With all the fun of a Christmas feast minus the pressure of present buying, Thanksgiving is the essential American holiday.
Sarah Pike, of Ohio, has been bringing a taste of Thanksgiving to south Wales, while studying for her PhD with the War and Society and American Studies programmes at Swansea University.
Here Sarah explains what Thanksgiving means to her and shares some tips on how Welsh families can enjoy the celebration, US-style.
“Much more than Halloween or Christmas, Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday,” she said. “On one hand, Thanksgiving means being grateful and giving thanks to the bountiful harvest and food that sustains us as individuals, as communities, and as a nation. But, just as importantly, Thanksgiving means family time, whether through blood, marriage, or the lasting bonds of friendship; and Americans celebrate family, along with food, on the same day, every year.
It stems from the harvest celebrations that the Pilgrims and the other European immigrants brought to the American colonies and nation in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. While it is a celebration, it is much more a time of humbleness and gratefulness, with no expectation of gifts or presents or candy. It’s a warm, welcoming, homey holiday, all about family time.”
Sarah said that food - preparing, sharing and eating it - is a key component of the American Thanksgiving.
“You prepare well in advance, deciding which person’s house you will be eating at, making a traditional menu, shopping the week before and preparing for the day of cooking,” she said.
“On the fourth Thursday, every November, you get up early in the morning and start fixing a huge Thanksgiving meal. While cooking and baking, you decorate your table and dining area with fall and harvest decorations such as leaves, pumpkins and gourds (many variations of pumpkins and squash), creating an autumnal atmosphere. After we give thanks for the bountiful harvest and gorge ourselves, we watch American football on television.”
The Thanksgiving feast in often compared to the British Christmas dinner, but Sarah said there are plenty of differences between the two.
“The turkey is the centrepiece but traditional American foods are at every Thanksgiving as well,” she said. “There’s usually corn in any sort of form (creamed, on the cob, cornbread or corned pudding), sweet potato casserole or pie, as well as pumpkin pie. There will always be stuffing, potatoes (whether mashed, au gratin, cheesy casserole), green bean casserole, gravy, cranberry sauce, dinner rolls and various other pies.
In different regions, you will find other additions. In the South, you’ll find ambrosia on the table, which is a sweet dish of fruit, coconut flakes, and whipped cream; in the Southwest, Latin/Central/South American spices are used far more; in coastal areas, there’s more use of shellfish and fish in dishes. For dessert, you will always, always, always have pumpkin pie.”
The preparation of the pies was a duty that Sarah wanted to take on from an early age.
“When I was growing up, mom made the entire dinner,” she said. “But we kids were able to help with the prep work, getting all the things together for her, then cutting, mixing, and then eventually graduating to pouring and making some of the dishes on our own. As a child, I always wanted to make the pies, so I was allowed to mix together the pumpkin pie, chocolate pie and pecan pie.
Even now, I get excited about pumpkin pie. It is my favourite; I could eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But, most importantly, I am excited about one holiday being devoted to being thankful for everything that I have, especially family.”
This recipe comes from my great-grandmother, Sarah Stover Pike. It was written down in 1948, when she and her husband ‘Pikey’ (my great-grandfather) travelled from Kansas to Chicago to visit family during the Thanksgiving holiday. When my great-grandmother made it she never measured anything, but because it was ‘the best pumpkin pie recipe in the family’, her daughter-in-law, Edna, took careful measurements and finally wrote it down.
Mix in order:
Pour into unbaked nine-inch pastry shell and bake at 450 degrees until crust is lightly browned, then reduce heat to 350 degrees until filling is ‘set’. (Bake at 425 degrees and then 325 degrees if using a glass pie pan.) It may be taken from the oven when the centre is just a bit shaky.
2/3 of this recipe will fill a 7” or 8” pie
If you want to use fresh pumpkin, cut it in half, clean out seeds, and bake, cut side down, on greased cookie sheet at about 300 degrees until pulp is soft. Scrape pumpkin out of shell. (It can be frozen at this point for later use.) When you’re ready to make pie, put cooked pumpkin into food processor, add eggs, and process until smooth. Then proceed with recipe as above.