Thanksgiving is perhaps one of the only American holidays with no commercial angle. It is a holiday where all you have to think about is food – no office parties and no wracking your brain to buy the perfect gift. On Thanksgiving all you have to do is eat.Celebrated on the last Thursday of the November makes it a 4 day weekend for families and friend to gather. The Wednesday before is the busiest travel day of the year. Airports, train stations and all the national highways are filled with 40 million people trying to get to their holiday destination.

Thanksgiving is all about turkey. Nearly 45 million turkeys will be on the dinner table estimates the National Turkey Federation – yes, of course there is a federation for turkey growers.

The trimmings are just as important as the bird itself — mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, cornbread, heavily buttered vegetables, bread stuffing, gravy and the ever important cranberry sauce. After the dishes are clear, pecan and pumpkin pies are ceremoniously brought out. Everyone is quite full from the enormous meal, but there is always room for dessert.

History
The landing of the pilgrims from England at Plymouth Rock was the beginning of America. The group of one hundred men women and children landed after a long and difficult journey in the middle of winter. Their difficulties continued into the first months of their arrival, and by the end of the first year only half had endured the harsh winter months.

They decided to celebrate the first anniversary in 1621 by giving thanks to God for their survival. The Native Americans who helped them when they first arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts were also invited to the 3 day long celebrations. It was not meant to be an annual event but as communities sprung across America the tradition continued. It was not until 1863, in the middle of the civil war, that President Abraham Lincoln made it an official holiday, hoping that the country would unite.

Football, Parades and Sales The television is on during this day. For the sports fans it is football (American football, of course) and for the kids it is the Macy’s Day parade. For many U.S. citizens, Thanksgiving without football is as unthinkable as the Christmas without a tree.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City was started originally to kick off the Christmas shopping season. Three million people brave the cold and stand on the 4 kilometre Manhattan route to view the parade. The parade also attracts viewers in 44 million homes across the country.

The tradition began in 1924, when employees recruited animals from the Central Park Zoo to march on Thanksgiving Day. Now there are no live animals but floats of children’s’ favourite cartoon characters, marching bands and Broadway musical performances. Helium-filled balloons made their debut in the parade in 1927 and, in the early years, were released above the city skyline with the promise of rewards for their finders.

Another tradition which is more recent is known as Black Friday — massive sales and early opening times attracting bargain hunting Christmas shoppers. The Friday morning after Thanksgiving is begun early, sometimes as early as 3am for those want to wait in line at stores which open with large black Friday bargains. Last year some 138 million Americans braved the crowds to shop on Black Friday.

Presidential Pardons
Each year two turkeys avoid the dinner table, thanks to a presidential pardon—a longstanding Washington tradition. Since 1947 the National Turkey Federation has presented two live turkeys to the President. During the yearly photo opportunity with the press, the lucky turkeys are sent off to live peacefully to Disneyland’s Big Thunder Ranch in California.

In Pune
Ankur Chopra, who returned from New York a few years ago, gets together with friends to remember the their time in America. “We prefer chicken and pasta to turkey – I suppose we have Indianized a bit, but the point is to get together” she says. Leah Sheth came to India over 25 years ago and has not yet celebrated the holiday. “I don’t even remember it. There aren’t too many Americans in Pune but next year I want to get together with some friends and have a feast. If not with turkey, then definitely with the pies,” she comments.

Recipes(adapted from Southernfood.com)

Roast Chicken
Ingredients:
1 roasting chicken, about 2 kilos
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed and finely minced
1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
dash ground black pepper
cut up lemon, for inside
4 whole basil leaves, optional

Preparation:
Line a roasting pan with foil. Heat oven to 176°C.
Wash chicken and pat dry; set on a rack in the roasting pan. Or lay a few celery ribs or carrot sticks under the chicken to keep it off of the bottom of the pan and out of the pan drippings.

In a small bowl, combine the oil, garlic, chopped basil, salt, and pepper. Stir to make a paste and rub all over and under the skin of the chicken.

Put a few basil leaves under the skin of the chicken, if desired. Roast for about one hour and 10 minutes. The bird read at least 73 degrees Celsius when done. Check the thigh part of the chicken to see if it is cooked if your do not have a cooking thermometer.

Sweet Potatoes
Ingredients:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 medium sweet potatoes, cooked, peeled, and sliced

Preparation:
In a heavy skillet, combine brown sugar, water, butter, and salt. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add sliced sweet potatoes. Simmer for 10 minutes, turning frequently.

Mashed Potatoes
Ingredients:
1.5 kilos potatoes
water to cover
salt
1/2 to 3/4 cup milk
6 tablespoons butter, room temperature
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Preparation:
Peel potatoes and cut into large pieces. Cover and cook in boiling salted water for 15 to 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Drain potatoes. Put potatoes through a ricer or mash in a large mixing bowl until no lumps remain. Add milk in small amounts, beating after each addition, until desired consistency is reached. Add butter, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper, beating until mashed potatoes are light and fluffy.

Gravy
Ingredients
pan drippings from the roast chicken
flour
water
salt and pepper

Preparation:
Pour the chicken pan drippings into a 2 cup measuring cup and skim the fat off. Put about 1/4 cup of the fat into a saucepan and stir in 1/4 cup of flour. Add enough water to the drippings (throw the rest of the fat away) to make 2 cups of liquid. Pour the 2 cups of liquid into the flour/fat mixture. Cook, stirring, until thickened and bubbling. Cook for about 1 minute, stirring. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Pecan Pie(substitute walnuts for pecans, since pecans are not easily available)
Ingredients:
1 cup molasses(liquid gur/kakwi)
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 large eggs, slightly beaten
1 heaping cup pecan halves
1 pie shell, unbaked, 9-inch (see below)

Preparation:
In a large bowl, combine molasses, brown sugar, salt, butter, and vanilla; mix well. Add slightly beaten eggs and blend well; stir in pecans. Pour into the unbaked pie shell. Bake in a preheated 350° oven for 45 minutes, or until set. Cool pecan pie and serve with a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Pie Crust
Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup lard or vegetable shortening, or combination of shortening and butter, chilled
3 tablespoons ice water

Preparation:
Sift together the flour and salt; sift again. Cut in the shortening or lard with a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Add ice water a tablespoon at a time (approximately 3 tablespoons in all), stirring the dough around the bowl with a fork. As soon as it is moist enough to gather into a ball, wrap in wax paper and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. Handle the dough as little as possible.

Roll half of the pastry dough out on a floured surface to about 1/8-inch thickness. The pastry should be about 1 1/2 inches larger than the the pie plate. Repeat with the other half of dough for a double crust pie, or freeze the remaining dough for a future pie. Makes enough for a double crust for a 9- or 10-inch pie, or two single crusts.

Published in Pune Mirror, November 24, 2011

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