0 Comments and 0 Reactions

What is Thanksgiving to you? Tasting the food – no Turkey required

I get that Thanksgiving is an important holiday in the United States and many other countries as well and I am all for finding any reason at all to get the whole family together a few times a year and have a great meal and spend time with each other. What I don’t always get is the Turkey part. When did that come in? Has it always been about the Turkey? It likely has not. Early pilgrim festivities are said to have included many other, more readily available types of fowl and seafood, like lobster, duck, seal, eel and cod. And there is also something amiss with the story of Thanksgiving as such. For starters, where was the first thanksgiving celebration in North America? Most people assume it was the well-known 1621 harvest celebration  of the Pilgrims in New England. But beyond the many myths associated with that event, there are other claims to the first American thanksgiving celebration. These include Juan Ponce De Leon’s landing in Florida in 1513, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado’s service of thanksgiving in the Texas Panhandle in 1541, as well as two claims for thanksgiving observances in Jamestown, Virginia — in 1607 and 1610.

But the offering of thanks at harvest time is not unique to America. Such observances are known to have been held by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and many other cultures throughout history. The American celebration itself is an historically recent development, in fact connected only tenuously to any of the so-called “first” thanksgivings. The American thanksgiving of 1621 was all but forgotten until the 19th century. The 1621 event was not repeated, and what many consider the first authentic Calvinist, religious thanksgiving did not take place until 1623 in Plymouth Colony. Even then it was celebrated only occasionally in some regions for decades, and has only been a U.S. national holiday on the fourth Thursday in November since the 1940s. President Lincoln declared a national Day of Thanksgiving on October 3, 1863. But it was a one-time event, and future Thanksgiving observances were based on the whims of various presidents until President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a bill creating the current holiday in 1941.

My own understanding of Thanksgiving was formed by my upbringing in Germany. We have what’s called Erntedankfest, which is a harvest festival and most often associated with the church. Farmers would bring samples of what mother earth has allowed them to harvest to the altar to be blessed and then shared with the congregation.

Amongst the offering there was always freshly baked rye or sourdough bread that is moist and dense with a thick crunchy crust. Germany is renowned for it’s many bread varieties and rightly proud of it’s artisan breads. Yes, admittedly our cuisine is heavy on the starches but nothing beats a slice of freshly baked German bread. The loaves where usually made as little single portion loaves for the festival so that everyone could have their own.

Fresh beets, radishes and carrots were another staple item at the event and the taste of fresh bread and a white radish with a bit of salt still lingers to this day.

Fall fruit would often round off the offerings.

And finally, depending on the region there was always wine or beer to be had as one would expect from a proper German festival. I grew up in Wuerzburg, a beautiful postcard of a town in Frankonia that is renowned for its, mostly dry wines that are often sold in round bottles called Bocksbeutel.

Renowned in an interesting way. Everyone in Germany knows Frankonian wine but very few people outside of the country do. This has largely to do with  hardly any of it being made for export. Winemakers refuse to join larger trade groups that would further export and are quite happy to produce just enough to sell to their local clientele. While I hate hardly ever being able to buy some in the US I have full respect for what’s happening there. And yes, even as a little girl I was a given a glass of wine or a Schorle (mixed with sparkling water). Wine is part of life and I think i turned out alright despite that.

There are of course festivals all over where people sit down and eat their fare share of goose, duck or venison for the celebration but to me, the most memorable part was not about gorging myself and then spending the afternoon barely conscious on the couch. It was about the simplicity of the even and the texture and taste of each piece of fruit, vegetable and bread. Not cooked or processed but as they were intended.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of our readers and to the talented and insightful bloggers we’ve had the chance to meet through Let’s Blog Off. Please be sure to read what these fine folks have to say about the holiday. I’m certain some great new recipes will be part of this.

Paul Anater @paul_anater Kitchen and Residential Design
Nick Lovelady @cupboards Cupboards Kitchen and Bath
Sean Lintow, Sr. @SLSconstruction Homeowners & Trades Resource Center
Amy Good @Splintergirl Thoughts of a Splinter Girl
Cindy FrewenWuellner @Urbanverse Urbanverse’s Posterous
Steve Mouzon @stevemouzon Original Green
Saxon Henry @saxonhenry Roaming by Design
David Mathias @woodandlight Greene and Greene Furniture: Poems of Wood and Light
Denese Bottrell @Denese_Bottrell Thoughtful Content
Betsy De Maio @egrgirl Just Sayin’
Ginny Powell @GinnyPowell In The Loop
Ami @beckami Multifarious Miscellany
  • http://www.kitchenandresidentialdesign.com Paul Anater

    Great post Veronika and thanks for talking about your heritage, I love hearing about other people’s cultures and histories.

