Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thanksgiving Menu – Historical Perspectives

The first Thanksgiving

About 390 years ago, in 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag tribe members shared a three-day autumn harvest feast, which is considered as being the first Thanksgiving celebration. After the rain that marked the end of the draught and revived the crop of corn and other fruits, colonists decided to celebrate the day with their neighbors or Massasoit, the chief of the Native Indians or Wampanoags, and his family. He came with all his extended family that constituted ninety people and stayed for three days.

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First Thanksgiving Menu

Colonists were, of course, in bad shape and there were only four grown up married ladies left to do all the cooking. Thus, General Bradford sent four of his soldiers to hunt for fowls, who brought such a large number with them that it could feed the whole village for a week. Wampanoags also helped in supplementing the food supplies by contributing five deer they had killed and probably other supplies out of courtesy. The food listed in Winslow's account consists of corn meal, fish such as bass and cod and wild fowls or turkeys. Other things that were not listed, but were available to residents of Plymouth in those days and were probably a part of the feast were lobster, rabbit, chicken, squashes, beans, chestnuts, hickory nuts, onions, leeks, dried fruits, maple syrup and honey, radishes, cabbage, carrots, eggs, and may be goat cheese.

Potatoes were unavailable in those days and butter and oil were scarce. There were no ovens, so though pumpkin stew and pudding may have been served, there was no scope to prepare pumpkin pies. Women who did the cooking were born and raised in England and probably experimented with their cooking by adapting their cooking methods to the native foods available to them. Roasting was the preferred method of preparing meats and poultry. But roasting on a spit over a fire took hours and required constant monitoring by someone who also turned the spite every now and then, so perhaps roasted venison was served with boiled fish and fowl or turkey. It is not unlikely that few of these birds may still have an overlooked birdshot embedded inside them.

Indian corns do not pop well, so there were no popcorns on Thanksgiving table, though corn may have been ground into meal for bread and thickener. Though cranberries were available to the colonists, cranberry sauce could not possibly have been served, because they had no access to sugar. Though honey or syrup could have been used to sweeten the cranberries, it required a lot of labor. Since there were four ladies cooking all day, to feed the crowd of about 150 people, they could not have find time to do all that work. In short, the Thanksgiving meal for the pilgrims would have consisted of roasted venison, stewed or boiled fowl, lobster and fish, corn and wheat breads, stew of dried fruits and perhaps pumpkin, one or two boiled vegetables and only water to drink.

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Thanksgiving Menu 1779

The following menu for a New England Thanksgiving dinner as found in a letter written in 1779 by Juliana Smith to her 'Dear Cousing Betsey.'
Haunch of Venison Roast Chine of Pork
Roast Turkey Pigeon Pasties Roast Goose
Onions in Cream Cauliflower Squash
Potatoes Raw Celery
Mincemeat Pie Pumpkin Pie Apple Pie
Indian Pudding Plum Pudding

While it would be difficult to set forth a single 'traditional' Thanksgiving menu, the preparations related by Juliana Smith that went into this dinner were certainly typical of early New England Thanksgivings. 'This year it was Uncle Simeon's turn to have the dinner at his house, but of course we all helped them as they help us when it is their turn, & there is always enough for us all to do. All the baking of pies & cakes was done at our house & we had the big oven heated & filled twice each day for three days before it was all done & everything was GOOD, though we did have to do without some things that ought to be used. Neither Love nor (paper) Money could buy Raisins, but our good red cherries dried without the pits, did almost as well & happily Uncle Simeon still had some spices in store. The tables were set in the Dining Hall and even that big room had no space to spare when we were all seated.' Apparently roast beef was part of the tradition menu for this family, but 'of course we could have no Roast Beef. None of us have tasted Beef this three years back as it must all go to the Army, & too little they get, poor fellows. But, Nayquittymaw's Hunters were able to get us a fine red Deer, so that we had a good haunch of Venisson on each Table.' There was an abundance of vegetables on the table...Cider was served instead of wine, wiht the explanation that Uncle Simeon was saving his cask 'for the sick.' Juliana added that 'The Pumpkin Pies, Apple Tarts & big Indian Puddings lacked for nothing save Appetite by the time we had got round to them...We did not rise from the Table until it was quite dark, & then when the dishes had been cleared away we all got round the fire as close as we could, & cracked nuts, & sang songs & told stories."

