Saturday, November 17, 2012

Soft Food, A Big Chicken and Traditions

The onslaught begins.  I picked my mother up at Denver International Airport this afternoon.  She loves coming to Colorado and has made as many trips to the Rockies as prairie schooners sailed into the region in the 19th century.  Ok, maybe not but it made for good visualization and I needed an historical segue...

There will be a number of visitors to my table this Thursday as well as thousands of other friends and family members, intruders and infiltrators of nearly every nationality flooding into the state and to the other 49, all in the name of the sacred North American Turkey and the holiday we know as Thanksgiving Day.  They come in the name of soft food.  Soft food like mashed potatoes, pureed squash, gravies, pumpkin pie and the staple of the 50's table - canned cranberry sauce.  They may also come in the name of turkey, a curious bird that is two birds in one - dark and white meat - and in reality is just a really big chicken.  They most assuredly come in the name of family traditions and to recreate the myths of our early colonial national history.  Yikes.

Regional variations aside,  all Thanksgiving participants are food crazed.  From 'traditional' menus to Gumbo variants in New Orleans to Turkey & Grits in the Atlantic Lowlands to Turkey Posole with Hatch Chilies in New Mexico.  What matters if the meal is centered around turkey or not?  The 53 English natives in the New World and the 90 Native Massasoits certainly had no turkey at their table in 1621.  There was, however, a local, healthy, and organic menu of clams, venison, ducks, geese, swan, lobsters, mussels supplanted with a cornucopia of vegetables, beach plums, nuts and berries (but no cranberries, at that time).  They gathered to say thanks.  Thanks to their God for surviving another year in the sandy, wind-swept inner bay known to them as Plimoth Colony.  The natives were there because the Pilgrims of England knew they couldn't have survived in New England without their local knowledge and humanity.  They said 'thanks, ye'.  It's a shame and a sham that the bonds of friendship were cruelly and eternally severed just years later when every treaty entered into ended badly for the home team.  But, I digress.

In '21, the first three-day tradition in Plimoth was a godly need.  In 1623 the visitors celebrated a substantial harvest with another feastation.  The 18th century brought our traditions into sharper focus with 'the big meal'.  Lincoln told us to celebrate in 1863 with a national Thanksgiving Day which he only saw to eat but once in his remaining years of life and FDRoosevelt made it officially official in 1941...Pearl Harbor being just two weeks away at that time.  You never know when you need to say thanks...  So, 391 years after the first sit down our traditions are family, chardonnay and gluttony.  So, is that why we celebrate Thanksgiving...?

"The First Thanksgiving" by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris
No, we say thanks for life, love and liberty.  Knowing that not all of us have any of that.  It's not about fairness and equality at this juncture.  It's a holiday to celebrate the memory of what happened in a cold and wet beach forest between two diverse groups thrust together by happenstance and poor ocean navigation.  The exchange of beliefs and cultures between Pilgrims and Native Americans is historical beyond understanding in the 21st century.  Thanksgiving doesn't need the trickery of presents or gifts.  The fourth Thursday in November isn't about green beer and shots of whiskey, although it may be present next to the turkey...  Our history in Plymouth isn't subject to candy, cards, dinner dates, fancy ball gowns or Apple Pie and Chevrolet.  It's about giving thanks.  Period.

Your plate that begs to be heavily laden with 'the dinner' is emblematic of the glue that holds us together as a society, a culture (for good or bad), as survivors of every type of calamity and struggle, and of family.  Family from all parts of the globe.  Be we Polish, Swedish, Lithuanian or Bolivian.  I've heard that Thanksgiving is the favorite holiday of many... for all good reasons.  I consider my contribution as a chef to be the glue to give family and friends their belief systems validity and credibility.  I cook so that others may give thanks.  It's time to get cooking...  Peace.


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