By Dave DeWitt, Ray Lampe, Mary Jane Wilan, Nancy Gerlach, Mike Stines, Ph.B., Gwyneth Doland, and Harald Zoschke
Most of what you think you know about Thanksgiving is just not true, but that doesn't make the holiday any less enjoyable. It is widely written that the first Thanksgiving occurred in 1621 and was celebrated by the Pilgrims, English settlers, and Indians, and that turkey was served. None of this is true. The first English Thanksgiving event occurred in 1578 in Newfoundland and, of course, Native Americans had celebrated the harvest for thousands of years before the English invasion. The 1621 event was probably a harvest celebration, but not a "day of Thanksgiving," which implies fasting and prayer. The supposed Pilgrims (the settlers of Plymouth Colony) did not call themselves that but rather "Separatists" because they had left the Church of England. The term "Pilgrim" was invented much later by "historians" who wanted to make the event more romantic. There is no documentation that turkey was served, and more likely the feast included fish and corn. There are, however, mentions of wild turkeys in some of the colonists' writings.
| Photo by Norman Johnson; food styling by Denice Skrepcinski
- Grilled Pineapple-Chipotle Salsa
- The Ultimate Turkey from Ray
- Scottie's Creole Butter
- Dr. BBQ's Pulled Pork Stuffing
- MJ's Garlic Mashed Potatoes
- Dave's Chipotle Gravy
- Mike's Zucchini-Stuffed Roasted Tomatoes
- Chile and Dried Cherry Chocolate Dessert
Everyone's Fantasy of the First Thanksgiving
From 1777 to 1783, Thanksgiving Day, as declared by Congress, was celebrated in December. But in 1789 George Washington decreed that Thursday, November 26 was to be "a day when we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks." Later presidents ordered that Thanksgiving to be celebrated at various times and in 1815, James Madison declared two Thanksgiving days.
It wasn't until 1863 that Abraham Lincoln finally settled the situation by proclaiming the fourth Thursday in November to be a "National Day of Thanksgiving." It was not celebrated in the South because it was viewed as a Yankee event until the 1890s. Today, of course, Thanksgiving is a non-religious holiday featuring parades, football, the beginning of the holiday season shopping, and turkey. Speaking in support of the turkey, Benjamin Franklin wrote: "I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country: he is a Bird of bad moral character: like those among Men who live by Sharping and Robbing, he is generally poor and very often lousy. The Turkey is a much more respectable Bird and withal a true original Native of North America." We'll add that he tastes really good, too. In our world, we are thankful for barbecue.
Following are favorite Thanksgiving reminiscences of a few of our favorite SuperSite contributors:
Ray's T-Day Recollection
When I was young my grandma Julia (Meemee) lived with us. But Thanksgiving dinner was always at my Cousin Donna's house because she had the fancy new house with the big dining room and the lower level family room for all the men to watch football in. So the weekend before Thanksgiving we would driveMeemee the hour away to loan her to Cousin Donna for the week. Meemee would whip up her special French turkey and all the traditional fixin's and after dinner we'd bring her back home with us. Cousin Donna was also the family barber, so I could get a free haircut while we were there too.
When I was 22 years old I threw my first Thanksgiving. I had just graduated from college and moved to Albuquerque, where I was sharing a house with the only three people I knew. Despite a lack of enthusiasm that bordered on downright cynicism from my roommates, I was determined to make the holiday special. On Sunday I bought the most recent issue of Bon Appetit and created a menu. On Monday I made pie crusts. On Tuesday I nearly lost a finger slicing open roasted chestnuts. By Thursday afternoon I was broke, exhausted, covered in cranberry sauce and desperately trying to wrestle my roommates into compliance with the Thanksgiving mood when tiny, weightless white pellets began to drop from the sky. What fell wasn't quite snow, but not exactly hail; it looked like the great bean bag chair in the sky had burst and its tiny styrofoam pellets were now spilling out and bouncing all over our driveway.
We stood at the window and stared for several minutes, shocked into silence. But as we turned back to setting the table, I noticed that the mood had changed. Fall had finally fallen and it was clear that winter would come soon. All of a sudden the house felt cozier, warmer and we were somehow happier to be in it together. Everyone ate in ten minutes, barely noticing the subtle nuances of my chestnut dressing, but we lingered around the table for hours, passing a bottle of whiskey, picking our teeth and just enjoying the good company.