Thanksgiving Menu 1845

The New England Economical Housekeeper, and Family Receipt Book, published in 1845, offers the following menu for Thanksgiving Dinner:

Roast Turkey, stuffed.
A Pair of Chickens stuffed, and boiled, with cabbage-and a piece of lean pork.
A Chicken Pie.
Potatoes; turnip sauce, squash; onions; gravy and gravy sauce; apple and cranberry sauce; oyster sauce; brown and white bread.
Plum and Plain Pudding, with Sweet sauce.
Mince, Pumpkin and Apple Pies.

Thanksgiving Menu 1877

Buckeye Cookery, published in 1877 and in 1880 listed the typical menu for the Thanksgiving Dinner at the time:

Oyster soup;
boiled fresh cod with egg sauce;
roast turkey, cranberry sauce;
roast goose, bread sauce or currant jelly;
stuffed ham, apple sauce or jelly; pork and beans;
mashed potatoes and boiled onions, salsify, macaroni and cheese;
brown bread and superior biscuit;
lobster salad; pressed beef, cold corned beef, tongue;
celery, cream slaw;
watermelon, peach, pear, or apple sweet-pickles;
mangoes, cucumbers, chow-chow, and tomato catsup; stewed peaches or prunes;
doughnuts and ginger cakes; mince, pumpkin, and peach pies;
plum and boiled Indian puddings;
apple, cocoa-nut or almond tarts;
vanilla ice-cream; old- fashioned loaf cake, pound cake, black cake, white perfection cake, ribbon cake, almond layer cake;
citron, peach, plum, or cherry preserves; apples, oranges, figs, grapes, raisins, and nuts; tea and coffee.

Thanksgiving Menu 1927

Good Housekeeping's Book of Good Meals: How to Prepare and Serve Them recommends the following Thanksgiving Dinner menu:

Cream of Tomato Soup, Roast Turkey, Southern Giblet Gravy, Potato Croquettes, Brussels Sprouts, Cauliflower with Hollandaise Sauce, Cranberry Jelly, Romaine Salad, French Dressing, Individual Pumpkin Pies, Whipped Cream, Cider Ice, Nuts, Raisins.
Halves of Grapefruit, Roast Duck, Apple Stuffing, Baked Sweet Potatoes, Creamed Turnips, Cole-Slaw, Baked Squash, Cider, Indian Pudding, Foamy Sauce, Nuts, Coffee.
Fruit Cocktail, Chicken Fricassee, Riced Potatoes, Celery, Buttered Onions, Squash Pie.

Thanksgiving as official Holiday

Thanksgiving became an official holiday in the United States on October 3, 1863 via proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln. This was largely due to the lobbying efforts of Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Godey's Lady's Magazine who had lobbied for 17 years for the holiday. The proclamation declared the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.

By 1916, Thanksgiving was referred to in writings as Turkey Day due to the popularity of the bird at the traditional feast.

Interestingly enough, in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt attempted to move the official Thanksgiving date to earlier in November in order encourage a longer Christmas shopping season as a Depression recovery strategy. His idea was shut down by Congress, and the official date was declared permanently as the fourth Thursday in November via Public Law #379.

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Selected Recipes

There is tons of information and online resources nowadays letting you find out the best recipes for your Thanksgiving Dinner, so I will just post some, which look the yummiest to me, and easy to follow (even for myself).

Appetizer - Smoky Salmon Chive Spread


  • 2 cans (7.5 oz. each) salmon (preferably Alaskan king or sockeye), well drained
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  • 1 container (7 oz.) nonfat Greek yogurt
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  • 2 ounces hot-smoked salmon, finely chopped
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  • 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion, plus slivers for garnish
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  • 3 tablespoons chopped chives
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
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  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
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  • Kosher salt
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  • Seeded crisp lavash or other crackers

  • Remove bones and skin from salmon; break into chunks. In a medium bowl, mix yogurt, hot-smoked salmon, chopped onion, chives, mustard, and pepper with a fork until well combined. Gently stir in salmon, season to taste with salt, and top with slivered onion. Serve with lavash.
  • Make ahead: Chill, covered, up to 3 days (you may need to moisten with a bit more yogurt).

