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The Not-So-Ancient History of 10 Thanksgiving Dishes

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On Thanksgiving, more than any other day of the year, Americans sit down and eat the same meal as their neighbors and countrymen. It's tradition, after all! But we know our history: most of the Thanksgiving dishes we enjoy today weren't at the original Pilgrims' feast in 1621, or at least not in the way we enjoy them. How did we come up with the modern menu on so many tables?

1. Candied Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are native to the Americas and their consumption goes back about 5,000 years, so it is no wonder they are associated with the American holiday, even though the Pilgrims didn't have them in Massachusetts. But when did we start adding sugar to make them even sweeter than they are? The Old Foodie did some research, and the earliest recipe found is from 1889, in which sweet potatoes are made into candy.

"The candied sweet potato is a Philadelphia confectionery. It is nothing but sweet potatoes carefully boiled and quartered, then candied in boiling syrup, but it is said to be dainty and tender and of a delicious flavor".

By 1895, recipes for sweetened sweet potatoes as a dinner side dish were showing up. Some call these recipes candied yams, although actual yams are a different plant altogether. "Yams" is an American nickname for the softer varieties of sweet potato. Image by Flickr user Selena N. B. H.

2. Cranberry Sauce

Cranberries were probably a part of the original Thanksgiving feast. The Native Americans used them for food, medicine, and even dye. Most importantly, cranberries were used as a preservative because they contain benzoic acid, so they added the fruit to meats and grains to extend their shelf life. General Ulysses S. Grant ordered cranberry sauce to be served to his troops in 1864, probably to prevent scurvy during the winter. It was first put into cans in 1912 by a company that eventually came to be known as Ocean Spray, a term that originally was used only for their canned cranberry sauce. Image by Flickr user Ernesto Andrade.

3. Brown and Serve Rolls

Although not confined to Thanksgiving, "brown and serve rolls" are sold by the ton by various manufacturers for the holiday. They originated in 1949 when baker Joe Gregor of Avon Park, Florida tried to please his customers who wanted their rolls warm for dinner. He worked on the problem for months until he accidentally produced a batch of half-baked rolls. He left the "ruined" rolls in the oven while he responded to a fire alarm (Gregor was a volunteer fireman) and when he returned, he reheated the rolls and realized what he had produced. Gregor sold half-baked rolls to his customers to take home and finish baking before dinner. General Mills bought the process for $25,000, allowing Gregor to retire from baking. Recipes are available so that you can make your own rolls ahead of time and brown them just before dinner.

4. Apple Cider

It is not known when the first actual apple cider was produced, but the invading Romans discovered it in use in Kent when they invaded England in 55BCE. Cider spread through Europe during the Middle Ages. English settlers brought apple seeds to America, where the trees thrived. Other drinks, especially beer, became more popular, but cider is traditionally consumed in the fall to celebrate the apple harvest. That is how cider, especially spiced cider, came to be associated with Thanksgiving and Christmas. Image by Flickr user aya padrón.

5. Deviled Eggs

The concept of deviled eggs goes back to at least Ancient Rome, when boiled eggs were topped with spicy sauces. Removing the yolks from boiled eggs, adding spices, and then returning them was common in medieval times. The word "deviled" was first used in print to describe a highly spiced recipe in 1786, and came to be used for any food that was "hot" like the devil's domain. Image by Flickr user Generation X-Ray.

6. Roast Turkey

There are only a couple of accounts of the Pilgrim's feast written by participants, and at least one never even mentioned turkeys. The most famous remembrance was written twenty years after the fact by governor William Bradford and was confiscated by the British during the Revolutionary War. It was not recovered until 1854. Meanwhile, turkeys were roasted during the winter months by any Americans who had access to the birds. When the Bradford document became available, roast turkey became associated with the Thanksgiving meal. After all, the birds are much easier to raise on farms than the deer, swans, partridges, and seal meat that were also on the Pilgrims' menu. Image by Flickr user Doug Shick.

7. Stuffing or Dressing

Stuffing animals for roasting goes back to ancient times, with old recipes surviving from the Roman Empire. After removing the organs, the big hole left behind is an opportunity to add seasoning from the inside, and filling the cavity helps to even the cooking over a fire. In modern times, the Thanksgiving turkey is the only large animal that most people ever roast whole in their homes, so the custom of stuffing is linked to Thanksgiving turkey. However, it is often served without ever actually being inside the turkey. Modern instant stuffing is even served with no turkey at all! Stovetop Stuffing was invented in 1971 by Ruth Siems for General Foods (now Kraft Foods). The convenience of instant stuffing was an immediate hit when it was launched in 1972. The company sells around 60 million boxes every Thanksgiving. Image by Flickr user anjuli_ayer.

