Wednesday, November 26, 2014

American cookbooks and what they say about Thanksgiving

In celebration of Thanksgiving, my favorite national holiday, I've looked through a number of my American cookbooks for ways that diverse people in many regions of the country enjoy the holiday. Here are a few examples of Thanksgiving celebrations from these books, illustrating the many ways that Americans vary the traditional menu.

As you can see, this  was a remaindered book. I have to admit,
I haven't really read it much or tried any of the recipes.
American Food: The Gastronomic Story by Evan Jones was first published in the 1970s with a revised edition in 1990. It was ambitious and in fact ponderous to read -- but I'm afraid it never made much of an impression in the cookbook literature. It does have an amusing little bit on Thanksgiving, though, explaining that in the past, a turkey recipe would start with instructions on how to fatten your bird. He quotes an 1881 book titled Los Angeles Cookery:
"The cook was advised to 'Get your turkey six weeks before you need it: put him in a coop just large enough to let him walk ... give him walnuts -- one the first day, and increase every day one until he has nine; then go back to one and up to nine until you kill him, stuffing him twice with corn meal  each day, in which you put a little chopped onion and celery, if you have it.'" (p. 324)
I guess that the cornmeal stuffing was administered to the bird along with the walnuts, not meant as a recipe for post-slaughter turkey stuffing. Jones gives a recipe for a Tennessee sausage stuffing made with chestnuts.

This totally American book on grilling has several pages devoted to
cooking a whole turkey on your outdoor grill. I think this
Thanksgiving tradition is limited to the warmer regions of the US!
Rachel Laudan's book on Hawaiian foods describes many ethnic groups
that have contributed to the complex Hawaiian cuisines.
In The Food of Paradise, Lauden includes this description of one family's merging of several Hawaiian food traditions -- "One Miss Hawaii described her Thanksgiving dinner for me: turkey, dressing, rice, sashimi, sushi, macaroni salad, jello salad, namasu (cucumber salad), mashed potatoes, and kim chee." (p. 23)

Another item from my collection is a completely classic cookbook -- the original New York Times Cookbook edited by Craig Claiborn (1961).

Claiborn featured several ways to cook turkey, along with this two-page spread on how to carve the turkey.

Joan Nathan's Jewish Cooking in America identified several recipes from various Jewish cooks that could feature at Thanksgiving tables. "A Jewish-Cuban Thanksgiving meal is American in the real melting-pot sense," she wrote. "It includes a roasted turkey as the centerpiece surrounded by cranberry sauce, plantains, rice, black beans, and stuffed derma [i.e. kishka, casing made from beef intestine], with pumpkin pie for dessert." (p. 125)

Moroccan-Jewish pumpkin soup with chick-peas is another specialty Nathan suggests for Thanksgiving dinner. (p. 128) Also, she tells a story of a charitable Thanksgiving in 19th century Providence, and offers two recipes associated with this story, one for chestnut stuffing, the other for Virginia corn-bread stuffing. (p. 210-211)

Lewis Lewisson's Thanksgiving story and the stuffing recipe.

Marcie Cohen Ferris documented the foodways of the Jews of Atlanta, New Orleans, the Mississippi Delta and other locations in the South. We read her book Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South last week in my culinary book club. Some of the details about the extreme efforts of Jews to fit into Southern life made us uncomfortable -- such as the Jewish embrace of slavery before the Civil War and of employing black kitchen servants ever since. However, we agreed that the author had collected a vast quantity of interesting material -- maybe too much. We wished she had shortened some of the repetitive lists and other repetitions and given more historical context for the trends she described. 

Among the many Jewish-Southern fusion dishes Ferris describes is Thanksgiving Cornbread Oyster Dressing. "This is a true southern and Jewish combination, schmaltz (chicken fat) and oysters (nonkosher shellfish)," she wrote.

Of course if you want a vast choice of Thanksgiving recipes, you can always find them online. (Though it's a bit late now, since tomorrow is IT!) Dozens of bloggers for the last few weeks have been offering their best recipes for turkey, dressing/stuffing, pie, and sides. The archive of the late Gourmet magazine has a page of links to Thanksgiving recipes published there in the past. The LA Times suggests "A most excellent Thanksgiving." Food and Wine provides recipes for a vegetarian or even vegan Thanksgiving.  And the New York Times has a fascinating list of most-googled recipes state by state.

I hope you have a wonderful holiday!

My blog post today celebrates both Thanksgiving and Cookbook Wednesday, for which I join Louise and other bloggers. On my cookbook post last Wednesday I discussed Sunset cookbooks. In response, several people told me that their favorite Thanksgiving recipes were originally from Sunset. Indeed, Sunset cookbooks are a treasure of American cooking literature. I've also already written a about the most classic of American cookbooks, The Joy of Cooking. 


~~louise~~ said...

Another GREAT Cookbook Wednesday post, Mae. You really have captured not only the essence of Thanksgiving cooking, but also why we've been celebrating cookbooks!!!

Thank you so much for sharing, Mae. Safe travels, and you have a wonderful holiday too:)

Jeanie said...

Fascinating. I wonder what the walnuts do for the bird?

Wish I'd read this before TG to have some good tidbits to share at dinner. You would get on well with my friend Jane who is a historic preservationist but also a bit of a food historian with a huge cookbook collection -- always interested in how the cookbooks reflected the times! I will re-read this one again!