45-minutes Roast Turkey

It's almost a given that time and oven space are at a premium on Thanksgiving Day, and this method of roasting turkey, unorthodox as it is, address both. Split, flattened, and roasted at 450 degrees F (lowering the heat if the bird browns too fast), a 10-pound bird will be done in about 40 minutes. It will also be more evenly browned (all of the skin is exposed to the heat), more evenly cooked (the legs are more exposed; the wings shield the breasts), and moister than birds cooked conventionally. But it works only for relatively small turkeys.

  • One 8- to 12-pound turkey
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil or melted butter
  • 10 or more garlic cloves, lightly crushed
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees F. Put the turkey on a stable cutting board, breast side down, and cut out the backbone. Turn the bird over and press on it to flatten. Put it breast side up in a roasting pan that will accommodate it (a slightly snug fit is okay). The wings should partially cover the breasts, and the legs should protrude a bit.
  2. Tuck the garlic and the herb under the bird and in the nooks of the wings and legs. Drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.
  3. Roast for 20 minutes, undisturbed. By this time the bird should be browning; remove it from the oven, baste with the pan juices, and return it to the oven. Reduce the heat to 400 degrees F (or 350 degrees F if it seems to be browning very quickly).
  4. Begin to check the bird's temperature about 15 minutes later (10 minutes if the bird is ont he small side). It is done when the thigh meat measures 155-165 degrees F on an instant-read meat thermometer; check it in a couple of places.
  5. Let the bird rest for a few minutes before carving, then serve with the garlic cloves and pan juices. Or serve at room temperature.

Pumpkin Tarts

  • 12 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 pound butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 12 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups solid pack pumpkin
  • 1 (12 fluid ounce) can evaporated milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 (16 ounce) package confectioners' sugar
  • 1 (7 ounce) jar marshmallow creme
  • 1 cup finely chopped pecans, divided

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  2. Make the pastry dough by creaming together 12 ounces of cream cheese with 1 pound of butter and the sugar in a large bowl until thoroughly blended. Mix in the flour, a little at a time, until the dough is workable. Cut the dough into 4 equal-sized pieces, roll the pieces into balls, and refrigerate until needed.
  3. To make the filling, mash 12 ounces of cream cheese with brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl until smooth and well combined; beat in eggs, one at a time, incorporating each egg before adding the next one. Mix in the pumpkin, evaporated milk, and vanilla extract until the filling is smooth.
  4. Cut each dough ball in half, and cut each half into 12 pieces (96 total pieces). Working in batches, press each small piece of dough into the bottom and up the sides of mini muffin cups. Fill the little crusts almost to the top with the pumpkin filling. Refrigerate unused dough until you need it to make the next batch.
  5. Bake in the preheated oven until the filling is set and the crusts are lightly golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Allow to cool completely before frosting.
  6. Mash 1/2 cup of butter, the shortening, and 8 ounces of cream cheese together in a bowl until thoroughly combined, and mix in the confectioners' sugar and marshmallow creme until smooth and creamy. Spread or pipe the frosting onto the cooled tarts. Sprinkle each tart with a few chopped pecans. Refrigerate until serving.

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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Why Bolsheviks Succeeded in their November 1917 Revolt?

“A lie told often enough becomes the truth”
— Vladimir Lenin

What is it to you almost 100 years after the fact? Is it important? Yes, it is. The day was a beginning of the November Bolshevik Revolt in Russia, which threw the biggest country in the World in the Communist Chaos for 70 years, and significantly influenced the fate of other geographical regions.

Let’s take a brief peek…

The confusion starts from the very beginning. The revolution is called October Revolution, but it started exactly 94 years ago, November 6, 1917 by the Julian calendar used in Russia at the time (count back 13 days to get the date by the modern calendar, later accepted in Russia as well).

There are many historical points, where we can start the journey, explaining this turnaround point in the history, and the closest one in time is so-called February Revolution 1917. Yes, Russians were happy enough to get two revolutions in one year.

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February 1917 Revolution

On 23rd February 1917 the International Women's Day Festival in St. Petersburg turned into a city-wide demonstration, as exasperated women workers left factories to protest against food shortages. Men soon joined them, and on the following day - encouraged by political and social activists - the crowds had swelled and virtually every industry, shop and enterprise had ceased to function as almost the entire populace went on strike.

Nicholas ordered the police and military to intervene, however the military was no longer loyal to the Tsar and many mutinied or joined the people in demonstrations. Fights broke out and the whole city was in chaos. On February 28th over 80,000 troops mutinied from the army and looting and rioting was widespread.