Audubon's American Turkey
Dave and Mary Jane's English Experience
In November, 1995, Mary Jane and Dave were invited to watch the King of Curries, Pat Chapman, perform a cooking demonstration at the BBC Good Food Show in Birmingham, England. That invitation was accompanied by a plan of action whereby we would first stay in London and do the museum circuit, then take the train to Haslemere in Surrey and stay with Pat and his wife Dominique. From there, we'd drive to Birmingham for the show.
The BBC Good Food Show was extremely impressive. Not only were there hundreds and hundreds of exhibitors, there was a central theatre that seated three thousand people for demos by the television food personalities. Separate tickets had to be purchased for the theatre. Pat, who has performed at two of the National Fiery Foods & Barbecue Shows in Albuquerque, was his usual charming, funny self, and we had a great time.
But Pat and Dominique had a surprise for us—a Thanksgiving dinner at their house in Haslemere. Now, Mary Jane and I have been around for more than 50 Thanksgiving dinners, but as good as all of them have been, none of them touched us more than that meal in the English countryside where the American holiday was celebrated just for us. Dominique and Pat roasted a turkey breast, made pan stuffing and garlic mashed potatoes, and Dave made his chipotle gravy. The only things Dave missed were the football games.
Harald's Adoption of Thanksgiving
The first time my wife Renate and I came to the U.S., it was for a business trip in the early '80s. Little did we know about the American tradition of Thanksgiving back then, so we were caught by surprise that most shops were closed that day, and even restaurants. Finally we found some food at a gas station and spent that night with a generous Cheese-Whiz and cracker dinner at our hotel room.
We were introduced to the Thanksgiving rituals after moving to the U.S. in 1997. Living in Treasure Island, Florida, we had very nice next-door neighbors who also became dear friends. For our first Thanksgiving Day while living there, they invited us over to their house, and this was both a culinary and spiritual experience. Culinary, because we'd never had such great turkey with all the trimmings and exciting side dishes. Greg and Linda must have worked day and night to cook up such a great meal. And spiritual, because we saw that Thanksgiving meant so much more to them than just eating well, and we felt honored to be part of their family celebration.
The next year we returned the invite, and I barbecued a wonderful turkey in my Charbroil H2O smoker. It took all day long, but the effort was worthwhile—a tender turkey with a delicious smoky flavor. And of course we provided fancy fixings as well. More years of T-Day celebrations followed. Since 2001, we've been living back home in Germany, where "Erntedankfest" (Thanksgiving) is a German holiday printed into every calendar, but most people sadly don't even take notice. Renate and I took the custom with us, and still celebrate Thanksgiving Day with a special dinner—and with memories of American people who let us into their homes and into their hearts.
During nearly twenty years as a newspaper editor and the household's chief cook, Thanksgiving meant two things: creating a varied holiday menu for my family and guests and attending the traditional Thanksgiving football game in the newspaper's hometown. That meant preparing most of the Thanksgiving feast in advance and having the turkey cooking as I attended the game.
A favorite Thanksgiving? Not really, just some that were more memorable than others. Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday to gather together with family and friends, reminisce about the past year and look to the year ahead. Perhaps the best Thanksgiving is the next one. Enjoy!
Grilled Pineapple Chipotle Salsa
This sweet/tangy/hot salsa, from Gwyneth Doland's book, Cilantro Secrets (Rio Nuevo Publishers), will occupy hungry guests until the turkey and trimmings arrive at the table. If you don't have chipotle powder, you can also use any other variety of powdered red chile.
1 fresh pineapple
1 red onion
Oil for the grill rack
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
Preheat your gas or charcoal grill to medium and make sure the grill rack is very clean.
Using a heavy knife, trim the top and bottom from the pineapple and quarter it. Cut the onion into 1/2-inch rings.
Lightly brush the grill rack with oil and grill the pineapple and onion pieces for a few minutes on each side, long enough for the onions to soften slightly and the pineapple to caramelize a bit. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Trim the bumpy outer skin and tough core from the pineapple wedges. Chop the grilled fruit into bite-sized pieces.
