Growing up in Montreal and Toronto respectively, neither my husband nor I celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving. According to my parents, it was a Christian holiday. In my imagination, Thanksgiving encouraged families of scrubbed-faced pale-haired Christians across the country to sit around their hand-sawn and sanded wood tables under a big similarly homemade cross and say thank you to Jesus for their bounty.
In reality, Thanksgiving in Canada, as in America, is a harvest holiday, but it’s held more than a month earlier (it was pushed back from November to October in 1957 as not to clash with Armistice Day), and it seems to me the reason so few Canadian Jews celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving is because of the terrible timing. Canadian Thanksgiving, almost without fail, lands on Yom Kippur, between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, or on Sukkot. Trying to add another holiday during the early-fall calendar of Jewish holidays is not only chaotic, it can be a straight-up conflict (fasting and turkey-eating simply do not go hand-in-hand).
A heritage turkey awaits schechita, or ritual slaughter, conducted by the author. Photograph by Alyssa Kapnik
In 2013, President Obama pardoned two turkeys: Caramel and Popcorn. Caramel has already passed away and Popcorn is sure to follow soon. But these birds didn’t perish because of death panels, predators or homicidal presidents… they died because of bad genetics.
While ethically minded consumers look for “pasture-raised” and “organic” turkeys for Thanksgiving, the truth is that both of these terms ultimately have little to do with the well-being of a turkey. If you start with an animal that is badly bred, all the nutritious food and sunshine in the world won’t change the fact that it’s unhealthy. Taking a hybrid turkey and giving it organic feed is like planting GMO corn in an organic field: It just doesn’t make any sense.
Torta di zucca, an Italian winter squash and olive oil cake. Photograph by Gayle L. Squires
Admitting this in the days leading up to Thanksgiving might put me squarely in the crosshairs of the long-defunct House Committee on Un-American Activities, but I’m a risk-taker, so here goes: I don’t like pie. I particularly don’t like pumpkin pie. Now that I’ve said it out loud, please let me explain. (Don’t worry, I’ll be brief — and there’s cake at the end if you listen to the whole story.)
I will limit my anti-pie sentiments to three. First, the bottom crust is usually either too hard if it’s blind baked, or too soggy if it’s not. Second, and I know that I’m going to offend our orange-hued mascot of this week’s holiday feast and lovers of spiced lattes everywhere, pumpkin filling has the look and texture of baby food and the smell of a candle. Finally, if your home is anything like mine, after stuffing ourselves with turkey, dessert must be non-dairy, and while butter might be able to save many a pie, parve pie is just sad. After Thanksgiving dinner, I typically fill my dessert plate with the cut fruit.
Before this gets all Debbie downer, I do have a solution to my Thanksgiving woes: cake!
A once in a lifetime holiday that combines two of the most tasty holidays is a really serious event. Latkes, presents, lighting the menorah, making stuffing, and a turkey on the same night? Talk about a lot of pressure. We’d totally understand if you’re just not feeling up for making pumpkin sufganiyot. And we think you’ll family will understand too once they see some of your other options.
Restaurants aren’t taking Thanksgivukkah lightly. They’re bringing out the big guns in the form of challah stuffing, burnt marshmallow challah donuts, sweet potato latkes, and more. With delectable options like these, it’s a shame we won’t see them again for 79,000 years.
When sisters Sharon and Adeena started baking Thanksgiving pies five years ago to raise money for ovarian cancer (which claimed the lives of their mother and grandmother) they never imagined they would raise over $100,000.
But with a cadre of committed volunteers holding bake sales in 10 cities around the country, plus Toronto and Jerusalem this year, they’ve done just that.
“It gives me chills when I say it out loud,” Adeena Sussman said.
Her mother Stephanie Sussman died of ovarian cancer in 2006 at the age of 62 and her grandmother Ann Nadrich, died in 2009, also of ovarian cancer.
While their father donated a Torah in his wife’s memory, and the family honored her by bringing cultural events to the community, the sisters wanted to do something more personal that embodied their mother.
Even though Stephanie Sussman worked full time, she was known for her legendary hospitality and Shabbat dinners. Adeena Sussman remembers waking up in the morning to see a freshly-baked challah, a pot of chicken soup and a kugel all resting on the stove, and thinking “When did she have time to do all of this?”
Chief rabbis and Nobel prize winners were some of those who ate at the Sussman’s. But it was not limited to them. There might also be some of her students from places abroad, who didn’t know what it was to be a Jew, and certainly not an Orthodox one.
The start of November is here which means that Thanksgiving is just around the corner. In order to kickstart your menu planning, we’re thrilled to share this recipe from cookbook author and Forward contributor Leah Koenig.
Here’s what Leah has to say about the recipe:
This is one of my absolute favorite soups. As the weather turns cool, sweet potatoes and kale come into peak season, which makes them ideal candidates for fall cooking. The real secret to this soup, though, is the roasted garlic. It adds an unexpected burst of flavor that transforms the dish into something special enough for the Thanksgiving table. Serve it with crusty bread or, if you are eating it for the holiday, your favorite homemade biscuits.
