Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Edible Plants of Thanksgiving!

My New England grandmother put on a classic Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving dinner each year. Many of you could probably recite the menu, and it never varied. Oh, at one point she added mashed turnips to the fare, because my father's mother had told her that my father loved them. This was patently untrue, and neither did anyone else, but there were some things you just didn't tell Grandma. So year after year the dish of lovingly mashed and buttered turnips sat untouched. But now I have a son who loves braised turnips with the holiday meal.

The modern menu has become a mix of foods from around the world. But it is still heavy on the fruit, roots, and grains of our American natives—albeit eastern natives and plants originally domesticated from central and South America. Cranberry sauce, succotash, the starchy side dishes and pies all have American origins. Some of the plants can be grown here; others have special requirements that would make it difficult.

I have a vivid memory of a rather tense discussion between my father and grandfather about the origins of that hard, candied fruit that sticks in your teeth when you eat fruitcake. One said it was a citrus, the other said it was a melon. These were two proud men, each sure of his position. The oldest child was eventually dispatched upstairs to look it up in the encyclopedia. The answer is at the end.

So to help your family resolve these factual disputes, here is some basic information about the Thanksgiving comestibles!

Vegetables and snacks:

The colonists didn't have any of these!

Vegetable sticks:

* Carrot -- Daucus carota sativa, and
* Celery -- Apium graveolens dulce.

These are cool season annuals; celery is from Europe and Asia, and carrots are probably from Afghanistan. Planted in early fall for winter and spring crops. Celery is surprisingly easy to grow, but a little tricky to blanch for the pale stalks you see in the store. So garden celery is green and has strong flavor.Carrots require loose soil or the roots will be misshapen, and the seed takes a long time to germinate. So it is often planted together with'

* Radishes -- Raphanus sativus

From the Mediterranean. Family: Brassicaceae (Mustard). Radish seeds germinate in days, and are ready to harvest in 3 – 6 weeks. Planted in fall or early spring in loose soil. The carrot seeds will just be sprouting as you pull the radishes.

* Olives -- Olea europea

Small tree, grown in full sun. Easy, ornamental, drought tolerant. Common allergy plant.

Mediterranean. Family: Oleaceae

Soaked in water, brine or lye to remove the bitter glucosides. Usually cured from green olives in California, then some are processed by bubbling air through the solution to make them turn black. Black (ripe) fruit are used for Italian and Greek-style olives.

Read more....

Written for the Davis Enterprise, November 24, 2005


  1. Some 20 years ago, it became very fashionable among fancy restaurants in Atlanta who published their Thanksgiving Dinner menu in the newspaper, to have Whipped Rutabaga as a vegetable choice.

    Whipped Rutabaga -- any Rutabaga is one of my favs. The trick to whipped Rutabaga success is to add a white potato when boiling the turnips, and mash it with the rutabagas, taking away the bitterness.

    As to candied fruit, they were both correct. Candied citrus peel is sometimes found among the fruitcake ingredients in the grocery; so is candied citron, a melon that is a wild nuisance here.

  2. Thanks for sharing the information on edible plants for thanksgiving. It was nice going through it. have a wonderful thanksgiving day.

  3. Thanksgiving is the US festival that I most wish would be imported to Europe. I love the whole idea behind it.

  4. The edible plants of thanksgiving are beautiful. You can have a look at it here

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