One of the most important holidays of the year occurs this week.
Thanksgiving is a holiday which hopefully conjures up feelings of
sincere appreciation for what we are and what we have. Many make the
mistake of only considering material possessions and accumulated wealth.
But the greatest possessions are those which cannot be touched. Faith
is one such intangible which is worth more than any material goods.
Faith is a belief which is not based on proof. The faith
is America's founding fathers who ventured into an uncharted wilderness
with hopes for a brighter future is exemplified by every gardener who
tries to grow vegetables in that cantankerous stuff we loosely refer
to in South Texas as "soil." The circumstances are not as
dire but the attitude needed is the same - stubbornness and determination
mixed with faith in "what can be."
Gardeners are also endowed with another character for
which they can be proud - charity. Few gardeners plant only enough vegetables
to feed their family alone. I don't know whether this is the result
of a generous, charitable heart or just a case of gross miscalculation.
Few gardeners can realize that a few plants of squash, okra and cherry
tomatoes can produce bushels of produce. Regardless of the cause of
overproduction, most gardeners bestow this bountifulness on less fortunate
neighbors. In fact, at times generous gardening neighbors can become
worrisome with benevolences.
Gardeners also have been blessed with a feeling of what
is involved in producing agricultural commodities. These small plot
farmers called gardeners have fought drought, pestilence and environmental
adversities in an effort to produce a crop. Many modern-day Americans
cannot even comprehend the natural tragedies against which farmers gamble
with the planting of every crop. Texas' farmers experience severe droughts
followed by fall monsoons. Gardeners experience the same disasters but
do not go hungry because of crop loss. Such an agricultural production
system which continues to feed and clothe Americans and the rest of
the world even during periods of adverse weather conditions is another
blessing to be appreciated since eating seems to be the one Thanksgiving
event in which Americans unanimously participate. After all, is Thanksgiving
complete without a steaming fowl astride the family serving platter
surrounded by gourmet delights? And how many of us take time to ponder
the growing conditions of our Butterball turkey or worry about how our
potatoes were fertilized*luckily, we don't have to worry about such
trivial matters in a country where obesity, and not starvation, is the
Of course, we know how all of this eating got started.
The English colony of Plymouth, Massachusetts, decided to give thanks
for their first successful year in America and gave a luncheon. Being
the thing to do in Plymouth in the 1620's, neighboring Indians were
invited. It was a pot luck affair. In fact, if the Indians had not come,
the meal would have been a snack instead of a luncheon!
That brings us to the point of menu. We all know that
American tradition dictates for us a menu of turkey, dressing, cranberry
sauce, gravy and potatoes, bread, and a dessert of pumpkin pie. The
first Thanksgiving may have had a similar menu. Corn, pumpkins and squash,
beans, sunflower, and Jerusalem artichoke are true native American vegetables.
The field peas, cowpeas, watermelons, cantaloupes, and peppers being
grown by Indians when the colonists arrived were picked up from Spanish
gardens in Florida and the Southwest. A possible menu could have been:
Salad: Poke, purslane, lamb's quarters, dock, or pigweed
Main Course: Deer, wild turkey, rabbit, quail, or duck
served with succotash from roasted green corn and mixed with green beans;
hominy from dried field corn soaked in lye; bread from ground dried
corn or mashed hominy mixed with acorns, beans or pumpkins; and various
dishes of corn, squash, kidney beans, sunflower, Jerusalem artichokes,
peas, watermelons, cantaloupes, and peppers.
Dessert: Bread from buckwheat or rye served with pumpkin
molasses, honey pumpkin custard, or pumpkin pie. Of course, an abundance
of pumpkin beer and fresh grape wine made the occasion more enjoyable
for all in attendance.
The Pilgrims' Menu from Kathleen Curtin, Food Historian
at Plimoth Plantation, is the latest rendition of food available at
the first Thanksgiving.
Foods That May Have Been on the Menu
Seafood: Cod, Eel, Clams, Lobster
Wild Fowl: Wild Turkey, Goose, Duck, Crane, Swan, Partridge,
Eagles (Oh no!!! Didn't they know that's against the law?!?!?!)
Meat: Venison, Seal
Grain: Wheat Flour, Indian Corn
Vegetables: Pumpkin, Peas, Beans, Onions, Lettuce, Radishes,
Fruit: Plums, Grapes
Nuts: Walnuts, Chestnuts, Acorns
Herbs and Seasonings: Olive Oil, Liverwort, Leeks, Dried
What Was Not on the Menu
Surprisingly, the following foods, all considered staples
of the modern Thanksgiving meal, didn't appear on the pilgrims's first
Ham: There is no evidence that the colonists had butchered
a pig by this time, though they had brought pigs with them from England.
Sweet Potatoes/Potatoes: These were not common in Plymouth,
Massachusetts, because it was too cold*they are native to the South
Corn on the Cob: Corn was kept dried out at this time
Cranberry Sauce: The colonists had cranberries but no
sugar at this time.
Pumpkin Pie: It's not a recipe that exists at this point,
though the pilgrims had recipes for stewed pumpkin.
Chicken/Eggs: We know that the colonists brought hens
with them from England, but it's unknown how many they had left at this
point or whether the hens were still laying.
Milk: No cows had been aboard the Mayflower, though it's
possible that the colonists used goat milk to make cheese.
In the 1600's, just the act of surviving took a 100 percent
effort on everybody's part. Most of this was directed toward food production.
I mentioned crude tools which were used. Fertilizing each hill of corn
with redolent mackerel, shad or herring was pretty time consuming and
lacked the efficiency of modern techniques. Of course, they could sell
their produce as "organically grown" and get a higher price!
Most of us this year will not worry about whether or not we will have
anything to eat for our Thanksgiving feast. The efficiency of the 13
percent of our population who are in agriculture has assured that we
will leave the table with a satisfied appetite. The quantity and quality
of produce which Americans enjoy every day, not only on Thanksgiving,
is truly a tribute to the American farmer and our free enterprise system.
So remember this week, Thanksgiving is "the act
of giving thanks; grateful acknowledgment of benefits or favors."
As you stagger away from the Thanksgiving feast with stomach pains from
overeating and guilty feelings from lack of control, you may curse the
American agricultural system for providing so much good eating; but
remember at least you have the choice - thanks to American agriculture
and the farmers who make it work. Surely these 13 percent of our total
population who feed us deserve our "grateful acknowledgment of
Have a happy and thankful Thanksgiving holiday. And remember,
things could be worse. You could:
-wake up face down on the pavement.
-put your bra on backward and it fits better.
-call Suicide Prevention and they put you on hold.
-see a "60 Minutes" news team waiting in your
-see your birthday cake collapse from the weight of the
-turn on the news and they're showing emergency routes
out of the city.
-have your twin sister forget your birthday.
-wake up and discover your waterbed broke and then you
realize that you don't have a waterbed.
-have your car horn go off accidentally and remain stuck
as you follow a group of Hell's Angels on the
-have your boss tell you not to bother to take off your
-realize that the bird singing outside your window is
-walk to work and find your dress is stuck in back of
-call your answering service and they tell you it's none
of your business.
-have your blind date turn out to be your ex-wife.
-put both contact lenses in the same eye.