But how did my family get so lucky that we are able to avoid this (great?) American pastime? And what will we be doing if not carving a twenty-pound bird and screaming at each other?
For as long as I have been conscious of Thanksgiving, my family has been making turkey-shaped pizza on the fourth Thursday of November. Apparently, there were some in my family who did not love the taste of turkey. So rather than deny the iconic status of this New World bird, my mother decided that a pizza created in its image would suffice (and ensure that her children could relate to American culture).
Jewish mixed marriages have been commonplace for decades, but they’re still more successful under the chuppa than they are in the kitchen. Claudia Roden dismissed the idea altogether in “The Book of Jewish Food,” writing “…there was no fusion of styles, no Ashkenazi-Sephardi hybrids, and no unifying element.”
This is such a hard and fast rule that when I got a letter asking me to help track down the origins of a long lost “Sephardic liver pie” recipe, I was utterly amazed, if not a little horrified.
“My grandmother Virginia usually served it at Thanksgiving,” wrote Alan Moskowitz, “and it was always referred to as stuffing.” Stuffing sounded so much more appealing than “liver pie,” and it did get me past my initial shock. The description was frankly mind-blowing, a cross between chopped liver on sourdough rye and mina, a light-textured, ground beef and matzah pie that’s as connected to the Ottoman Sephardic Passover meal as the Seder plate itself. He might as well have described a lasagna soufflé. Clearly this recipe was a deliberate fusion of the two cuisines.
Sometimes we write recipes, and sometimes recipes just write themselves. This is one of those recipes.
It was October 30th, the day after Hurricane Sandy hit, and I was at my wits end. My home in Crown Heights, Brooklyn had power, my family was out of harms way, but I was still having a hard time coping. My toddler was spiking a fever and my older kids were at each other’s throat. It was their third consecutive day home from school and they’d played their fill of iPod matching games, drawn enough pictures to cover the refrigerator, and baked enough cupcakes to feed all the kids in the neighborhood. With several snack breaks, our supplies were running scarce and I stared into the refrigerator wondering what on earth to make for dinner.
This will be my third Thanksgiving in Israel, marking yet another year that has slipped by. It’s the day when I miss America and my family most, but also the time when I realize the extent to which the foods of the Mediterranean and the Middle East have seeped into my cooking, making my life more flavorful.
The first year, I had been in Israel less than two months when Thanksgiving arrived and hadn’t found my sea legs at the grocery store yet. Tracking down all the fixings for a traditional Thanksgiving feast was daunting. Luckily, my in-laws came to the rescue by visiting just before the holiday, stocking us with essentials like canned pumpkin.
We had a huge potluck meal with close to 50 of my husband’s medical school classmates, all of whom brought their favorite Thanksgiving dishes to the table. It was a feast of epic proportions with traditions from every corner of my home-country represented. I contributed brisket and my mother-in-law’s famous pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, both favorites in my husband’s family.
Growing up in a predominantly Jewish upper-middle class neighborhood of Toronto and attending Hebrew day school I didn’t know a single person who celebrated Thanksgiving. Naturally, I assumed that it was a Christian holiday.
I had learned the origins American Thanksgiving from TV. Canadian children are immersed in American culture well before we enter primary school. However, because TV Jews tended to celebrate holidays such as Christmas, this didn’t change my perception.
I entered public school in grade 7 and my new Jewish friends didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving either. One year while visiting Orthodox Jewish family in the U.S. I learned that they celebrate Thanksgiving. When I questioned this, I was told that the holiday is nonsectarian. My resulting theory was that U.S. Thanksgiving was historical/secular, while Canadian Thanksgiving was religious. This was before search engines and smart phones, and I’d celebrate Thanksgiving with non-Jewish roommates for years before I finally sought answers.
It is often said that Americans are overfed and undernourished when it comes to food. Supermarket shelves are lined with highly processed “food” products that contain little nutritional value when compared to the number of calories provided. While these products excel at meeting our energy requirements as cheaply as possible, one of the many hidden costs is that they leave us lacking required nutrients. In America it is difficult to starve, but easy to be malnourished.
And yet, there are still people who are hungry in this country. The USDA census on hunger estimates that in 2010, 48.8 million Americans suffered from food insecurity, meaning that nearly 50 million people in this country were not only malnourished but also hungry. That number included adults and children, and in fact households with children were more likely to be dealing with issues of food insecurity.
This time of year, as I plan my Thanksgiving feast, I struggle to reconcile that while there will be a literal feast on my table, others are struggling to have any food at all.
“Do Jews celebrate Thanksgiving?”
To many American Jews, this questions seems to have an obvious answer. A holiday that involves copious amounts of food and stressful gatherings of relatives? Of course, Jews celebrate it! Yet, questions posted on the websites from Yahoo to UrbanBaby show that confusion persists over whether Jews observe the day.
