The smell of sweet potatoes roasting wafts throughout the house. You are surrounded by annoying in-laws and rowdy younger cousins. There’s an electric feeling in the air that just isn’t present any other time of year. The turkey’s in the oven with 20 minutes left to go. This is Thanksgiving, and it’s the start of the holiday season.
Thanksgiving is arguably the most important holiday on the U.S. calendar. Although rooted in religious origins, Thanksgiving is largely secular nowadays and is the only holiday that places an emphasis on being thankful for what you have, both people and possession. Evolving from what has traditionally been celebrated as an autumnal harvest feast, Thanksgiving is also one of the few holidays that has a set culinary canon: There is no denying the link between turkey and Thanksgiving. In fact, one might venture far enough to say that without turkey, there is no Thanksgiving.
Looking at an average American table of Thanksgiving will net you glimpses of mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, creamed corn, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, peas and carrots, breads or rolls and pie, perhaps pumpkin, pecan, apple or sweet potato. However, the beauty of both the holiday and America is the metaphorical melting pot, now taking on a much more literal meaning. As different parts of America, as well as different Americans, are descended from different cultures, the foods that they find traditional and serve as part of their holiday will naturally vary. Collard greens will be found on Thanksgiving tables somewhere in the south. Lefse, a Norwegian flatbread, and a large variety of casseroles will invariably find their ways to the tables of those living in the Midwest, being an area of predominantly Scandinavian immigrants. With my own mixed ancestry, I tend to replace the mashed potatoes on my table with German potato salad as a way of expressing my family’s preference and as a reminder of my heritage. As much as an entire nation celebrating a holiday of thanks unites the nation under a single flag and identity, the variations in the food served and manner in which the holiday proceedings take place are what makes each family different and gives us our uniqueness.
Try as hard as they will, but those staunch Thanksgiving ‘traditionalists’ will never be able to win. While we learned about the first Thanksgiving in elementary school, that three-day celebration that occurred at Plymouth in 1621, the bellies of the Pilgrims after the feast bore almost no relation to ours today, save for the turkey. Many of the foods that are now synonymous with Thanksgiving simply weren’t available to the Pilgrims. They had run out of flour and butter, so that meant no pies or breads. Apples were simply unavailable, as they were a non-native species to the Americas; it wasn’t until 1625 that the first apple orchard was planted in Boston by a reverend. The potato, which was indigenous to the Americas, was still widely believed to be poisonous by Europeans. The corn that the Native Americans cultivated was a far cry from the ubiquitous sweet corn of today, instead being the hard, grainier kind generally used today as Thanksgiving decorations. The lower sugar content and higher starch content of the variety led to its culinary use as a grain rather than as a vegetable. The Native Americans generally ground it into cornmeal, or cooked the kernels into a soupy stew with beans called succotash. While the Pilgrims had unhindered access to cranberries, they had no access to sugar, and the intense tart taste of the bog fruit was quite off-putting.
So now, having most of what one would call “Thanksgiving foods” eliminated, what did the Pilgrims have in 1621? Roasted turkeys, swans, geese and ducks made up the poultry, which was supplemented by lobster, cod, oysters, eels, pumpkins, bass, chestnuts, gooseberries and a leafy green called purslane, which is now considered a weed and not food. However, the veritable hit of the party was the venison that was contributed by the Native Americans. The Puritans’ tradition of Thanksgiving spread throughout New England as the 17th century progressed. However, it wasn’t until 1777 that Thanksgiving hit a watershed moment. Following the defeat and surrender of British General John Burgoyne at the Battle of Saratoga on Oct. 17, the Continental Congress issued the First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving, drafted by Samuel Adams and declared a victory celebration by George Washington, which set aside Dec. 18 of that year as a day of thanksgiving. While Thanksgiving Days were proclaimed by Presidents Washington, Adams, Madison and numerous state governors, it wasn’t until President Lincoln that Thanksgiving was proclaimed to be the last Thursday of November, a tradition that was followed each year and by all his successors. In 1941, President Roosevelt signed a Congressional bill that stated that Thanksgiving would be the fourth Thursday of November, thus legally recognizing the day as a federal holiday.
How has the food of Thanksgiving changed since 1621? While the Pilgrims and colonials were happy with whatever food they could get their hands on, as it was a celebration of thanks and harvest, turkey became popular throughout the years because it was relatively cheap, plentiful in New England and late autumn happens to be prime hunting season for turkey.
While the Thanksgivings of today bear almost no culinary resemblance to the first ones, they serve as an important reminder: food is something that changes and evolves along with a culture. The culture of the United States today is absolutely nothing like that of the 1600s. The U.S. is much more prosperous and has become a land of diversity. With diversity comes new traditions and movements in culture and society. When you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner with your family this year, take a moment to look at your table and figure out why the foods that are on it are there. I’m willing to bet that somewhere in your family tree, a link was made that led to a dish being included on the table as family tradition. With a holiday so deeply steeped in tradition, it would be a shame not to wonder. Who knows? Perhaps it could lead to family stories and reminiscing around the table as the people of the U.S. think upon all that we are blessed with.
