Just the Two of Us – Thanksgiving in the Time of Pandemic

Added to this current national health crisis, there is also the Thanksgiving myth I have been grappling with. I say myth, because the holiday many of us celebrate is a Thanksgiving based on Governor William Bradford’s colonial version of a “first thanksgiving” gathering. There is no inclusion of the Wampanoag people’s perspective (in case your 3rd grade teacher was remiss, the Wampanoag people inhabited the area now known as Plymouth for thousands of years before the Pilgrims ever set foot on the Mayflower). If you are interested in learning more I suggest listening to Paula Peters, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Nation, describe the Mayflower story from a Wampanoag point of view, which you may see/listen to here.

One other great resource is a recent podcast on All My Relations. Matika Wilbur from the Swinomish and Tulalip Tribes and Dr. Adrienne Keene, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, host Wampanoag scholars Paula Peters and Linda Coombs in an episode entitled ThanksTaking or ThanksGiving?

Fall leaves on mossy rocks.

For the last few years my nuclear family has chosen to come together near, but not always on, national turkey day. This is because we choose not to celebrate a moment between our early settler ancestors and the Wampanoag people which eventually led to colonization and genocide. Instead, while we overindulge in tryptophan and pumpkin pie, we celebrate being here and now with each other. Our focus is around the traditional meal we all enjoy, and acknowledging how lucky we are to have access to such amazing food (and people willing to cook it all!). We pay attention to how much we love one another. We appreciate the beautiful place we live, where the kids grew up. It is a moment for us to collectively take a breath, give thanks, and eat pie.

This Thanksgiving perspective shift came about after Isabelle and Russell returned from their respective church youth group pilgrimages to Borderlands, an Episcopal retreat in South Dakota. A spiritual center and retreat, Borderlands occupies land in the Pe Sla – the heart of the heart of Lakota sacred lands in the Black Hills. It is an environment where two cultures – the First Nations peoples, as well as Celtic and Episcopal traditions – meet. After returning from this sacred place both kids shared with us what an amazing journey they had. Having the opportunity to meet with and learn from people of other cultures, visiting sacred sites, learning about the spiritual ceremonies and ways of the Lakota people, as well as connecting with nature, fundamentally changed their perspectives. It opened them to questioning and reexamining the stories and “history” they had been taught in school. Ever since we have endeavored to craft something different for our family.

Fall bounty from Golunka's Farm.

So what will I be cooking this year? Good question. I like turkey, but not enough to be eating it for the next two weeks. If your are a follower of this blog you know my primary focus is on food – not politics (though food is political); not history (though our history may often be traced through food). Just a smörgåsbord of food. Foods I grew up with, foods I’ve discovered, foods I want to make again and again and again.

This year I think a huge plate of dumplings would be something to be thankful for. Frankie Gaw’s butternut squash and mushroom dumplings to be specific. After years of making dumpling with store-bought wrappers, Gaw, of the blog Little Fat Boy, has gotten me into making my own dumpling wrappers! Which is wild, though my pleating is not as good as his. Guess I’ll have to keep making (and eating) dumplings till I improve. Also there are a few bags of charcoal in the basement so Shawn wants to bust out the grill. Perhaps there will be grilled lamb chops or even a smoked chicken near turkey day to go with the dumplings. Stay tuned and peace be with you.

November sunrise on North Farms Road.

If you want to learn more about Native people and critical issues facing their communities I would strongly encourage you to subscribe or listen to the All My Relations podcast. I have been listening for over a year, and it is in my top 10 list of podcasts to subscribe to. Wilbur and Keene, along with all their guests, have taught me so much, for which I am very grateful.

Give a listen to Rachel Maddow’s heartfelt plea asking people to recalibrate their thoughts on “acceptable risk” around Ciovid-19.

Want a killer pumpkin pie recipe? Try my blue ribbon pumpkin pie.

Read the suppressed speech of Frank James, Wampanoag. Invited to talk to Pilgrim descendants at the 350th celebration of the Mayflower’s arrival, James was banned from speaking at the event once organizers realized he was not going to present the happy turkey version they so venerated. Instead he climbed a hill overlooking Plymouth Rock and spoke to the Native Peoples and supporters who had gathered. His words sparked what is now the National Day of Mourning.

Want to know more about the guy who “invented” Thanksgiving? Here is the story of William Bradford.

Are you ready to up your dumpling game? Subscribe or follow Frankie Gaw on his blog Little Fat Boy.

As I dive into learning more about the history of this country I want to acknowledge I am proud of my ancestors, the Wing family. Asa Wing fought in the Civil War and ultimately became an abolitionist in Mexico, New York. It is an honor to have an ancestor who worked to thwart slavery. This journey of self-education is more about understanding the full history of America, without whitewashing the realities and results of colonialism.

Wild turkeys who will not be eaten for Thanksgiving.


