American Thanksgiving Day
On Thursday 23rd November, Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving Day. It’s a time for family and friends to gather for a national holiday which stems from a feast called ‘First Thanksgiving’, dating back to 1621 and the first feast of the harvest held by Pilgrims in the New World. The day has been a federal holiday (observed by the US government) since 1863, when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that a national day of thanksgiving should be held annually on the last Thursday of November.
Americans plan Thanksgiving with as much vigour and verve as we plan Christmas. A feast of a big roast turkey and all the Thanksgiving trimmings is brought to the table. Its estimated that there are over 40 million Americans claiming Irish heritage, and many of these will be joining the celebrations in the country which welcomed their ancestors who left Ireland in times of famine and unemployment. We wish all our American friends and Irish American cousins a very happy Thanksgiving Day today.
Seasonal foods play a big part in the Thanksgiving Feast, which you’d expect in a meal designed to mark a rich harvest. Tradition abounds in dishes which crop up year after year. The turkey is brined before roasting, then served as the table centrepiece of the dinner menu.
HOW TO BRINE THE TURKEY
Americans love to brine their turkey before roasting for the Thanksgiving Dinner. This makes the meat moist and succulent. It also works for Christmas turkey so you may be interested to know how it’s done.
• Brining needs to be done a day in advance. You will need a large clean bucket or plastic box big enough to hold your turkey comfortably and be covered in brine.
• For a 10-12lb turkey, to make the brine you will need about 4 litres of water, 8 generous tbsp salt, 2 bayleaves, 1 tbsp black peppercorns, 1 large peeled and thinly sliced onion, 3 garlic cloves, lightly bruised.
• Make your brine by mixing the water with the salt, bayleaves and peppercorns in a large pan over medium heat to dissolve the salt, then bring to the boil for a few moments for the flavours to infuse. Taste for saltiness, it should have a definite salty taste, so add more salt if necessary. Remove from the heat and cool.
• When cold, place the brine in the chosen container with the sliced onion and bruised garlic. Add the turkey, making sure it is submerged. Cover and place the turkey in a fridge or very cold place – a large chill box surrounding by ice packs will do. Cover the box to keep it cold. Leave to soak overnight.
• Take your turkey out of the brine an hour or so before cooking and pat dry. Roast in the usual way.
GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE
Americans have a longer growing season for crops like beans, so Green Bean Casserole is a big part of the Thanksgiving Feast. Originally made by cooking green beans in canned mushroom soup. But you can make your own much tastier version using frozen green beans (all the better if you grew your own this year and froze them) and fresh mushrooms, cooked in cream.
To add extra flavour and crunch pop this in an ovenproof dish and top with fresh breadcrumbs and grated cheese, then bake in the oven for a golden crispy finish.
SQUASH AND SWEET POTATO
Both these veggies crop up in the choice of dishes for a Thanksgiving Dinner. Both are in season in the American Fall, so they make up part of the harvest. Squash and Sweet Potatoes are particularly suited to roasting in the oven with olive oil, garlic and herbs. Other dishes sometimes served include sweet potato mash, pureed squash and gratins of either sweet potatoes or squash, or sometimes both together!
Mashed potatoes are a big thing for Thanksgiving Dinner. Martha Stewart, the Doyenne of hosting dinner parties and general entertaining, suggests using buttermilk instead of milk or cream for the mashing. Which we like because it really adds that Irish flavour to the dish.
Cranberry Sauce is one of the regular accompaniments to the turkey for Thanksgiving. We reckon our American friends would love this recipe for Spiced Cranberry Sauce, prepared by Kevin Aherne of Sage Restaurant in Midleton, Co. Cork.
Cornbread stuffing is makes a regular appearance beside the turkey.
Martha Stewart, Doyenne of American style and entertaining ideas, suggests adding sausagemeat to the cornbread for extra meaty flavour.
Or you can keep it traditional with crumbled cornbread baked with eggs, onion and herbs in chicken broth.
Other desserts that suit are American Deep Dish Apple Pie, made with fresh new season apples from the American Fall harvest.