Food lover’s holiday


There’s no holiday that stimulates the palate quite like Thanksgiving. Oh, I know food shouldn’t be our reason for looking forward to it. Despite the problems our citizens face we still have plenty to be thankful for, and I hope we never forget why we celebrate the holiday. It’s more than a time to stuff ourselves.

That said, it’s hard not to look forward to the food. It seems each region of the country has its own traditional staples. Turkey generally finds its way into most homes regardless of the locale, but the way we prepare it might vary a little.

Since deep fried turkey is largely cooked outside it stands to reason it is more popular in warmer regions. Louisiana and Kentucky were the first states to document the technique about 80 years ago. In California, grilled turkey is quite popular, and that tradition is spreading. It’s pretty common around here.

Collards are a major tradition in the south. It seems you can find them anywhere this time of year, but I never ate them growing up in Maine. We never had sweet potato biscuits or pecan pie either. Boiled onions and turnips were always on the table. I like both vegetables, but I never cared for either cooked that way. Raw or grilled suit my palate much better. We always had plenty of sweet apple cider, which I do relish.

Stuffed lobster is a Maine tradition, but it was too pricy for our Thanksgiving meal. Besides, we didn’t live on the coast where it was more prevalent and part of local culture. Mussels are popular holiday fare in many northern coastal places too.

For dessert, pumpkin and sweet potato pies are interchangeable. In fact, many can’t tell the difference, but pumpkin is more popular further north. We could grow pumpkins in Maine, but the season was too short for sweet potatoes. Whether used as a dessert, casserole or vegetable, sweet potatoes are as common on a southern Thanksgiving table as winter squash is on a New England one.

When I lived in West Virginia, mincemeat was a popular Thanksgiving treat. Pies were the usual use, but my mother-in-law made great mincemeat cookies. They were always loaded with freshly collected black walnuts and shagbark hickory nuts. Apple pie, green beans, deviled eggs, mashed potatoes and gravy always adorned her table too.

Stuffing seems to be a staple everywhere, but cornbread stuffing seems to be more popular here than wheat bread or rice-based types. Blue cornbread stuffing is popular in southwestern places. It’s usually spiced a little hotter too. We always stuffed our bird when I was young, but that is frowned upon now. The flavor and moistness were tough to beat though, and it’s funny how we never got sick. Maybe we had better immune systems back in the day.

In Texas and other border states Mexican-style cooking abounds. They sport a different pumpkin dish on the Thanksgiving table. Pumpkin empanadas are miniature pumpkin pie-like tarts. Corn pudding is a Midwestern tradition. When in Hawaii expect Thanksgiving dishes spiced with coconut, papaya, pineapple, macadamia nuts and other local staples. You might even find recipes incorporating spam.

 

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com). I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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