Filed under 50 Recipes

13 responses to “Just the Two of Us – Thanksgiving in the Time of Pandemic

  1. Wonderful post. I look forward to exploring the links. We will be four on Cape Cod. I’ve shucked Wellfleet oysters for a bacon and oyster stuffing, we’ll feast on local Hardwick turkey, and enjoy a vegetable dish enhanced by cranberries harvested from a local bog. Yes, we will be eating the same foods for several days!

    We were fortunate a couple years ago to join a local historian for a group walk in Truro that traced part of the path taken by the Mayflower scouting party after the initial landing at Provincetown.

    Apparently they walked right past an encampment of about a thousand Wampanoag people who were hunkered down in a deep protected hollow without notice. They ultimately walked from Provincetown to Eastham, where they skirmished with a group of Native people.

    At some point, the colonialists discovered a cache of corn that they took. This was November. The Wampanoags were depending on this cache to get them through the winter. Although an iron kettle and a couple other trinkets were left “in exchange” this quite likely was disastrous for the tribe. If you are in Truro and see a sign for Corn Hill, this is what it refers to.

    We will be giving thanks this year for our family so far surviving, in remembrance of my parents who recently passed, for the exit of the current White House resident, for the glimmer of hope that the end of the pandemic could be coming. I fully expect that next year’s feast will be a joyful celebration and send love and best wishes to you and your family.

    • Thank you Susan for sharing a piece of Cape Cod history. I’m in concurrence with you about loosing a cache of corn–it would have been devastating. Also I started drooling when you described the amazing stuffing you will be making, it sounds so yummy!

      Many of us do have much to be thankful for now, plus it seems there is a light at the end of this long tunnel otherwise known as 2020. Enjoy your small gathering, and may 2021 be filled with hope and healing.

  2. Lisa Allen

    Beautiful pictures and great information.

  3. Ruth Bath

    Last year I made a large dinner for nearly thirty family members in Brooklyn NY. It was a wonderful experience including all the grandparents, the boyfriends, and girlfriends of all the many cousins and siblings. I am so pleased to have made the effort and have that experience to remember during our noticeably quiet and solitary holiday.
    Our Holiday this year has also been modified by requests from the Oregon governor Kate Brown. Instead of going against the local semi lockdown and hosting or attending a gathering of any kind I have a brilliant friend that decided to turn the guest list into a food exchange. So, while we will not have the company of our friends in person, we will have the dinner created by many. Always part of the fun. I will be supplying cranberry, pecan pie and a southern praline sweet potato dish for three households and enjoy the proceeds of what they are providing to myself and my husband.
    It is not the holiday that I had envisioned that is for sure. I have learned over time; I almost never have the experience that is an exact match to what I had envisioned. I am going to accept this year as another opportunity to just take like as it comes-via zoom.

    • Ruth- I still dream of your cranberry sauce, and while I have tried to replicate it am not sure my version comes out the same. What a delightful idea to share the bounty! Happy turkey day to you and yours.

  4. This was a great read, Cynthia. And “ThanksTaking or ThanksGiving,” which I listened to in my car today, was extremely illuminating. Thanks for introducing me to All My Relations. I know I’ll be listening to more episodes. I’ve never really delved into the true history of Thanksgiving so your post sent me on a foray to learn rather than just accept. Of course, coming from England I’ve always perceived Thanksgiving as more about gratitude for the harvest—like our Harvest Festival—than about Indians, pilgrims and a turkey. I LOVED listening to the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address, especially the translation that they used. And the host’s delivery of it was superb. I want to share part of it at our Thanksgiving, when we will eat a venison roast wrapped in bacon and cooked, rotisserie style, on the outside grill. Both my guys cut their tags this season so we’ll eat in gratitude, and style. Instead of pie we’ll have pumpkin bread pudding with chocolate chips. Although a friend gifted me some lard she had laboriously rendered from a locally raised pig so I may have to make pie too, in honor of the gift. I wish you were here to try a slice. May you be safe, well and have much to be grateful for. I know you will be well fed. xoxo

    • Dearest Nicola I am so glad you liked the All My Relations podcast – it is wonderfully well done. I learn so much from listening to each one they put out. Plus it sounds as if you will have a delicious meal with your venison roast, pumpkin chocolate chip bread pudding, and pie! I will look forward to the day when we may all sit down and feast together again. Hugs~

  5. I love this post, chère Cynthia. I loved to learn about your family – et espère visiter votre belle maison de famille lors de mon prochain passage dans le Massachusetts. En 2022 peut-être… Keep well, bisous de Suisse, Sylvie

  6. mleasca

    Dear Cynthia,
    Thank you for this wonderful post. As always I am making “Aunt Ruth’s dinner rolls” and the dough came out beautifully and is rising now. Lots of sweet memories and love.

    Stay safe and happy and enjoy a Happy Thanksgiving of the great food you have always been so skilled at making, and of being thankful!


    • Dear Maria, Aunt Ruth’s dinner roles will smell amazing as they bake! It is wonderful to honor her memory at your table through the food she used to make. Enjoy the feast~ C

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.