Faced with this untenable situation Tsar Nicholas abdicated his throne, handing power to his brother Michael. However Michael would not accept leadership unless he was elected by the Duma. He resigned the following day, leaving Russia without a head of state.

After the abdication of the Romanovs a Provisional Government was quickly formed by leading members of the Duma and recognized internationally as Russia's legal government. It was to rule Russia until elections could be held. However its power was by no means absolute or stable. The more radical Petrograd Soviet organization was a trade union of workers and soldiers that wielded enormous influence. It favored full-scale Socialism over more moderate democratic reforms generally favored by members of the Provisional Government.

After centuries of Imperial rule Russia was consumed with political fervor, but the many different factions, all touting different ideas, meant that political stability was still a long way off directly after February Revolution.

Between Revolutions

One person keen to take advantage of the chaotic state of affairs in St. Petersburg was Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov - aka Lenin. Lenin had spent most of the 20th Century travelling and working and campaigning in Europe - partly out of fear for his own safety, as he was known Socialist and enemy of the Tsarist regime. However with the Tsar under arrest and Russian politics in chaos, Lenin saw the opportunity to lead his party, the Bolsheviks, to power. From his home in Switzerland he negotiated a return to Russia with the help of German authorities. (As a proponent of withdrawing Russia from the Great War, the Germans were willing to facilitate Lenin's passage back via a 'sealed train'.)

Lenin's return in April of 1917 was greeted by the Russian populace, as well as by many leading political figures, with great rapture and applause. However, far from uniting the fractious parties, he immediately condemned the policies and ideologies of both the Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviet. In his April Theses, published in the Bolshevik newspaper Pravda, he advocated non-co-operation with the liberals (ie. non-hardline Communists) and an immediate end to the war.

At first his uncompromising stance served to isolate Lenin and the Bolsheviks, however with powerful slogans like 'Peace, land and bread,' Lenin begin to win the hearts of the Russian people - who were increasingly unable to stomach war and poverty.

During the summer of 1917 Lenin made several attempts to invoke another revolution the likes of which had taken place in February, with the aim of overthrowing the Provisional Government. When the Machine Gun Regiment refused to leave Petrograd (as St. Petersburg was then known) for the frontline Lenin sought to maneuver them instead into making a putsch. However Kerensky, arguably the most important figure of the time - a member of both the Provisional Government and Petrograd Soviet - adeptly thwarted the coup. Experienced troops arrived in the city to quell any dissidents and the Bolsheviks were accused of being in collusion with the Germans. Many were arrested whilst Lenin escaped to Finland.

Despite this PR disaster Lenin continued plotting and scheming. Meanwhile Kerensky suffered his own political setbacks and even had to appeal to the Bolsheviks for military aid when he feared his Minister of War, Kornilov, was aiming for a military dictatorship. By autumn the Bolsheviks were climbing into the ascendency, winning majority votes within the Petrograd and Moscow Soviets. Leon Trotsky was elected as president of the former.

The October Revolution

With Russian politics still in a state of constant flux Lenin realized that now was the time to capitalize on his party's popularity. He planned a coup that would overthrow the increasingly ineffective Provisional Government and replace them with the Bolsheviks. On October 10th he held a famous meeting with twelve party leaders, and tried to persuade them that a revolution was required. Despite receiving the backing of only 10 of them plotting went ahead.

November 6th, the Petrograd Soviet was meeting in the Smolny Institute - a former girls school. Speeches were made by Trotsky as to why people should support the communists. While he was giving these speeches, he knew that the Red Guards and armed workers were actually taking over key points in the city. By the time that the speeches had finished most of the city was in the hands of the Bolsheviks (communists led by Lenin) - as Trotsky had planned. The telephone and telegraph buildings were taken over, as were the power stations. Bridges were captured. So were the railway stations.

There was very little bloodshed and it is probable that many people in Petrograd were unaware of what had happened when they woke up in the morning. In fact, while the communists were taking power, theatres and cinemas were still open!!

Throughout the 7th the Red Guards kept on occupying important buildings. By mid-afternoon, the only building not held by the Bolsheviks was the Winter Palace, the old home of the tsar. It was here that the Provisional Government met. In fact, the troops who were meant to be defending the building had gone home and only the Women’s Battalion remained.