8. Green Bean Casserole

The green bean casserole that many people serve for Thanksgiving originated in 1955 with a recipe by Dorcas Reilly of the Campbell's Soup Company, in collaboration with Olney and Carpenter, who were trying to promote their french fried onion business. The recipe caught on, and ensured the future of canned fried onions and the trend of using cream soup instead of homemade white sauce. Of course, you can make it from scratch without the processed name-brand ingredients.

9. Mincemeat Pie

Mincemeat, a combination of meat, fruit, and spices not only tasted good to those who developed it, but preserved the meat for later consumption. Believe it or not, early mincemeat pies were baked in a coffin shape! One account has mincemeat brought back from the Crusades in the 11th century. Spiced meat was made into a pie for Christmas. The meat was combined with three spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves) to represent the three gifts of the wise men. The oblong coffin shape was meant to represent the cradle of the Christ child, and a  representative doll was placed on top when the small pies were presented. Another account has the original pies shaped like coffins to represent Osiris, the Egyptian god of the dead who was celebrated on the winter solstice. Christians co-opted this tradition along with the other solstice celebrations for Christmas. Over the years, the amount of meat was diminished as we developed other methods of preservation, and now most mincemeat recipes contain only a bit of suet along with apples, raisins, and spices. However, you can still make it the traditional way with this 1796 recipe. Image by Flickr user Bob Travis.

10. Pumpkin Pie

The Pilgrims may have eaten cooked pumpkin, but they didn't have it in a pie. The first recorded pumpkin pie recipe was published in France in 1653, where the fruit was called pompion. It spread to England and then to the New World, where the first American pie recipe (now called pumpkin) was published in 1796. Image by Flickr user sea turtle.

If you want to make your Thanksgiving feast more traditional than it is, you might want to check out these recipes from America's past.

See also: Eat Like the Pilgrims and Manly Ways to Prepare Turkey.

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10 Witty Facts About The Marx Brothers
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Talented as individuals and magnificent as a team, the Marx Brothers conquered every medium from the vaudeville stage to the silver screen. Today, we’re tipping our hats (and tooting our horns) to Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo, and Gummo—on the 50th anniversary of Groucho's passing.

1. A RUNAWAY MULE INSPIRED THEM TO TAKE A STAB AT COMEDY.

Julius, Milton, and Arthur Marx originally aspired to be professional singers. In 1907, the boys joined a group called “The Three Nightingales.” Managed by their mother, Minnie, the ensemble performed covers of popular songs in theaters all over the country. As Nightingales, the brothers enjoyed some moderate success, but they might never have found their true calling if it weren’t for an unruly equid. During a 1907 gig at the Nacogdoches Opera House in East Texas, someone interrupted the performance by barging in and shouting “Mule’s loose!” Immediately, the crowd raced out to watch the newly-liberated animal. Back inside, Julius seethed. Furious at having lost the spotlight, he skewered his audience upon their return. “The jackass is the finest flower of Tex-ass!” he shouted, among many other ad-libbed jabs. Rather than boo, the patrons roared with laughter. Word of his wit soon spread and demand for these Marx brothers grew.

2. THEY RECEIVED THEIR STAGE NAMES DURING A POKER GAME.

In May of 1914, the five Marxes were playing cards with standup comedian Art Fisher. Inspired by a popular comic strip character known as “Sherlocko the Monk,” he decided that the boys could use some new nicknames. Leonard’s was a no-brainer. Given his girl-crazy, “chick-chasing” lifestyle, Fisher dubbed him “Chicko” (later, this was shortened to “Chico”). Arthur loved playing the harp and thus became “Harpo.” An affinity for soft gumshoes earned Milton the alias “Gummo.” Finally, Julius was both cynical and often seen wearing a “grouch bag”—wherein he’d store small objects like marbles and candy—around his neck. Thus, “Groucho” was born. For the record, nobody knows how Herbert Marx came to be known as “Zeppo.”

3. GROUCHO WORE HIS TRADEMARK GREASEPAINT MUSTACHE BECAUSE HE HATED MORE REALISTIC MODELS.

Michael Ochs Archives/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Phony, glue-on facial hair can be a pain to remove and reapply, so Groucho would simply paint a ‘stache and some exaggerated eyebrows onto his face. However, the mustache he later rocked as the host of his famous quiz show You Bet Your Life was 100 percent real.

