Happy Thanksgiving, with a history lesson
Happy Thanksgiving! I enjoy this holiday both for what it stands for and also for the festivities of the day. After all, the festivities pretty much consist of eating, drinking, and watching football – some of my most favorite things to do.
I was inspired to write this by one of my TV superstar heroes… Alton Brown. In case you’re not in the know, Alton is mind behind Good Eats, on the FoodTV Network. Yep, you read it right, FoodTV. (and I don’t even have cable!)
OK, truly, I don’t have any TV superstar heroes, but this guy puts together a great show. And, yes, it does happen to be about food; specifically, the science behind the cooking. He typically focuses on just one thing. For instance, an entire episode on brewing coffee, or making a baked potato. He also will come up with practical, though sometimes seemingly strange, ways to best accomplish a cooking technique, such as roasting beef in a clay pottery flower pot, or smoking salmon in a cardboard box. But, you can really learn from him, as now I can make that perfect baked spud and I’ve mastered gravy and other emulsions. – I even sound smart 😉
Recently, my lovely sister-in-law recorded for me the Good Eats: Romancing the Bird episode, which started off with a brief history lesson. You see, while almost all of us think of a great big turkey (like the one in the Norman Rockwell painting above), it didn’t start out that way.
The Pilgrims set apart a day to celebrate at Plymouth immediately after their first harvest, in 1621. At the time, this was not regarded as a Thanksgiving observance; harvest festivals were existing parts of English and Wampanoag tradition alike. It became an annual one-day observance later in the 1600’s, depending on the locale. The celebration was to give thanks to God at the close of the harvest season. *
But the food that was served at the time was food that was to be found in abundance. There were wild turkeys to be had, but more common was venison and fish, like cod or lobster. Also, do you think the pilgrims and indians had wine with Thanksgiving dinner…? No, beer was the beverage.
The Good Eats epsiode goes on anout brining a turkey before cooking. Basting is bad. It offers nothing to the flavor, and the constantly opening oven door slows cooking. No, the right answer is brine, and with the help of food scientist Shirley Corriher and her “Mystery Food Science Theatre 3000” slideshow, Alton explains how brine works. It’s all about osmosis.
Inside-the-bird stuffing is the next to fall to Alton’s debunking skills. It can dry the bird and provide a place for bacteria to grow. The right things for that cavity are aromatics like rosemary, apples, and onions. ** I’m convinced it is worth a try, so that’s what I’m doing right now… putting my turkey into brine. Read the whole recipe for yourself.
So, I will wake up early, start a fire in the fireplace, put on the parade for the kids, keep cooking, enjoy a wonderful meal, share my beer, watch some football, and just hang out with the family. Once, again, Happy Thanksgiving.
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