  • http://www.dogwalkblog.com DogWalkBlog

    No. No, no, no, no no. Everyone knows that the first Thanksgiving was held in Jamestown and the pilgrims and the indians both got together to eat turkey, jelled cranberry sauce, yams, stuffing and pumpkin pie topped with Cool-Whip. This is recorded fact and learned by every school kid in America since Kindergarten (NOT a German word, BTW) Turkey is required. *sticking fingers in ears* lalalalalalalalalala :-)

  • http://www.cft411.com Joseph

    I think DogWalkBlog has it exactly right. It was always the Pilgrims and the Indians… maybe! For me, though, it has always been turkey!

  • http://urbanverse.posterous.com cindy frewen wuellner

    Veronika, is that where you got the K in your name? sign me up for some of that bread… that’s the real deal. wow Wuerzburg, how did you ever leave? happy thanksgiving… in whatever culture. cindy @urbanverse

  • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

    As a proud member of the Cherokee Nation, I concur with Rufus. Turkey is an absolute must – several actually because one turkey is dedicated to the preparation of the gravy.

    You can never have too much gravy

  • admin

    Thank you very much for the NICE comment Paul, it is as ever appreciated. I enjoy Turkey day as well since it is a holiday here and not really one in Europe, but I thought it would be great to really dig into my memories and those are the things I’m most fond of.

    And thank you Cindy. Yes the K is a German thing, the bread is better than anywhere else in the world and Wuerzburg is beautiful and a must see for anyone into Rococo and Baroque architecture. My Highschool is actually just below the castle you see in the distance on the picture.

    And now to the rest of you carnivores. Dogwalk, you’re a dog and as such are entitled to a good peace of meat. But the fact is that there is a reason for the Turkey and that is lack of goose. Europe uses goose for fall festivals and of course for Christmas and, goose is more flavorful and actually require much less of that coveted gravy Bob. :)
    As an aside, my heritage is pure germanic on one side and a blend of – wait for it – British (in the US since 1485), French and Mohawk. Deal with that! Why do I get the feeling that likely only the pilgrims got the bird or were we still sharing resources at the time?

    But Turkey, goose or cabbage – I wish you all a great Thanksgiving :)

  • http://www.eco-modernism.com Becky / @ecomod

    That’s weird: in the grocery this weekend I was looking at the turnips & beets & thinking that I have no clue whatsoever how to cook those! Closest I’ve come to them is strawberry & rhubarb pie, which was surprisingly good. Interesting post!

  • http://www.dogwalkblog.com DogWalkBlog

    @V, I can only respond in the most mature way I can think of this early in the morning: Phhhhhhhhttttttttttttt :-) Happy Thanksgiving, however you celebrate.

  • http://roamingbydesign.com Saxon Henry

    Cool-Whip in Jamestown, Rufus; seriously? It was Ready Whip, you tease!

    As always, V, you’ve stirred everyone up and had us all frothing at the mouth, which is why we love you so! Such great mouth-watering images and descriptions that make me want to try Thanksgiving in another country next year (my menu and guest-list is set for this year). Loved hanging with you last weekend. Let’s scare up a holiday hook-up on the horizon! We’ll all torture Tim by making sure we have creamy peanut butter in every dish!


Sign In to Modenus

Sign in or register to save favorite items, create a portfolio, or apply to become a Modenus trade pro!

Already have a Modenus account?  Sign in here:

  1. Forgot your password?

Don't have a Modenus account?  Create one using any of these:


Forgot your password?  We'll email you instructions on how to reset it:

  1. Return to sign in

Password reset instructions have been sent to your email address you@example.com.

If you don't see them, make sure you check your spam folder!

Return to sign in

Register for a Modenus account by filling in the information below:

I accept the Terms & Conditions.

Change Your Modenus Password

Manage Your Account Settings

  1.  Email me new & changed products for the brands I follow