The ultimate guide to Thanksgiving
For our friends across the pond, this Thursday is one of the most important days in their year – Thanksgiving. It’s bigger than Christmas for many American families, with people coming together from miles to spend the day together.
I’m Australian, so I don’t know much about this grand tradition – but luckily for us, Muddy contributor Zoe Dudgeon lived in the States for five years when she was growing up and can tell us all we need to know…
Hello Muddy readers –I know you (like me) are probably gearing up for Christmas by now. Yes, I have brought my first Christmas present – eeek – but wait – there is one bigger event in the holiday calendar to get through beforehand. Thanksgiving: which is this Thursday 24 November.
2016 has been an ‘interesting’ year; starting out with some of our much loved celebrities passing away (David Bowie, Prince and Alan Rickman to name a few), the unexpected Brexit result and now America’s new president Donald Trump – but we still have a lot to be thankful for.
Having spent five years of my youth growing up in America, I want to share some tips on how to enjoy the biggest holiday in America (oh and don’t forget the amazing post-Thanksgiving sales that now accompany it…)
Thanksgiving started in 1621 when the Pilgrims (who came across to America from England on the Mayflower) managed to prosper and produce a successful harvest in New England. The Pilgrims had faced a hard winter of failed crops the previous year, resulting in hundreds of their own starving to death. With assistance from the local Wampanoag Indians, the Pilgrims were able to adapt to their new landscape and this is what Americans still continue to be thankful for today.
Top 5 things to be thankful for
- Friends and family – they are there through the good times and the bad, where would you be without them?
- A roof over your head.
- Food on the table (or in the restaurant, or courtesy of Deliveroo) – after all, eating is what Thanksgiving is all about!
- The beautiful English countryside – it may be cold out but wrapping up warm for some winter air is a treat.
- Your health – we sometimes take it for granted when we are fighting fit.
If you want to go full on American this Thursday try one of these all-American recipes.
Or to us Brits, sweet potatoes with marshmallows. I hear you balking at the idea, and I did at first too, but trust me, they are worth trying. You may be pleasantly surprised, just don’t make them a dinner table regular. This recipe feeds 8.
- 6 big sweet potatoes
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 75g unsalted butter
- 200g plain marshmallow (mini ones are preferable)
- 50g brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
- Optional extras: grated orange peel, pecans, walnuts
- Preheat your oven to gas mark 7/220C/425F. Put the sweet potatoes in a warm oven with some olive oil, salt and pepper and leave to roast for 1 hour. They are ready when cooked all the way through and squishy when poked with a fork.
- Remove the sweet potato skins and discard. Put the insides in a large bowl. Add all the other ingredients, except the marshmallows, and reserve some of the brown sugar for sprinkling on top. The butter should easily melt into the potato.
- Pour the mixture into a large baking tray and cover with mini marshmallows. Sprinkle over the rest of the brown sugar. Bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until the marshmallows have turned a golden brown and gone all-gooey. If you are adding any of the extras then sprinkle these on top half-way through the bake.
- Serve alongside the classic Thanksgiving turkey and trimmings.
A staple dish on all American tables. The Wampanoag Indians’ diet consisted in a large part of corn and maize dishes and this was a new crop for the Pilgrims to adapt to. Half sweet, half savoury it is a great accompaniment to the Thanksgiving dinner.
- 50g butter
- 225g fine cornmeal
- 140g plain flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1½ teaspoon salt
- 2 x 284ml cartons buttermilk (or same quantity semi-skimmed milk with a squeeze of lemon juice)
- 2 eggs
- Heat oven to 230C/fan 210C/gas 8. Grease a cake tin. Melt the butter in a separate pan.
- Combine all the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Beat together the buttermilk and eggs in a separate bowl. Pour over the dry ingredients and mix together until just combined and you have a batter.
- Pour the batter into a standard size cake tin and put in the oven. Bake for 25 minutes until golden and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
- Cool for 10 minutes then turn out, cut into wedges and serve. You can make up to 2 days ahead and store in an airtight container, or freeze for up to 1 month.
If you want a really authentic Thanksgiving experience you need to find some Americans. Luckily, I have an American aunt who loves to cook up a storm and invite us all round (including the neighbours in her street). The atmosphere really is electric.
If you don’t have your own animated American then head to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London for their annual Thanksgiving service which starts at 11 am. There will be a commemoration speech by the US ambassador and lots of American songs for those who like a sing-along.
Round up a few buddies and have a game of American football in the local park. Everyone remembers that Friends episode with the competitive game of American football. Just be sure everyone is playing by the same rules…..
Tune into the 90th Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade from across the pond. Americans go all out for this with everyone from local schools to celebrities taking part. The floats and balloons get more extravagant each year. The main action starts at 9:30 am New York time (don’t forget the 5 hour time difference).
If you are still figuring out who has been naughty or nice on your Christmas list for this year pay attention now. Black Friday has swept across the Atlantic Ocean and is now a huge commercial event in the UK (growing in popularity since 2013). Most high street retailers will participate in this one-day event. Check out River Island, House of Fraser and Topshop.
Black Friday is closely followed by Cyber Monday which sees huge discounts in electronic equipment and what’s more you can shop from the comfort of your own home. Get on the sofa with a glass of wine – time for impulse purchases! Look out for treats from ASOS, Amazon, eBay and Morrisons who are launching deals ahead of the curve.