[ Giving Thanks ] ~ from Monterey Bay Herb Company
Making Meaning Shadow
For most of us, Thanksgiving conjures images of pumpkin pie and a golden roasted turkey. Adults cheer their favorite football team on television, while children busily make representations of the first thanksgiving from construction paper. In spite of what you or your kids may have learned in school, though, it's questionable that the celebrated first feast really took place at Plymouth.

Turkey was never the main event either. What's more, the holiday didn't appear on the American calendar until two years after World War II started. Regardless, while certain Thanksgiving beliefs and customs may never change, you can establish new traditions to make the holiday more meaningful now.

[ Giving Thanks: Looking Back ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

a. looking back

More than 390 years have passed since the first harvest feast reputedly took place in Plymouth between New World natives and newly settled pilgrims and puritans. However, similar feasts took place elsewhere that were actually religious rites, not an attempt to get to know the neighbors. There is also evidence that Spanish explorers in Texas may have enjoyed the first non-secular thanksgiving as early as 1598, a prospect that has lulled some historians into arguing a debate dubbed "tempest in a bean pot" that is still ongoing.

Although a demonstration of gratitude for a bountiful harvest was typically practiced each fall throughout the colonies, it wasn't until 1777 that the Continental Congress declared the first national Thanksgiving Day. Presidents Washington, Adams and Monroe also designated national days of Thanksgiving, but the concept of the nation celebrating a holiday on the same day each year didn't catch on for nearly another century.

not an
original guest >>

[ Giving Thanks: Making it Official ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

b. thanks to one
woman Turkey Day
becomes official

Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of the women's magazine known as "Godey's Lady's Book," who relentlessly spent 40 years petitioning various politicians to make the holiday official, finally convinced President Lincoln to proclaim Thanksgiving a national holiday.

Lincoln, who likely saw an opportunity to reunite a country torn apart by war, honored her request in 1863 — not once, but twice. That year, Thanksgiving was first observed on August 6th to commemorate victory at Gettysburg, and again on the last Thursday of November.

However, the day still didn't become an official American holiday until 1941 when Congress proclaimed that Thanksgiving would be observed by the entire nation on the fourth Thursday in the month of November each year.

[ Giving Thanks: Locally Sourced Side Dishes ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

c. they ate what?

It should come as no surprise that what we typically think of as "Turkey Day" dinner with all the trimmings had more humble beginnings. According to a written account dated December 12, 1621 that describes the so-called first Thanksgiving, Edward Winslow tells us that, "our governor sent four men on fowling," an observation verified 20 years later when William Bradford wrote that "besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys."

That explains, in part, how turkey got on the table, albeit flanked by pheasant and goose. But yams and sweet potatoes, which are classic southern fare, were alien to most people living in 17th century New England. And what we call stuffing today was originally a mash of ground acorns, barley, walnuts and perhaps some stray beans and other legumes. Other "sides" probably included regional delicacies readily available like lobster, clams, mussels and eel, as well as vegetables and herbs transplanted from Europe such as sorrel, watercress, leeks and onions.

[ Giving Thanks: Making Memories ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

d. making memories

As fascinating as the history behind the American Thanksgiving can be, what most of us remember long after the last slice of pumpkin pie is gone is spending time with family and friends. In fact, at the heart of the holiday is the sharing of a common experience framed around a bird browned to perfection, mom's flakey apple pie and the savory stuffing grandma dedicated herself to for decades.

It's with these individual components that the whole comes together, with pieces of the more recent past woven into the family fabric like a quilt that tells a story. So, while our forefathers may have initially gathered to feast on the rewards of the autumn harvest, today we can appreciate the value of celebrating the abundance of each other. Here's a few ideas to help you tell your family's story and to give thanks to past and future generations—no sewing skills required.

pass the book
Send a journal and a pen around the table while coffee and dessert are being served, inviting each person to write an entry about what they're thankful for.

This is a great way to teach children the importance of inner reflection and gratitude. It's also fun (and enlightening) to revisit the journal during subsequent family get-togethers, especially as younger members of the clan grow older and mature.

uncover your roots
Get the entire family involved in researching and plotting your family tree. If possible, gather and copy old photos, letters and other mementos to display in individual scrapbooks so that each branch of the family has their own book of genealogy.

go 'out' for dinner
Create nature prints on table linens with fabric paint and a printing block purchased from an art and craft supply store, or use the real thing to stamp your designs, such as leaves of various sizes and shapes, or apples and pears cut in half to expose the seeds.

[ Giving Thanks: Nature Tablescapes ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

e. nature tablescapes

pimp your pumpkin
Scoop out the seeds and flesh of a pumpkin and use it as a tureen for — what else? — pumpkin soup. Alternatively, use the pumpkin as a vase for a floral centerpiece. Bonus: save the seeds and pulp to make toasted pumpkin seeds and pumpkin puree.

customize your candles
Adhere small autumn leaves or sprigs of herbs (i.e., rosemary, sage, thyme, etc.) to the base of a candle with a bit of melted wax. For a splash of color, add a few calendula, hibiscus, larkspur or lavender flower petals to the design.

put your stamp on it
Create nature prints on table linens with fabric paint and a printing block purchased from an art and craft supply store, or use the real thing to stamp your designs, such as leaves of various sizes and shapes, or apples and pears cut in half to expose the seeds.

pip, pip hooray for pip berry
Pip berry garland is the perfect way to accent your table with rustic, primitive charm. You can use it around candleholders, add it to floral arrangements or coil it into napkin rings. It occurs in nature as strands in certain species of elm and willow. But, if you didn’t harvest any to dry in spring, you can pick some up in any craft store. Artificially made pip berry comes in a wide variety of colors, while natural pip berry occurs in muted tones of gray and brown.

[ Giving Thanks: Recipes ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

f. recipes

baked acorn squash with sage and roasted garlic cream sauce
This recipe makes a dozen individual servings, but you can easily make adjustments to prepare this dish for more or less people. Cutting off the bottom ends allows each squash "bowl" to sit flat in the baking dish and on the dinner plate.
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root vegetable mash
Yukon Gold is one of the best spuds to use when making mashed potatoes because their flesh is so creamy. This recipe incorporates celery root and parsnips to add an interesting texture and flavor. If you can't find celery root, try rutabaga (peeled) instead.
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kale with pancetta, shallots and walnuts
Pancetta is Italian bacon that differs from American bacon in that it isn't smoked. It is available pre-sliced and sold in packages in the deli section of larger supermarkets. You can also ask your butcher for a few thick slices from behind the counter.
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rye stuffing with wild rice, sausage, apple and dried cherries
After making an elegant entrance to the holiday table as a side dish, this flavorful stuffing is equally impressive when it tops leftover turkey in a sandwich! For extra flavor and crunch, stir a handful of chopped pecans into the stuffing just before serving.
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rosemary and onion scones
Rosemary adds an earthy, robust flavor to these savory scones, while sour cream and ricotta cheese make them extra tender. Make a double batch and freeze half to have on hand for breakfast, afternoon tea or snack. This recipe makes 12 scones.
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