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Out with the Old School

Turkey, pilgrims and Inidians are all the things that come to mind when thinking of Thankgiving. Clare Butcher delves into the Americano tradition...

by: Clare Butcher | 10 Sep 2008

A few weeks ago Americans and pseudo Americans everywhere celebrated the turkey-fest, Thanksgiving. The origins of the national holiday actually signalled the start of the breakdown in relations between “pilgrims and Indians” in a spate of small pox and other colonial nasties.

However these conveniently seem to be swept under the carpet on an annual basis as the nation gets swept up in the faux multi-cultural patriotism of it all. So much so that many assume the holiday exists in all countries…even in South Africa sans so much as a whiff of cornbread or cranberries.

I have actually been labelled one of the said pseudo Americans in my time, after being made privy to many of the culture’s rituals during my stay there. Included in this list of societal idiosyncrasies are one or two football games, a cliché “frat” party, a few feet of snow and eating squeaky cheese-curds at Pumpkin Land in the middle of Wisconsin. But most importantly a real American Thanksgiving dinner.

Let me paint you a picture of such an event, the ones that don’t make it onto the Hallmark channel.

Something which first needs to be understood is the process of metamorphosis all Western holidays are subject to. A meal that once took days, even weeks, to prepare (stored in the highly dodgy cold room or outhouse back on the ranch) can now either be ordered online or popped into the microwave. It’s old school meets Pillsbury Doughboy.

“Oh, you don’t need to do that, I’m sure we have a can-slash-box-slash-packet-slash-intravenous-drip containing that somewhere,” my hosts repeatedly mentioned. Minus twelve degrees Celsius outside, there was no way any extra energy which was not being expended on maintaining a slightly average body heat was wasted on food preparation. For this meal it was obvious that canned beans, mashed potato in a bag and defrosted biscuits (American version of the scone) were the plat-du-jour. Any illusions of Martha Stewart’s made from scratch meals had apparently gone into hiding when she was arrested for fraud.

My bone to pick…

If the meaning of the meal does not, therefore, lie in the gruelling chef work than what was it these Americans around me were sitting down to give thanks for? I passed the turkey to the left, not meeting all non-vegetarian eyes now boring holes into my head. Maybe there is something to be said for spending a little less time behind the turkey and a little more at the table. I realised that there are in fact a couple strange things we, or at least my family, do for the sake of tradition no matter how much its meaning changes.

The proof is in the pudding…

If it’s not tinned cranberries, it’s flambéd to a crisp tipsy Christmas tart, or mince pies which don’t actually (thankfully) contain any mince. We insist on giving ourselves calluses rolling out shortcrust pastry and forget to actually spend any time conversing with each other.

So maybe I should take the Americans and their Thanksgiving off the specimen display table and put my own holiday rigmarole under the grill. In the meantime, here are some maximum convenience holiday recipes to keep you from making a meal of your meal:

Mediterranean Roast P’s

Instead of slaving over steaming pots of boiling taters in mid-summer heat, how about quartering a pile of Mediterranean spuds and slow roasting them in a low oven with lemon, olive oil, rosemary sprigs and some sea salt.

Caprese Salad

Get colourful in a non-traditional way by slicing some red rosa tomatoes and green basil leaves. Arrange them on a fun platter, drizzle with olive oil, add some avo slices if so inclined and some shavings of pecorino or mozzarella. Season.

Forget about the roast!

Do some fish for a change, stick some salmon, kingklip, yellowtail in a foil bag with lemon, garlic, white wine and season. Seal up the bag and steam it over a braai…keep an eye on it, it’s a quickie.


Leave the mince pie making to someone else – you can buy some great ones from Woolworths and Pick and Pay. Mash these babies up a little and stick them in some softish ice-cream. Refreeze and serve

up your version of Christmas in a bowl topped with dark chocolate shavings and a glass of desert wine.

Got something to say? Post a comment in the comment box below.

Clare is currently in the space between undergrad and honours at the University of Cape Town, briefly indulging in the world of food! She spent two years living in the States as a kid and was recently on a university exchange there. She makes cookies (my favourite being her gingerbread men) and keeps a blog Her favourite book is Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder.


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