And actually, it is not as obvious a question as you would think. Thanksgiving’s origins were more Christian than they were patriotic. According to historian Jeremy Bangs, director of the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum in the Netherlands, the famous 1621 meal between the Plymouth Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians likely had some religious under (or, perhaps, over) tones. Remember, these were the Pilgrims, the ones who pissed off everyone else in England by being too zealously religious.
For most of us, Thanksgiving is a time to overindulge, give in, and stuff ourselves to the brim — not so different from most Jewish festivals that revolve around food. You’re probably expecting me (a holistic health counselor and nutrition student) to give you a list of all the things not to eat, right? Well, what if I told you that you could eat to your heart’s content on Thanksgiving, with a small catch? Follow 4 simple tips.
The turkey is the star on Thanksgiving so I won’t ask you to change that (though I will advise you to purchase one that is free-range and request that you refrain from deep frying it!). Instead, I’m just going to make some suggestions for how you can switch things up a little this year for the remaining items on your table. Though we’ve all become accustomed to similar dishes year after year at Thanksgiving, adding some new recipes into your holiday repertoire can really do wonders for your waistline, wallet, and the planet.
With Thanksgiving around the corner I have a one-track mind: pumpkin. Pumpkin lattes, pumpkin spice cake, pumpkin soup, pumpkin muffins and pumpkin ice cream. I’ve eaten all that in the past week. Do I have an addiction? Probably, but I’m okay with that.
For me, Thanksgiving is all about self-reflection and food. Originally intended to celebrate our freedom and to give thanks for a good harvest, Thanksgiving has morphed into a time when we gorge ourselves on foods, and spend time curled up on the sofa afterwards paying for it! Luckily, during this holiday pumpkin takes center stage.
The classic gourd, which many think of as iconic American, has a surprising Jewish connection going back 500 years. The “Encyclopedia of Jewish Food” explains that pumpkins were widely cultivated throughout the Americas for about 6,000 years and were among the first New World foods that the Native Americans introduced to the Europeans, who brought them back to Europe.
With Thanksgiving around the corner, master chef Jacques Pepin shares his secrets. [Village Voice]
This might just be the best sounding babka we’ve ever heard of. Abraco is selling ricotta and orange blossom babka. [Serious Eats]
Want to see just how much you know about the laws of Kashrut? Take this quiz. [My Jewish Learning]
Are we in a bagel crisis? [New York Post]
MyJewishLearning.com has served up a new Jewish food blog, A recent post features a Jewish takes on Thanksgiving food in the form of a turkey shaped challah. Festive. [The Nosher]
Which food magazine has the best Thanksgiving issue? Eater weighs in. Who has the best round-up of glossy Thanksgiving food coverage? Eater wins. [Eater]
Say goodbye to Sabra and give this three-step recipe for homemade hummus a whirl. [Serious Eats]
Marge becomes a food blogger in this week’s episode of the Simpsons. Simpsons executive producer Max Selman gives us a preview of what to expect. [Grub Street]
Thanksgiving weekend is arguably the ultimate time for Jewish food-lovers. With lots of family around to cook for, no need to shop for Christmas and several days off, there are hours and hours of open time to sip tea (or wine) at home and leisurely cook, filling your house with sweet and sumptuous smells of autumn food.
And while some recipes can be thrown together at the last moment, or be made in advance, others are best when we have several hours to savor their elaborate steps in the kitchen. Among those are breads, which require attention and kneading at several points throughout the day, but don’t necessitate an entire day spent on your feet cooking.
The Jewish Journal, in anticipation of Thanksgiving, ponders how “to turn the Jewish obsession with food into a Jewish call to what is popularly called food justice.”
Nikki Cascone, from Top Chef season four, will open Octavia’s Porch, “the first and only Global Jewish restaurant on the Lower East Side” next week, Grub Street reports. Check back on JCarrot next month for more on Cascone.
Ronald McCormick, the Senior Director of Local and Sustainable Sourcing at Walmart, gives the Atlantic readers “An Insider’s Account of Walmart’s Local Foods Program.”
For those who keep kosher, every meal is an opportunity to connect the physical earth with the mystical God. If there is one time a year that all Americans get a taste of this experience, it is the ritualized meal of Thanksgiving. Enter a growing awareness about the savagery of the modern meat industry, an uncomfortable exposure of assumptions about kosher meat, and most of all, a horror of Tofurky, and kosher consumers everywhere are seeking out new options for the holiday.
As recently as a couple of years ago, the availability of kosher turkey bearing the label “organic” or “pasture-raised” or even “natural” was pretty much zero. Now, it’s a land of plenty out there, relatively speaking. While this type of turkey isn’t something that you can find on the shelves of your kosher grocer, you can order them from companies like Grow and Behold Foods and KOL Foods. With shipping, these companies will send you an 11-12 lb. turkey for $80-100. This is a lot of money, but perhaps not too exorbitant for a special meal that you can truly be grateful for and comfortable eating.