Academy Kids Gobble Up Gratitude for Thanksgiving

Photo by Robin Seeley  Leila, Roan and Enzo display their Thanksgiving bounty: colorful candy turkeys with potatoes that they mashed themselves.

Academy Kids Gobble Up Gratitude for Thanksgiving

 

This month the Culinary Academy of Post Street made edible effigies of turkeys together with the traditional turkey-sidekick, mashed potatoes with gravy. That got the kids wondering why we always celebrate Thanksgiving with the same meal. What’s the scoop?

It boils down to this: every country needs its own origin story. In the United States, that story focuses on the Mayflower Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving. For more, see historian Nathaniel Philbrick’s acclaimed book, Mayflower.

More than half the Mayflower passengers had died of deprivation and disease during their first year in the New World. The survivors owed a huge debt of gratitude to Pakanoket tribal Chief Massasoit and his headship tribe of the Wampanoag Indian Nation. 

The Indians had taught the newcomers how to cultivate the relatively barren land: stick a fish into a soil mound to fertilize the seed corn, and then plant beans and squash around the mound. The corn stalk provides a beanpole and the squash and beans help keep the weeds at bay. 

The Patuxet Indian, Squanto, also played a crucial role as interpreter. He was drawn to the Pilgrims because they had settled on the vacant site of his former village, which had been wiped out by a plague during his extended sojourn in England.

Who was on board the Mayflower when it landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620? Half of the 102 passengers were not Pilgrims at all, just adventurers seeking a fresh start. The rest were Puritans. In 17th century England, a mainstream Puritan wanted to “purify” or purge the Church of England of all traces of Catholicism. The Pilgrims were separatist Puritans, however. Their radical interpretations of church doctrine subjected them to discrimination and oppression at home. They chose to leave England to practice their idiosyncratic religion free from state interference. 

First they went to tolerant Leiden, Holland. But after several years there, they realized their children were growing up to be Dutch, not English. So they set their sights on the New World.

Back then, the only good time to embark on a transatlantic voyage was in spring or early summer. Indeed, that was the Pilgrims’ original intent. But by the time they had circumnavigated all their logistical hurdles, it was already September. Setting sail so late in the year demonstrated their desperation. And they weren’t just risking the lives of hardy young men, either. Almost half the passengers were women (including pregnant women) and children. After their harrowing, 66-day voyage, they finally made landfall on Nov. 11 at Cape Cod before moving on to the site they called Plymouth.

The following year, in late September or early October, Chief Massasoit and his entourage appeared unannounced at Plymouth Colony. The English settlers were very grateful for the modest bounty of their first harvest and seized the opportunity to thank the Indians. Hence the feast. To supplement the vegetarian offerings of corn, beans and squash (potatoes weren’t on the menu), the Pilgrims likely served wild turkeys, ducks and perhaps even fish. Probably no pie! The Indians reciprocated by going hunting for deer to provide even more hearty fare.

The celebration certainly didn’t take place at a long table set with fine china. Participants would have eaten outdoors while keeping warm around the fires under the roasting spits. We know the feasting went on for days. 

In memory of the brave Pilgrims, the Culinary Academy of Post Street kids prepared their own little Thanksgiving feast in my kitchen. They stuffed candy corn into creme-filled cookies and used melted chocolate as glue to attach a mini peanut butter cup and a Hershey Kiss as the turkey body and head. Then they mounted their turkey on a ginger snap, so it looked like it was standing on dirt. They also had fun mashing their own potatoes. 

None of these poor turkeys got pardoned, however, as the young chefs mercilessly gobbled up their lesson. 

As the kids now appreciate, the Pilgrims gave thanks for their first harvest almost 400 years ago in a strange new land after overcoming many hardships. On the fourth Thursday in November, Americans still give thanks for the many gifts they’ve enjoyed in the same strange, amazing land that we call home. Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Photo by Robin Seeley This candy-corn turkey is a tasty combination of creme-filled chocolate wafers, a mini peanut butter cup and a Hershey’s Kiss, all sitting on a ginger snap. Leila, Roan and Enzo said their turkeys were fun make (and eat).

 

Robin Seeley helps the Post Street kids appreciate the holidays with stories and food.