Thursday, November 25, 2010


It’s a long line of 390 American meals, from that first mythical Thanksgiving in 1621 to today. Thanksgiving is our secular Yom Kippur, shared in the Americas by everyone across cultures and religions, no matter where you were born or how you will die, a day of thanks and atonement, when you greet your family with love and food (are they different?) and join to think about what’s good in your life, what’s real, what matters.

Thanksgiving is unique in that it celebrates not military victory, or religious myth, or how our culture and way of life is best, but a simple meal. It’s a holiday not just with food traditions, but, at its heart, about food. With no historical or religious basis other than a meal that someone decided to write about, it is unique in the world as holiday created for and sustained by households, about house holding.

Thanksgiving serves faith over religion, ordinary people rather than heros, and, ironically, production and creation rather than purchase and consumption. It remains unique in American culture as a holiday that has resisted commercialization, if not escaping it entirely. As our media and politics try to rend us into competing tribes, Thanksgiving reminds us how we are alike, and that America is strong because of our e pluribus unum ethos. Sensitized in my lifetime to what Thanksgiving augured for Native peoples, even this tragic history can serve to alert us to our need to come together, even if just once a year, to remember how vulnerable all are to blind faith, unchecked consumption, military overreach, and the worship of heroes over neighbors.

When you emigrate to America you bring your culture with you. But we give you Thanksgiving once you get here, and the gift makes you an American.

I hope you are surrounded today by your loved ones, even the ones that set your teeth on edge the rest of the year. I hope you are sharing the pie from your great-grandmother’s recipe, and the Mexican chutney that your granddaughter found on line. Remember how food and tradition bind us, from the sister of your blood, to the sister of your heart, to the sisters you will never meet, but who connect you nonetheless.

Apple pie with candied wintermelon
Use your favorite apple pie recipe (mine came from my mother's ancient Woman's Home Companion Cook Book). Substitute about 1/3 of the apples with candied wintermelon. Here's how to preserve it:

Preserving wintermelon
(or any firm melon like cantelope or honeydew. This will not work with watermelon)

• Remove the outer green skin of the wintermelon and cut approximately 1 lb winter melon into finger length sticks just like french fries.
• Blanch melon by putting into a pot of fresh water with 1 tsp of baking soda, and bring to a rapid boil for 3 minutes. Transfer the melon to a colander to drain.
• Heat 2 cups of sugar with 1 pint of water in a shallow pan until dissolved. Bring the syrup to the boil. Turn down heat to low.
• Transfer the drained melon to the pot of syrup. Press a plate on top of the melon to immerse the fruit in the syrup. Bring the syrup slowly to a simmer and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes; do not let it boil.
• Take the pan from the heat and allow cooling. Do not drain. Leave it in the syrup for 24 hours whilst leaving the fruit undisturbed. Carefully lift the fruit from the syrup and leave to drain for 30 minutes.
• Transfer the fruit to wax paper or parchment and leave until dry,and store in an airtight container.

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