our guests will bring a blueberry pie (with a gluten-free crust). They’ll also bring a bottle of wine. It won’t matter so much if the applesauce has turned.
Tuesday morning we cleaned and pricked and dunked (in boiling water, one minute per end) the goose and now it rests naked in the refrigerator until its grand debut. Facebook photos to follow, of course.
Back in Kazakhstan thirteen years ago now, here we are at dessert time: a pumpkin, a sweet potato, and an apple pie. Yum.
How about you? What will you be serving this Thanksgiving? Do you have a dish that makes it truly “Thanksgiving” to you?
50 year heads up: This week marks a few 50th anniversaries.
- November 16: Hey Jude was released and on Thanksgiving Day be sure to pull out your Beatle’s White Album; it too was released 50 years ago.
- For you Star Trek fans, 50 years ago today, November 21, television had it’s first interracial kiss. Do you recall who?
- And finally, November 26 will mark the 50th anniversary of the beginnings of the Paris Peace Talks, the negotiations that led to our departure from VietNam.
Any one of these would have made a great post. And so it goes . . .