4. HARPO WAS A SELF-TAUGHT HARPIST.

Without any formal training (or the ability to read sheet music), the second-oldest Marx brother developed a unique style that he never stopped improving upon. “Dad really loved playing the harp, and he did it constantly,” his son, Bill Marx, wrote. “Maybe the first multi-tasker ever, he even had a harp in the bathroom so he could play when he sat on the toilet!”

5. THE VERY FIRST MARX BROTHERS MOVIE WAS NEVER RELEASED.

Financed by Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo, and a handful of other investors, Humor Risk was filmed in 1921. Accounts differ, but most scholars agree that the silent picture—which would have served as the family’s cinematic debut—never saw completion. Despite this, an early screening of the work-in-progress was reportedly held in the Bronx. When Humor Risk failed to impress there, production halted. By Marx Brothers standards, it would’ve been an unusual flick, with Harpo playing a heroic detective opposite a villainous Groucho character.

6. GUMMO AND ZEPPO BECAME TALENT AGENTS.

World War I forced Gummo to quit the stage. Following his return, the veteran decided that performing was no longer for him and instead started a raincoat business. Zeppo—the youngest brother—then assumed Gummo’s role as the troupe’s straight-talking foil. A brilliant businessman, Zeppo eventually break away to found the talent agency Zeppo Marx Inc., which grew into Hollywood’s third-largest, representing superstars like Clark Gable, Lucille Ball, and—of course—the other three Marx Brothers. Gummo, who joined the company in 1935, was charged with handling Groucho, Harpo, and Chico’s needs.

7. CHICO ONCE LAUNCHED A BIG BAND GROUP.

Chico took advantage of an extended break between Marx brothers movies to realize a lifelong dream. A few months before The Big Store hit cinemas in 1941, he co-founded the Chico Marx Orchestra: a swinging jazz band that lasted until July of 1943. Short-lived as the group was, however, it still managed to recruit some amazing talent—including singer/composer Mel Tormé, who would go on to help write the “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” in 1945.

8. THEY TESTED OUT NEW MATERIAL FOR A NIGHT AT THE OPERA IN FRONT OF LIVE AUDIENCES.

With the script still being drafted, MGM made the inspired choice to let the brothers perform key scenes in such places as Seattle, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco. Once a given joke was made, the Marxes meticulously timed the ensuing laughter, which let them know exactly how much silence to leave after repeating the gag on film. According to Harpo, this had the added benefit of shortening A Night at the Opera’s production period. “We didn’t have to rehearse,” he explained. “[We just] got onto the set and let the cameras roll.”

9. GROUCHO TEMPORARILY HOSTED THE TONIGHT SHOW.

Jack Paar bid the job farewell on March 29, 1962. Months before their star’s departure, NBC offered Paar’s Tonight Show seat to Groucho, who had established himself as a razor-sharp, well-liked host during You Bet Your Life’s 14-year run. Though Marx turned the network down, he later served as a guest host for two weeks while Johnny Carson prepared to take over the gig. When Carson finally made his Tonight Show debut on October 1, it was Groucho who introduced him.

10. SPY MAGAZINE USED A MARX BROTHERS MOVIE TO PRANK U.S. CONGRESSMEN.

Duck Soup takes place in Freedonia, a fictional country over which the eccentric Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) presides. In 1993, 60 years after the movie’s release, this imaginary nation made headlines by embarrassing some real-life politicians. Staffers from Spy got in touch with around 20 freshmen in the House of Representatives, asking some variation on the question “Do you approve of what we’re doing to stop ethnic cleansing in Freedonia?” A few lawmakers took the bait. Representative Corrine Brown (D-Florida) professed to approve of America’s presence in Freedonia, saying “I think all of those situations are very, very sad, and I just think we need to take action to assist the people.” Across the aisle, Steve Buyer (R-Indiana) concurred. “Yeah,” he said, “it’s a different situation than the Middle East.”

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Get This Weekend's Best Amazon Deals
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As a recurring feature, our team combs the Web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, August 19.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

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Appmax IPhone 6 6S Flowing Liquid Case Swimming Magic Maze Transparent Hard 3d Liquid Case Cover Shell for Iphone 6 & Iphone 6S [4.7 Inch] (Blue Maze) for $5.88 (list price $9.99)

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Philips FLEX BT2000A/37 Wireless Portable Bluetooth Speaker (Blue/Green) for $23.64 (list price $39.99)

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Le Creuset Signature Iron Handle Skillet, 11-3/4-Inch, Cerise (Cherry Red) for $199.95 (list price $260.00)

Le Creuset Enamel-on-Steel Whistling 1-4/5-Quart Teakettle, Marseille Blue for $99.95 (list price $130.00)