OTM’s Perfect Turkey
Forget basting needles and brushes, and just face it: The only way to get a succulently juicy Thanksgiving turkey is by brining that bird before it roasts. What’s brining? It’s a fancy word that means “soaking in a salt water solution.” Of course, you want to add your own spices to this solution to perfectly season your dinner. While basting simply spreads liquids over or through the turkey, brining introduces the bird to a saline environment, and through the magic of osmosis, brings flavors and moisture to the inside of the turkey. There is no way you’ll have a dry turkey if you brine correctly.
One 14-16 pound frozen young turkey
Two cups kosher salt
Two cups sugar (white or brown, your choice)
Two gallons water
Three bay leaves
Half cup of your favorite herbs and spices
Two tablespoons black peppercorns
One sliced red apple
One onion, quartered
One cinnamon stick
Four to five cloves garlic, peeled
Four springs of rosemary
Six to 10 leaves of sage
Combine all the ingredients for the brining solution in a large stockpot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, allow to cool to room temperature and then refrigerate until ready for use. When turkey is completely defrosted, place in a five gallon bucket and pour brining solution on top. Place in refrigerator and turn occasionally. Turkey can be brined for 24-36 hours, but should brine for a minimum of six hours. When ready to cook, preheat oven to 500 degrees. Remove bird from brine, discard excess liquid, and rinse bird. Pat dry with paper towels. Place all aromatics inside the turkey’s body cavity, and brush bird with canola oil or melted butter. Roast at 500 for 30 minutes, then decrease temperature to 350. Roast until turkey reaches an internal temperature of 161 degrees. Remove and let rest for 15 minutes before carving.
Hungry Hana Hankerin’
So, what the heck. A vegan-friendly Asian restaurant? The Hungry Gaucho thought all Asians ate meat. And on top of that, meatless tacos? What has the world come to, right?
A lot of people have been starting to get curious about the Fat Mo’s replacement. To me it just seemed like a weird unappetizing combo, especially when I was walking down Pardall Road the other day and was approached by one of the Hana Kitchen employees walking out of a half-done building offering me a free taco. Just one word came into my mind: Sketch.
Now, after having tried their tacos, I slightly regret not taking him up on that free taco offer. And since then I’ve learned that the reason the building looks half-done is because they haven’t finished renovating — it makes a lot more sense now, and a lot less sketchy.
As skeptical as I was to try out their food, I promise you it will cause no harm; it is, in fact, actually pretty good. All of their tacos are made with soft tortillas and a tofu substitute. I like tofu, but tofu in Mexican food just seems like an awkward combination. Nonetheless, the $2.75 tacos are still pretty tasty. Out of the two tacos I tried (teriyaki mango and sweet and sour) the sweet and sour was a lot more flavorful. So if you’re a first-timer at Hana Kitchen, I would recommend the sweet and sour taco — even a random guy on the street told me to order than one over the rest.
After talking to one of the employees and kind of getting a sense of how things are going, he said that they hope to get all of their renovation done by the beginning of winter quarter. They will also have their full menu up then, which is to include even more vegan options.
However, to all the people who will never be able to stand meatless tacos, don’t worry because Hana Kitchen is going to have non-vegan options on their final menu, like beef teriyaki bowls. Another good news is that they will serve boba! I know a lot of people on campus who have been boba-deprived, including myself, so hopefully this new restaurant will cure our dry streak.
All in all, it seems that by the time winter quarter rolls around, UCSB students will have a new thing to buzz about. So here’s to the success of this interesting Japanese-Chinese fusion eatery and, more importantly, to the thought of finally being replenished with boba!
The Hungry Gaucho recently found hirself at the end of week six with a barren cupboard, growling stomach and a craving for a warm, toasted sandwich. The easy option would have been to visit one of the many Subway locations on campus and in Isla Vista, but I needed to mix it up. There’s only one place I know of that toasts every sandwich to golden perfection — Quiznos.
Goleta’s only Quiznos is nestled away next to Albertsons in The Plaza on Hollister Ave. I strolled up to the restaurant boasting an oversized “Under New Ownership” sign. I walked in and instantly was met with the wafting scent of fresh ingredients. I glanced up at the menu to peruse the plentiful list of options, waiting for one of the employees to greet me.
After a few uncomfortably long moments of waiting, two girls came from the back room, looking at me expectantly. I politely asked for The Traditional, a sandwich brimming with three different deli meats, all-natural cheddar cheese, lettuce, black olives, fresh tomatoes and topped with buttermilk ranch.
I found my seat at one of the neatly kept tables and eagerly unwrapped my perfectly toasted sandwich. Each ingredient played delightfully off each other, swirling together to create a delicious sandwich, and I was thrilled to bite into a mound of roast beef, turkey and ham.
The sandwich was good — not great, but good — making my $7 sandwich almost worth the cost and the short drive, despite the poor customer service I was met with. Popquiznos: Would this Hungry Gaucho go back? The answer is maybe, but not any time soon.
A version of this article appeared on page 6 of November 14th, 2012’s print edition of the Nexus.