Thanksgiving dinner is a North American tradition that dates back to Martin Frobisher, an English explorer, who celebrated his and his crews’ survival of the severe winter in what is today Newfoundland and Labrador in 1578.
A few years later, Samuel Champlain, the French governor of Quebec, started organizing feasts of thanks and sharing the foods of colonists with their First nation neighbors.
The government in 1879 as blessings of an abundant harvest officially institutionalized the tradition of Thanksgiving in Canada.
Nature’s bounty is also celebrated on the European continent albeit in a different fashion with definitely different food.
The Thanksgiving dinner is the one moment of the year when time can be made to stand still. Families get together and share their food, recipes, and exchange information about changes in their lives.
In Canada roast turkey is a staple and every family claims the best technique if not the stuffing.
The turkey first the first settlers prepared was a completely different bird to the one today.
Modern North American agribusiness has managed to de-nature turkey by breeding it bigger and with bigger breasts. Heirloom breeds taste much gamier and possess more flavour. Today’s turkeys contain more white meat, but certainly less flavor.
Commercial turkey farms grow turkeys to weigh 13Kg in four months, whereas only 20 years ago it took almost nine months for the bird to reach 11 Kg. This has been achieved with feed formulation and confining the birds to restricted cage-like contraptions.
You can buy turkey breasts and proceed from there, but be aware that the meat will be flavorless a.k.a flavourfree. Dark turkey meat goes to processing companies to produce a range of products i.e turkey sausages, -burgers, “bacon” etc.
Chestnut stuffing is standard, but there are many alternatives including giblet stuffing. Chestnuts are not native to North America; pilgrims brought them form England or Italy. Today a good portion of chestnuts is imported from China, but those from Italy’s Abruzzo region taste much better.
Roasted sweet potatoes with marshmallow represent a staple, but both combined tend to be too sweet and detract the palate. Of course I have not forgotten about the appetizer, which could be smoked salmon, a tradition of First Nations. They do it right and call it salmon candy, but you can also make a mousse of smoked salmon or a tartare of smoked salmon and serve with toast.
These days much of what passes for smoked salmon comes from fish farms on either coast, but can also originate in southern Chile or even Norway.
Some smokers like to employ hot smoke others prefer cold smoke. The latter yields a milder, more entertaining but softer product.
Then in most cases pumpkin pie concludes the meal. Yet pumpkins today are too sweet, and with sweet pastry the sweetness overcomes the palate. It also burdens the stomach.
These days families are getting smaller and a big turkey may be too much. Left overs must be imaginatively used in form of turkey sandwiches, soups, diced into sauces, and laced over pasta.
Here is a menu that would suit a small family and could represent a welcome change.
Tartare of smoked salmon
Roast free-range Chicken (Preferably from Mennonites, if close by, or other traditional communities. If none is available an organic chicken will do).
Parsley root puree, squash polenta, sautéed rapini with walnuts
Mixed salad, vinaigrette dressing
Mini pumpkin pie
Note Bene: Instead of dinner rolls you can serve popovers.
For wines(s) salmon would be best with a Chablis, or un-oaked or barely oaked chardonnay from Ontario, or Chile, or South Africa, or Australia.
A Beaujolais or light Pinot Noir would go well with the roast chicken. If you prefer white go with an Alsatian or Ontario Riesling.
Pumpkin pie calls for a sweet wine that must be sweeter than the dessert. A late harvest sauvignon blanc from Chile would enhance it well, of course a late harvest Riesling from Ontario will be excellent as well. If you want to splurge, select an icewine.
For truffles (providing they are made with regular chocolate), select a Late Bottled Vintage port from Taylor and see how delectable it will be.
You won’t forget such a meal for a long time to come, but you have to plan well and cook as many dishes as you can in advance.