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Sagaform 5016554 Spice/Herb Storage Bottles with Oak Stoppers for $24.95 (list price $27.00)

MatchaDNA Handcrafted Matcha Tea Bowl - White for $16.89 (list price $29.99)

Luxtea Glass Teapot 25oz with Stainless Steel Infuser and Lid for Blooming and Loose Leaf Tea (25oz) for $14.99 (list price $19.99)

Fred PIZZA PEDDLER Monkey Unicycle Pizza Wheel for $12.67 (list price $15.66)

Brilliant - Mason Jar Drink Dispenser with Stainless Steel Spigot and Cork Cover, 1 Gallon (4L) for $35.00 (list price $39.95)

Umbra Buddy Paper Towel Holder, Black for $19.99 (list price $25.00)

Curva Artisan Series Double Wall Beverage Glasses and Tumblers - Unique 8 oz Thermo Insulated Drinking Glasses, Set of 4 for $28.95 (list price $38.95)

Dinosaur Cookie Cutter Set - 3 Piece - T-Rex, Triceratops, and Stegosaurus – Ann Clark – US Tin Plated Steel for $7.99 (list price $9.49)

InterDesign Axis Over the Cabinet Kitchen Storage Organizer Basket for Aluminum Foil, Sandwich Bags, Cleaning Supplies - 2-Tier, Chrome for $13.29 (list price $17.99)

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Umbra Trigg Hanging Planter Vase & Geometric Wall Decor Container - Great For Succulent Plants, Air Plant, Mini Cactus, Faux Plants and More, Concrete Resin/Copper (Set of 2) for $22.56 (list price $25.00)

Safavieh American Homes Collection Carrie Side Storage Side Table, Red for $101.69 (list price $122.20)

Vornado VFAN Vintage Air Circulator Fan, Vintage White for $99.81 (list price $119.99)

Bronze Dimmable Accent Table Lamp with 1 Vintage Edison Style Bulb, Plugin, Brooklyn Bulb Co. Hoyt Collection, Inset Switch, ETL Listed for $69.99 (list price $129.00)

Byredo - Burning Rose Candle for $68.24 (list price $95.00)

Honey-Can-Do SHO-02222 4-Tier Bamboo Entryway Organizer for $55.87 (list price $90.99)

Levpet 13-Gallon Touch-Free Trash Can, Stainless-Steel for $48.35 (list price $85.99)

Saganizer Hamper with Wheels Rolling Cart Heavy Duty Triple Laundry Organizer/Sorter, Chrome/White for $37.99 (list price $49.99)

EWEI'S HomeWares 3 Floating U Shelves, Espresso Finish for $15.99 (list price $20.50)

Jill Rosenwald by Surya POUF-48 Hand Made 100% Wool Tan 18" x 18" x 18" Pouf for $225.00 (list price $303.00)

Tosca Laundry Basket Size: 15.2" H x 16.3" W x 12.2" D for $50.64 (list price $53.33)

Deco 79 68135 Metal Bookend Pair for $28.42 (list price $57.00)

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WCloud Desk Organizer Wood Office Supply Book Desktop Small Table Shelf Bamboo for $28.99 (list price $49.90)

mDesign Office and Desk Storage, File Folder and Notebook Organizer - Clear for $11.99 (list price $14.99)

Northbooks Notebook / Journal (5 Pack), 96 College Ruled Pages, Acid Free Sheets, 5x8 | Made In The USA for $26.37 (list price $39.99)

Exposed Bulb Accent Lamp, Mahogany Wood, Dimmable, E26, 60W, 120V, Plug-In, Includes Edison Filament Bulb, ETL Listed for $49.00 (list price $114.00)

Fred DESK DONUT Push Pin Holder for $12.99 (list price $14.99)

Tomons Wood Swing Arm Desk Lamp, Designer Table Lamp, Reading Lights, Study Lamp, Work Lamp, Office Lamp, Bedside Nightstand Lamp - Black for $29.99 (list price $39.99)

X-ACTO SchoolPro Classroom Electric Pencil Sharpener, Heavy Duty, Blue/Grey for $21.94 (list price $29.98)

Over the Door Magazine Storage Pockets, Wall Door Closet Hanging Storage bag organizer, (5 Pockets-Nature) for $7.99 (list price $8.99)

Officemate Binder Clips, Gold, Assorted Sizes, 30 Clips in Tub (31022) for $3.70 (list price $5.88)

Officemate Heavy Duty Magnets, Assorted Sizes and Colors, 30 per Tub (92501) for $9.78 (list price $15.79)

Swingline Paper Trimmer / Cutter, Guillotine, 12" Cut Length, 10 Sheets Capacity, ClassicCut Lite (9312) for $29.76 (list price $31.25)