In a bowl, the combine pineapple, onion, garlic, lime, and cilantro. Add salt and chipotle powder to taste.
Yield: Makes about 5 cups
Heat Scale: Varies to taste
The Ultimate Turkey from Ray
Photo by Mike Stines
Many people like to cook their turkey on those upright stands, so I thought I'd try it. I liked it so much I'm calling it The Ultimate Turkey. I use a pan underneath the whole thing so the juices can accumulate and steam underneath the turkey. You can reserve the juice then and use it in Dave's Chipotle Gravy, below. Note: This recipe requires advance preparation.
1 12-pound turkey
Scottie's Creole Butter, recipe follows
The night before you plan to cook, inject the turkey all over with Scottie's Creole Butter. Wrap in a big plastic bag and refrigerate overnight. The next day, prepare the cooker indirect at 325 using apple wood for flavor. Season the turkey liberally with the Creole Seasoning. Place the turkey on the stand, and stand the whole thing up in a pan. If you have any reserved marinade, add it to the pan. Cook until the internal temp of the white meat is 160, and the dark meat is 180. This will take about 3 hours. Remove the turkey to a platter. Tent it loosely and rest for 20 minutes. Carve and serve.
Yield: About 12 servings
Heat Scale: Mild
Scottie's Creole Butter
This recipe was inspired by my friend Scottie Johnson from Chicago. We first met via The BBQ Forum on the Internet and realized we were almost neighbors. I wish you could see his adorable little girls. It was first created for deep-fried turkeys, but works just great in the BBQ for all poultry and it makes a great fish marinade too.
1 can beer of choice
1 pound butter
1 tablespoon Big Time BBQ Rub (or your favorite rub)
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon freshly ground white pepper
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon freshly and finely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne
Melt the butter in saucepan and add the beer and spices. Mix well. Let cool, then inject.
Yield: About 2 1/2 cups
Heat Scale: Medium
Dr. BBQ's Pulled Pork Stuffing
I've been making and promoting this recipe for years. It has never caught on, but maybe it will now.
1/2 cup butter
2 medium onions, chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups smoked pulled pork, chopped
2 tablespoons Louisiana hot sauce
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
2 8-ounce packages plain cornbread stuffing
2 to 3 cups vegetable broth
Preheat the oven to 350. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion, celery and garlic and cook until tender. Add the pork, hot sauce, sage, thyme, salt and pepper. Stir and cook until the pork is heated through. Add two cups of the broth, stir well and remove from the heat. Put the stuffing mix in a big bowl. Pour the butter mixture over the stuffing. Toss to mix thoroughly, adding more broth as needed to moisten all the stuffing mix. Transfer to a 9 by 13 baking pan. Cover with foil and place in the oven. Cook for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes.
Yield: About 10 servings.
Heat Scale: Medium
MJ's Garlic Mashed Potatoes
After you've tasted garlic in your mashed potatoes, you'll never go back to bland!
1 whole head of garlic
1 teaspoon salt
4 medium Russet potatoes
1/4 cup butter
1/3 to 1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons snipped chives
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Red chile powder
Trim the garlic head about 1/4 inch. Drizzle the olive oil over the head of garlic and wrap in foil. Bake in a 350 F oven for 45 minutes. Or, place the garlic on a microwave-safe plate, cover, and microwave for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the cloves of garlic are soft enough to be squeezed out. Mash the cloves thoroughly and set aside.
Peel and quarter the potatoes, and place them in a saucepan of boiling, salted water. Boil for 15 to 25 minutes until they are easily pierced with a knife. Drain the potatoes, return them to the saucepan, add the butter and 1/3 cup of the milk. Mash until the potatoes are of a smooth consistency, adding more milk if necessary. (The amount of milk may vary, depending on the age of the potatoes.)
Stir in the remaining ingredients. Place the potatoes in a warm serving dish, and dot with more butter and a sprinkle of red chile powder, if desired.
Yield: 4 servings
Dave's Chipotle Gravy
I make this every Thanksgiving that's held at our house, and a few times in the kitchens of friends. It's so simple that it really doesn't need a recipe, but here's one anyway.
