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15 Forgotten Thanksgiving Dishes

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Mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and, of course, turkey may be the stars of your Turkey Day table, but the earliest Thanksgiving dishes looked—and tasted—slightly different. And sometimes included eel. Here are 15 of them.

1. TURKEY SOBAHEG 

Though turkey played a role in the earliest Thanksgivings, it wasn’t always the star. One popular way to incorporate it into the meal was in a “Sobaheg” (the Wampanoag tribe’s word for stew). Among the dish’s ingredients: a half-pound of beans, white hominy corn, sunflower seed meats, and clam juice. (The experts at Plimoth Plantation even have a recipe.)

2. VENISON ROAST

It’s believed that venison roast, not turkey, was the centerpiece of the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth Colony. In 1621, Edward Winslow recalled the feast he and his fellow Pilgrims shared with the Wampanoags, writing: “… Amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoit, with some 90 men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain, and others.”

3. ONION SAUCE

Onion sauce, which was very popular in the 17th century, was an early incarnation of the modern gravy. Used for dipping meats, onion sauce was made from onions and turkey drippings. More contemporary interpretations of it include sugar, vinegar, and breadcrumbs.

4. DRESSED CRAB

The earliest Thanksgiving menus leaned heavily on seafood, like eel, mussels, and dressed crab, a sweet delicacy that’s cooked in its own shell and seasoned with sugar and cinnamon.

5. APPLE PUDDING

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Apple pudding is a sweet pudding, made from cream and apples, that is either baked or boiled in a pie-like dumpling crust. The recipe appeared in 1841’s Early American Cookery: The Good Housekeeping by Sarah Josepha Hale, who is considered the “Mother of Thanksgiving.”

6. BOILED BREAD

Texturally, boiled bread is similar to a bagel or pretzel, in that it’s soft and chewy. Taste-wise, it’s a lot different: It’s a mix of cornmeal, flour, dried berries (like cranberries, blueberries, or currants—or a mix of all three), and crushed nuts or seeds. The mixture is then formed into patties, dropped into a pot of boiling water, and considered “done” when it floats to the top.

7. CURD FRITTERS

More like a crepe, a recipe for curd fritters—which calls for five eggs, curds from a soft cheese like ricotta or cottage, wheat or corn flour, salt, oil or butter, and sugar—appeared in The Good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin, which was published in 1594.

8. NASAUMP

Similar to porridge, Nasaump is made from cornmeal, berries, and crushed nuts or seeds and could be served as either a sweet or savory dish. Puritan Roger Williams described it as “a meale pottage, unparched. From this the English call their Samp, which is Indian corn, beaten and boiled, and eaten hot or cold with milk and butter, which are mercies beyond the Natives plaine water.”

9. BAKED EEL

Believe it or not, eels were a very important food for Native Americans and Pilgrims during the 17th century. They were a great source of protein, and especially popular during the long New England winters, when they were easier to catch. To make baked eel, chop an eel into three sections and season it with salt, pepper, and ginger. Put the pieces with butter and onions into a baking tin and cook for about an hour in a 360-degree oven.

10. STEWED PUMPKIN

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One of the earliest recipes from New England, stewed pumpkin was known as a “standing dish” because it was eaten almost every day. In the 1600s, British traveler John Josselyn wrote about the dish in his book, Two Voyages to New England, in which he shared that it caused gas.

11. CHESTNUT FRITTERS

American chestnuts were considered much sweeter than their European counterparts, so Colonial cooks often incorporated chestnuts into desserts and snacks. They were also used in savory dishes like stuffing and fried chestnut fritters, which were served with oysters.

12. HASTY PUDDING

Also known as “Indian Pudding” when it came to Colonial America, Hasty Pudding is a sweetened porridge that was served as an appetizer. It was made from cornmeal or molasses, which were prevalent in the New World, instead of tapioca or oatmeal, which were not.

13. SYLLABUB

Dating back as far as the Middle Ages, syllabub was a very popular dessert in Colonial America. It’s a parfait-like treat made with whipped cream, white sugar, and lemon juice, but can also be made with Amaretto for an added punch.

14. MARLBOROUGH PIE

Before the modern apple pie, there was the Marlborough pie—a staple dessert that dates back to the 17th century. It’s an apple pie made with a rich custard base that was fused with sherry and shredded apples or applesauce instead of apple slices. Marlborough pie was served for the holidays, but fell out of fashion after the Civil War.

15. SKILLET CRANBERRIES

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Made with either brandy or rum, skillet cranberries were a simple dish, and one of John Adams’s favorite foods. And yes, it’s as simple as it sounds: cranberries and raw sugar were baked in a skillet for over an hour, then deglazed with alcohol.

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Animals
Why Tiny 'Hedgehog Highways' Are Popping Up Around London
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Hedgehogs as pets have gained popularity in recent years, but in many parts of the world, they're still wild animals. That includes London, where close to a million of the creatures roam streets, parks, and gardens, seeking out wood and vegetation to take refuge in. Now, Atlas Obscura reports that animal activists are transforming the city into a more hospitable environment for hedgehogs.

Barnes Hedgehogs, a group founded by Michel Birkenwald in the London neighborhood of Barnes four years ago, is responsible for drilling tiny "hedgehog highways" through walls around London. The passages are just wide enough for the animals to climb through, making it easier for them to travel from one green space to the next.

London's wild hedgehog population has seen a sharp decline in recent decades. Though it's hard to pin down accurate numbers for the elusive animals, surveys have shown that the British population has dwindled by tens of millions since the 1950s. This is due to factors like human development and habitat destruction by farmers who aren't fond of the unattractive shrubs, hedges, and dead wood that hedgehogs use as their homes.

When such environments are left to grow, they can still be hard for hedgehogs to access. Carving hedgehog highways through the stone partitions and wooden fences bordering parks and gardens is one way Barnes Hedgehogs is making life in the big city a little easier for its most prickly residents.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
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Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


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Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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