Well, Thanksgiving is close and it has to be dealt with. For Native Americans, giving thanks is an ongoing, normal, spiritual part of everyday life, much like hospitality and courtesy.
In this country, it is spaced a little too close to Christmas for comfort. A lot of people feel—as do I—that it should replace Columbus Day, or be closer to the middle of October when harvest foods are ready, and there is more time between holidays. Thanksgiving for some of us is a day to mourn an event that represents “the beginning of the end of a way of life.” I feel this sadness, but on the other hand divisiveness is not a good thing.
However, it can provide an excellent opportunity to teach our children how things should be. To teach them about our lifeways, values, about sharing, and how to preserve our environment for their future.
As a people, we do not get a whole lot of notice or respect in general, except between late August and late November so why not use it to our advantage? One of the best ways to do this is through food. For everyone this is a family holiday, not a racial or cultural one. Now, onto the food…
Let us, as Native American people, remember that the unlovely wild turkey is our own native bird. Turkey is good, wild or domestic. In recent years I have developed a personal preference for brined and smoked turkey and others like it plainly roasted or even deep-fried. I worry about that last one, but I have never experienced it so cannot comment.
Fresh turkey is best, but major food chains offer frozen turkey quite reasonably this time of year. I highly recommend buying two on sale if you can. You will thank yourself in mid-winter when you remember it’s in the freezer and you don’t need to drive 10 or 20 miles. Another good thing about turkey is that it is a great low-fat alternative to beef or pork, especially if you remove the skin after cooking. If you remove the skin before cooking, it tends to dry out too much.
Then, there is the stuffing “issue.” A lot of people feel stuffing cooked in the bird is not safe, and there is some validity there. I find it easier to cook it separately to avoid that controversy, easier to store that way, too.
This year, we had a bonanza crop of chestnuts from our trees. At least two cups of these will go into the stuffing. Even without them, well-seasoned stuffing is easy and delicious, especially if you use fresh sage leaves.
Now, the mashed items, I found this recipe good and interesting, especially if you’re not a purist about mashed potatoes. A variety of potatoes is best—russet, Yukon, white or other.
Mashed Root Medley
5 lbs. potatoes, some peeled, some not peeled
3 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut up
1 small yellow turnip, cubed
*1 small parsnip, *optional, peeled, cubed (if you do not like parsnip, substitute a small, well peeled and trimmed and cubed celery root)
Cook all until soft and mashable. Whip together to blend flavors.
A delicious side dish with the mashed items, dressing and turkey
¼ cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
2 cups creamed corn
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 14-ounce can evaporated milk
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a medium bowl, beat eggs and slowly beat in the flour, salt and pepper. Add corn, butter and milk. Blend well and pour into a one and a half quart casserole dish. Put the baking dish into a larger baking pan with about one inch of water in the outer pan. Bake for 75 minutes or until a knife inserted comes out clean. Serve hot as a side dish.
***For a really quick appetizer plate for unexpected holiday guests keep jars of roasted red pepper, olives, artichokes, mushrooms and anchovies on hand. All can be drained and put on a platter, sprinkled with a vinegar/oil dressing, served with crackers or thin sliced bread and cheese.
Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: “New Native American Cooking,” “Native New England Cooking” and “A Dreamcatcher Book.” She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.