Pan drippings of a roasted or smoked turkey
Flour as needed
Chicken stock as needed
4 rehydrated or canned chipotle chiles, minced
Remove as much fat from the pan as possible, and scrape the drippings so that they don't stick to the pan. Add some flour and stir over medium heat to make a roux. Add the chicken stock and stir well with a whisk. Add the chipotles and keep stirring. Adjust the consistency of the gravy by adding more flour and/or chicken stock. Do not strain the gravy.
Heat Scale: Medium
Photo by Mike Stines
Grilling zucchini brings out the natural sugars in the vegetable adding a nice flavor to the roasted tomatoes. Marinating the zucchini and Portobello mushroom before grilling adds another layer of flavor for this holiday side dish. This recipe, which is easily doubled, requires advance preparation. If necessary, Parmesan or Asiago cheese could be substituted for the Pecorino-Romano.
4 medium beefsteak or heirloom tomatoes
3 large zucchini squash, washed and sliced lengthwise into 1/2-inch thick slices
1 large Portobello mushroom, cleaned and stem removed
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino-Romano cheese, divided
2 tablespoons diced serrano or jalapeño chiles
1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
Coarse kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
For the marinade:
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
2 large cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup good-quality olive oil
Prepare the marinade: Whisk together the vinegar, oregano, garlic, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl. While whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Continue whisking to form an emulsion. Pour the marinade into a shallow container and add the sliced zucchini and Portobello mushroom. Marinate at room temperature, turning occasionally, at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours.
Prepare the grill for medium-high direct cooking. Place the mushroom cap on the grill, stem side up, and grill for 3 minutes. Place the zucchini slices on the grill and cook for 3 minutes. Flip the zucchini and mushroom over and continue cooking another 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the grill and cool slightly.
When cooled, roughly dice the mushroom and zucchini. In a mixing bowl, combine the zucchini, mushroom, basil, diced chiles, bread crumbs and 1/4 cup of the grated cheese. Stir to mix. Season with salt and pepper. (Stuffing may be prepared one day ahead and held, covered and refrigerated.)
Slice the tops off of the tomatoes and carefully remove the pulp leaving the shells intact. Spoon the zucchini-mushroom mixture into each tomato and sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. (or prepare the grill for medium-high indirect cooking). Place the tomatoes in a casserole dish and bake for about 20 to 30 minutes or until thoroughly warmed. Transfer to a serving dish, drizzle with olive oil and garnish with fresh basil.
Yield: 4 servings
Heat Scale: Mild to Medium (depending on the amount of chiles added)
Chile and Dried Cherry Chocolate Dessert
Since preparing a Thanksgiving feast on a barbecue isn't traditional, why finish it up with the usual pumpkin pie? This layered dessert from Nancy Gerlach is unique in that it can be cooked on the grill like the rest of the meal. The finished dessert has a cake-like topping and a chocolate syrup which can be served with whip cream on top. Place it on the grill while you are indulging with your turkey, and it will be ready to serve at the end of the meal.
1 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 tablespoon ground ancho chile
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup dried cherries, soaked in water to plump
2 tablespoons melted butter or margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup boiling water
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup dark rum
Whipped cream for topping
To make the pudding, sift all the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Add the milk, cherries, butter, and vanilla, and mix until well blended. Pour into a well-greased, 9-inch square metal pan.
To make the topping, combine all the ingredients, except the water, in a bowl and spread over the pudding mixture. Slowly pour the boiling water over the top, but don't stir it in.
Heat a gas grill to low or bank 20 low-glowing coals on each side of the bottom of the grill unit. Place the cooking grill rack 4 to 6 inches above the coals. In a gas grill, light one burner and place the pan over the unlit burner. Cover and cook for 45 minutes. The pudding should be slightly crusty on top with a syrupy bottom.
To make the glaze, combine all the ingredients except the rum in a saucepan over medium heat and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, let cool slightly, and stir in the rum.
To serve, spoon the pudding into individual dishes, top with a dollop of whipped cream, and drizzle the glaze over the top.
Yield: 6 servings
Heat Scale: Mild