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4 food facts about Thanksgiving

Posted by Garrett Flynn, November 2020

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Thanksgiving and food go hand in hand, but did you know where some of these food traditions originate?

Most closely associated with the United States of America, Thanksgiving is in fact celebrated in several countries and on several different dates. In non-COVID times, families and friends travel to gather together and eat great food. Are you interested to find out why certain foods are a must-have at the Thanksgiving feast?


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Whilst turkeys are synonymous with contemporary images of Thanksgiving, they arrived relatively late to the party with duck and goose being at the center of the table in early times. In fact, Turkey really only gained widespread popularity as a Thanksgiving dish from around 1863, when President Lincoln declared the day a national holiday. Turkey is a bird native to the USA and would have been plentiful in the wild, before the modern day farmed turkey made an appearance.


Approximately 88% of Americans surveyed by the National Turkey Federation eat turkey at Thanksgiving and as many as 46 million turkeys were consumed this year!



Cranberry sauce made with sugar was also not a central part of the Thanksgiving meal until the 19th century. By the early 20th century, farmers began harvesting cranberries in bogs instead of dry-harvesting, which led to cranberry sauce becoming far more widely available and hence in time, a Thanksgiving staple.


Cranberries are one of only a small handful of commercially grown fruits native to the United States, so if you’re going to pick a fruit to represent the American harvest, this is it. Their presence in the US long predates the arrival of the sugar cane so would have traditionally been eaten unsweetened. The addition of a simple water and sugar solution, and the creation of the cranberry sauce as we know it today arrived much later.



Eggnog, the popular stateside festive drink appears to have its origins in England where alcohol was added to egg and milk based spiced drinks to preserve them for longer. From about 1775, Eggnog as it was becoming known (the name linked to ‘grog’ a colloquial term for rum), was becoming prevalent in the US, with rum as the alcoholic component. Later, bourbon and brandy featured and even moonshine.


Today, eggnog is consumed from Thanksgiving Day through to New Years.



Pumpkin Pie, another integral part of the American Thanksgiving Day menu, only gained traction as a festive dessert in the 19th century. It had been around in various forms for a couple of centuries – early American settlers may have filled a hollowed out pumpkin shell with milk, honey and spices and then baked it in hot ashes. The addition of pastry and sugar making it into the sweet treat it is today, came later as sugar and flour became far more widely available from the 1800s onwards.


It is considered that the publication in 1796 of the first cookbook written and published in America, American Cookery, championing recipes for foods native to America was the first commercial publication of a recipe for a pumpkin pudding baked in a crust and similar to present day pumpkin pies.

It's a good time of year in Ireland to lay your hands on a pumpkin or two. Why not try baking a Pumpkin Pie?

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