Long before the three-day, 1621 Plymouth Thanksgiving feast, the Native American Indians, the Europeans, and the people from different cultures around the world, celebrated the harvest season by giving thanks to God. Certainly, those early pilgrims and settlers of America were thankful for the ability to survive and to have enough food to eat. Today, we are blessed to have an over abundance of good food in our nation, and we need to show our gratitude to God for providing so bountifully for us, as well as for giving us the great fertile and rich land in which we live.
Not only do we need to give thanks to God for blessing us so greatly, but we need to remember that some of these blessings come through our nation’s farmers. The menu on many of our Thanksgiving tables is filled because the American farmer is efficient and is willing to put forth the necessary time, effort, and expense to produce a quality food product, whether that product is fruit, vegetables, meat, or dairy. Four of the most traditional American Thanksgiving foods are turkey, cranberries, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin.
Thanksgiving Day is America’s favorite day to eat turkey. In 2012, American farmers raised approximately 254 million turkeys for consumption. This was up by about 2% from the 2011 total, according to USDA statistics. Forty-six million turkeys being raised this year—or 736 million pounds of turkey—will end up on Thanksgiving tables, according to the National Turkey Federation. Minnesota is the number one turkey producing state, while Missouri ranks fourth.
Turkeys were native to North America and were domesticated by the American Indians. The earliest European explorers returned home with some of these domesticated turkeys and introduced them into European agriculture. A century later, in America, as our new nation was being established and her shapers were contemplating a national symbol, Benjamin Franklin said he preferred the turkey to the bald eagle as the official U.S. bird. He later explained in a letter to his daughter that, “it [the turkey] is a much more respectable bird and a true original native of America.” We know Franklin did not get his preference in this instance.
Whose holiday table would be complete without cranberry sauce or a cranberry salad in some form? Like the turkey, cranberries are totally native to North America. U.S. farmers produce an estimated 768 million pounds of cranberries annually. America’s two top cranberry producing states are Wisconsin and Massachusetts.
Another favorite on the Thanksgiving menu is sweet potatoes, often mistakenly called yams. U.S. farmers grew 2.6 billion pounds of this versatile tuber in 2012, coming primarily from four states: North Carolina, Mississippi, California, and Louisiana. Sweet potatoes were not considered to be a part of the earliest Thanksgiving feast, as they had not yet become a significant part of the North American diet. This delicious vegetable is a native of Central or South America, and is the state vegetable of North Carolina.
Is a Thanksgiving dinner complete without pumpkin pie? U.S. farmers produced more than 1.2 billion pounds of pumpkin in 2012. Top pumpkin-producing states are Illinois, California, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. The original pumpkins were different shaped—a crooked neck variety that was a good keeper was probably the parent plant to today’s familiar round fall fruit. It is said that the Colonists used pumpkins as both a side dish and a dessert at their tables. The pumpkin is from the squash family.
As this Thanksgiving Day approaches and we begin to anticipate the food, family, and fun ahead, keep in mind that much of what we enjoy today has a long and colorful history. Let’s try to focus on the rich heritage we as a nation are privileged to call ours.