America in a dish

Categories: Reflections and opinions

Borough Market regular Beca Lyne-Pirkis reflects on her memories of Thanksgiving, spent with her American family in the mid-west

Words: Beca Lyne-Pirkis

Traditionally, Thanksgiving was a harvest festival and has its roots deep in American history, commemorating the arrival of the first settlers in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621 and the celebrations the forefathers held in honour of the first good harvest. And so, each year on the fourth Thursday of November in America (the second Monday in October in Canada), America stops what it normally does to come together to give thanks. And to eat. Lots.

Much like our traditional Christmas lunch, the centrepiece of the meal usually involves turkey, and due to this fact Thanksgiving is affectionately known as Turkey Day! Every family has their own way of preparing and cooking this prized bird, with each family boasting that their way is the best and will always deliver moist and flavourful meat. I’m not a fan—to me it’s all about the sides.

There’s always gravy and stuffing, then there’s the potato—mash seems to be very popular, but then you have sweet potatoes too and served in a multitude of ways. Cranberry sauce is a given, and then there’s something called green bean casserole, which to the majority of Brits just sounds odd. A favourite meal can usually spark a fond memory or holiday—well, green bean casserole is my American family in a recipe, and all the visits and memories rolled into one.

Cooking up a storm
I can remember as clear as day the first time I watched my great aunt Irene making green bean casserole in her little kitchen. It was the eighties and I was eight years old, visiting my American family for the first time and having the best time getting to know my new cousins. Aunt Irene was a petite lady, with short grey hair and dark chocolate brown eyes. She never stopped and was in her element in her kitchen, cooking up a storm for the family.

We had this casserole with several meals, mainly with a barbecue but also at Thanksgiving. Usually made using blanched green beans, mixed with a can or two of mushroom soup and then finished with crispy onions, baked for around 20 minutes and that was it. It wasn’t gourmet food: it was pure mid-west comfort food and I would always go back for seconds.

As we have quite a big family over in the States, very rarely do we all sit down around a table—it’s always an informal affair, with paper plates and napkins piled high, marking the starting line at a large table groaning under the weight of a lot of food. It’s always a help-yourself buffet with everyone contributing a dish or more, sharing and just being together. It usually ends up with me asking for the recipes. The food is always important, but it’s the company that makes the meal.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!