2013-11-14 / From The Garden

Thanksgiving: The Harvest Table

By Cynthia Gibson

A successful year of crops was traditionally marked by a celebration, not only by Native American Indians, but also by the British and Europeans. The fall harvest was always a time of feasts and merrymaking, as described in a 1621 letter from noted colonist Edward Winslow to a friend in England.

While venison was the main ingredient of early Thanksgivings, there was also an abundance of mussels, clams, and fish. The Indians shared their corn and squash. There might have been cranberries and perhaps indigenous apples. Since there was little to no sugar, pumpkin pies did not grace the tables. No white potatoes or sweet potatoes were available, and since there were no ovens nothing was baked. Because rudimentary dining utensils were lacking, the early colonists ate using only their hands and a knife.

The evolution of Thanksgiving has given us today’s elaborate holiday, filled with many delicious options. Indeed, it has become a romanticized occasion. Not only is it a time to continue to be thankful for our bounty, but it is a holiday that focuses on family and friends.


Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. In preparing the menu for your Thanksgiving harvest table, it can be fairly said that the most difficult decisions involve vegetables. If we harken back to 1621, there wasn’t much green on the table, as assorted pumpkins and squash were the only vegetables to be found. Of course, now we enjoy expanded possibilities, so much so that we’ve designated pumpkins and squash for pies.

The most common vegetables found on the Thanksgiving table today are broccoli, green beans, Brussels sprouts, carrots, onions, yams, potatoes, parsnips, acorn squash, spinach, and beets.

Recipes for turning these fall vegetables into delightful side dishes at Thanksgiving are plentiful. Let’s face it, this is the once-ayear “meal of all meals.” While the traditional feast does not have to be a diet buster or a belt popper, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving dinner without a bit of indulging.

There are many complementary dishes giving you a choice of interesting vegetable options for the big day. Parsnip puree is a sophisticated alternative to mashed potatoes. Colorful salads made from a combination of many lettuces and greens, with the addition of dried cranberries and nuts, are delicious and attractive. Replacing the green beans in your recipes with their more colorful cousins, yellow wax beans, makes pretty variations. Candied carrots in maple syrup and butter are great, but add a tablespoon of freshly-chopped ginger to the mix for a more tangy and sumptuous version. Candied yams or sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows just have to make it to your table.

Those who really dislike vegetables from the cabbage family, such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts, will enjoy creamed spinach, an often overlooked vegetable at Thanksgiving. The featured recipe will change that.

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