The sign for the Red Guards to attack the Winter Palace was a shell fired by the naval ship the "Aurora". The attack was short lived and any opposition was easily overcome. The Provisional Government surrendered to the Red Guards. The attack took longer than it might have done because there were 1000 rooms in the Palace that they had to search.

In the Smolny Institute, those politicians who did not agree with what had happened and did not want the Bolsheviks in power walked out of the building. Trotsky said that they were going to where they belonged - the waste-paper basket of history.

At 1 a.m. on November 8th, a shabbily dressed man got to his feet and rose to speak. He took away a handkerchief from his face and was instantly recognized as Lenin. He told those in the Smolny Institute that he was forming a government of Bolsheviks and that it would contain no middle class people. The government would work to help the workers and peasants.

By the end of the day the members of the Provisional Government were under arrest. Lenin's statement that he would overturn the government of Russia - made after his brother had been executed - was fulfilled.

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Why did the Bolshevik Revolution of November 1917 succeed?

The investigation of the reasons, underground sources and motivations of the different parties, groups, and individual people is quite a complicated task. Multiple studies are published in Russia and other parts of the World on the topic, and the outcomes are so different and controversial, depending on the authors’ political views and used sources, that the topic deserves a big scientific monograph. We will provide in brief several moments, which contributed to the miracle – a small group of extremists was able to get to the power in huge multi-cultural, multi-national country with traditional believes in higher authority and G-d.

1.       February Revolution. The first revolution opened the door to the revolutionary process in the country. People saw that the Tsar was out of the picture fast and easily. Hey, that was just beginning. Nice slogans, feeling of freedom and for the bright future for everyone. People were ready for change.
2.       Provisional Government problems. The Bolsheviks succeeded because the Provisional Government was weak and unpopular.  Some of the people in the Provisional Government were smart and wished good, but they did not understand the psychology and simple desires of the masses:  bread and entertainment. While being in power, provisional government was not able to secure solid support among different groups, and create loyal military. When it was attacked, nobody was prepared to defend it. On 25th October, only Women's Battalion attempted to defend the Winter Palace against Bolshevik forces. John Reed, an American journalist in Petrograd during the revolution wrote ‘What happened to the women?’ we asked a soldier. He laughed. ‘We found them hiding in a back room … crying. We did not know what to do with them; in the end we just sent them home. Other sources offered a different account on the consequences, claiming that some of the girl-soldiers had been thrown from the windows into the street, most of the rest had been violated, and many had committed suicide as a result of the horrors they had gone through.

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3.       Slogans. The Bolsheviks had attractive, easy to say and easy to understand, slogans such as ‘Peace, Bread, Land’ and ‘All Power to the Soviets’.  Other parties claimed they could never deliver their promises, but their arguments were too complicated for people to understand.  This meant that they got the public’s support.
4.       Pravda. The party ran its own propaganda machine, including the newspaper Pravda (‘Truth’), which got their ideas across.
5.       German money. Germany was gradually losing the war, so they were looking for the ways to turn things around, other than on the battlefield. The Germans financed the Bolsheviks because they Lenin promised them to take Russia out of the war. This gave Bolsheviks the money to mount their publicity campaigns, and some other support in information and planning.
6.       Lenin. A brilliant leader – a professional revolutionary with an iron will, ruthless, brilliant speaker, a good planner with ONE aim – to overthrow the government. 
7.       Army. While Provisional Government was playing its intellectual games, Bolsheviks was secretly working on building their private army (the Red Guards), dedicated to the revolution, which was set up and trained under outstanding military organizer Leon Trotsky and funded not exclusively by German money but by donation of the rich revolution-oriented citizens, who has not imagine in their worst dreams, where their money will lead Russia. Well-organized Red Guards groups gave the Bolsheviks the military power to win.
8.       Organization. The Bolsheviks had solid well-built organization, sharpened by years of the illegal political activity underground.  A central committee (controlled by Lenin and other leading Bolsheviks) sent orders to the soviets, who gave orders to the factories. The difference with most of the other liberal parties at the time was that Bolsheviks in practice embraced freedom for the people only in case, when it is aligned with the ideas and tasks of the Global Revolution. Unlike the Provisional Government, the Bolsheviks demanded total obedience from their members, so they were well-disciplined. From a tiny group, the membership grew up to 2 million in 3 months.

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