A Day of Preparation

Today will be a baking day at our home. With a kitchen and an oven that is new to us, we decided that we didn’t want to risk putting off all of the preparations until tomorrow morning. Also, frankly, our retirement lifestyle seems to involve sleeping in a bit in the mornings. So we’ll be baking buns and pies today. Susan announced some time ago that this Thanksgiving dinner would feature foods chosen by the whole family. She asked each of us to name one food that we wanted for our feast. She chose turkey and a nice turkey was ordered at the grocery store. I chose buns. I’ve been baking buns for Thanksgiving for most of our married life. My mother was an excellent bread baker and each thanksgiving she made dinner rolls that were just right for sandwiches with leftovers. When we were married, I took over the bread baking because I had the recipes and the tradition. I still love the smell of bread baking and the taste of warm rolls, fresh from the oven. The thing about baking a day ahead is that a few of the buns will be consumed before the rest of the family arrives tomorrow.

Our son chose jellied cranberries - the kind you buy in the can and serve - no preparation necessary. Our daughter-in-law is making two different vegetable casseroles: one with beans and another with squash. Our oldest grandchild picked apple pie. Our middle grandchild picked pumpkin pie. Our youngest grandchild picked ice cream. I sense a theme in the choices of the children. When we did our big shopping trip on Monday, I noticed that the list included ingredients for a few more foods such as stuffing, potatoes, and much more. It will be a feast for sure.

So we will also be baking pies today. Now about those pies: There is little known about the original harvest festival held by the Pilgrims of Plymouth colony in the 17th Century. The feast is mentioned in William Bradford’s journal “Of Plymouth Plantation.” We do know that there were only 53 surviving Pilgrims, down half from the 102 that arrived on the Mayflower. The survival of those Pilgrims was thanks to considerable help from members of the Wampanoag tribe, thanks in no small part to the fact that a member of the tribe, Squanto, spoke fluent English, having earlier been taken as a slave to England. Facing their second winter on the North American continent, the Pilgrims had much more ample food supplies than was the case a year earlier. According to Bradford, about 70 members of the Wampanoag were included in the celebration. Chances are it was a bit like a church potluck, with everyone bringing food to contribute to the feast. It seems fairly certain that no one brought pie.

Pie crust requires butter, or some other shortening, and flour. Neither of those staples were available in any quantity in those early days of the colony. That also means that there were probably no dinner rolls at that feast, either. The Pilgrims would have been focusing on their newly acquired skills of survival in the new place, not on the recipes of England, where pies were as often filled with meat and vegetables as with fruit and berries.

Various squash, including pumpkins, might have been on the menu, but there is no record of the exact foods that were served. It is unlikely that our granddaughter’s choice of pumpkin pie is based on extensive study of the practices of the Plymouth colony. Since she is only six years old, I suspect that it came as much from the stories she has read and the reports of her friends as from any long-standing family tradition.

The civil engineer and poet Richard Blanco, in his collection, “How to Love a Country,” makes mention of pumpkin pie. In his Cuban-American immigrant family pumpkin - calabasa - “was a home remedy for ulcers, not a dessert.” His poem about an immigrant family’s attempt at a celebration of the American holiday is delightful and funny.

I’m glad our granddaughter chose pumpkin pie. I happen to like it. Furthermore, I think it is important that we teach children that pumpkins are food. After years of various Halloween celebrations with the children of the church, I’m always a bit surprised that there are quite a few children who think of pumpkins as decorations, not as food. They remove the insides without any knowledge of the flavor of roasted pumpkin seeds. Then they carve a jack-o-lantern that lasts for about a week before it is thrown away. In our South Dakota home, the jack-o-lanterns were a special treat for the deer, who sometimes even found the courage to venture onto the porch to get a snack before they were taken to the compost pile.

Apple pie is a natural for Washington, a state that produces a lot of apples. In the years when we lived in South Dakota and our son lived in Washington, we always returned with at least one box of apples. They are delicious, plentiful and relatively inexpensive here. So we’ll have the luxury of two kinds of apples for our pie. Granny Smiths are rich in pectin and provide a bit of tart as well as firm flesh. Sweet apples will round out the flavor.

I already know that the temptation to take a test taste of the pies will be resisted. It is too obvious when you try to snitch a snack from a pie. The treat will be saved for tomorrow. After all, there is much joy in preparation and anticipation. Waiting is part of the fun of a celebration. And as we prepare, we are aware that for our daughter, who is in Japan where it is a day ahead of our time zone, will already be celebrating their last Thanksgiving in that country before they move back to the United States in February.

We’ll also know that in our house the celebration and feast will continue after the actual day with leftovers and a big pot of turkey soup on the menu for next week.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!