Fountain Pen with Ink Refill Converter and Gift Box - Timeless Classics Collection - Executive Writing Signature Calligraphy Pens Set For Standard Cartridges (Chocolate Espresso Brown) for $39.97 (list price $59.99)

HEALTH AND BEAUTY

daisi Facial Cleansing Portable Travel Brush Set | Face Exfoliator for Softer Skin | Rechargeable Waterproof Facial Brush Removes Make-Up, Oil & Dead Skin | 3 Soft Non-Sonic Brushes | For Men & Women for $17.95 (list price $35.00)

Majestic Pure Therapeutic Melaleuca Alternifolia Tea Tree Oil With Dropper, 4 fl. Oz for $13.95 (list price $29.50)

Dukes Daily Age-Defying Facial Moisturizer Cream 4oz - Anti-Aging Lotion - Day/Night Face Wash Fuel for Men – All Organic for $19.99 (list price $45.00)

Facial Moisturizer, Organic and Natural Face Moisturizing Cream for Sensitive, Oily or Severely Dry Skin - Anti-Aging and Anti-Wrinkle, for Women and Men. By Christina Moss Naturals. for $25.99 (list price $39.99)

Kyoku For Men Exfoliating Facial Scrub | Kyoku For Men Face Scrub, A Gentle Acne Treatment For Men (3.4oz) for $12.14 (list price $18.00)

Activated Charcoal Teeth Whitening Toothpaste - Made in USA – REMOVES BAD BREATH and TOOTH STAINS - Best Natural Toothpaste for Herbal Decay Treatment - Mint flavor. for $10.00 (list price $19.99)

Keiby Citom Premium Nail Clipper Set of 10pcs with Leather Case - Professional Stainless Steel Grooming Kit Manicure & Pedicure Set for Travel for $14.98 (list price $29.99)

Antifungal Spirulina Body Scrub by Buena Skin | 100% Natural, Antibacterial with Green Algae, Dead Sea Salts and Vitamin E 12 oz. for $13.96 (list price $19.95)

Gentleman Jon Deluxe Wet Shave Kit | Includes 8 Items: Safety Razor, Badger Hair Brush, Shave Stand, Canvas & Leather Dopp Kit, Alum Block, Shave Soap, Stainless Steel Bowl and Astra Razor Blades for $75.00 (list price $95.00)

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Bath Body Brush Boar Bristles Exfoliating Body Massager with Long Wooden Handle for Dry Brushing and Shower for $7.69 (list price $11.99)

OUTDOORS, GARDEN, AND SPORTS

SE CC4580 MilitaryLensatic/Prismatic Sighting Compass with Pouch for $7.90 (list price $14.95)

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OZERO Garden Gloves, Deerskin Snug-fit Leather Work Glove with Touch Screen Fingertips - Sweat-absorbent & Light-Weight for Caring Pets/Yard/Automotive Work/Sports - Fit for Women & Men (Yellow,M) for $10.99 (list price $18.00)

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Coreal 35L Large Lightweight Collapsible Packable Travel Hiking Backpack Trekking Bag Red for $19.89 (list price $25.99)

MiniPresso GR Espresso Maker for $57.95 (list price $64.99)

AUTOSPOUT Straw Striker Chill, 10oz, Cherry Blossom for $10.39 (list price $15.99)

TOOLS

VeloChampion MLT10 Multi Tool for $14.95 (list price $19.95)

DeWalt DWHT51054 20 Oz. Rip Claw Hammer for $27.92 (list price $30.76)

Magnelex 22-in-1 Multitool with Attachable Bits and Sheath, Stainless Steel, Black for $19.90 (list price $59.90)

DEW Emergency Survival Kit Travel Outdoor Multifunctional Bracelet, Survival Gear Kit Paracord Bracelet with Fire Starter Scraper, Cutting Tool, Whistle, Compass (Green) for $4.99 (list price $14.99)

Southwire Tools & Equipment POUCH4 Leather Tool Pouch for $15.28 (list price $17.98)

Southwire Tools & Equipment 58993940 S5N1 5-in-1 Long Nose Multi-Tool Pliers, Black/Yellow for $20.56 (list price $32.81)

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Dremel 2200-01 Versa Flame Multi-Function Butane Torch for $39.00 (list price $42.99)

Plus Pen Style Compact Twiggy Scissors with Cover, White (34609) for $4.36 (list price $5.99)

Southwire Tools & Equipment SD12N1 12-In-1 Multi-Bit Screwdriver for $13.97 (list price $18.97)

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