Thanksgiving: what’s it all about?

Despite hearing much about Thanksgiving from the trusty sources of Friends and The OC, it’s still a confusing feast for us Brits. The Gap Year Travel Guide investigates.

Celebrated each year on the third Thursday of November, Thanksgiving originated from a celebratory feast shared between the Wampanoag and the pilgrims in 1621 (let’s skim over the fact that the pilgrims later massacred the Native Americans) in Plymouth, Massachusetts after a particularly successful harvest.

Nowadays it’s a day off work dedicated mostly to food, family and giving thanks, which is rather a nice concept: just being truly thankful for what you have and stuffing yourself full of deliciousness in the company of your nearest and dearest. There’s also some parades and (American) football involved, and it’s apparently customary to fall asleep in front of the TV when all the thanking and eating is done. Sounds good to us!

As the least commercialised of the ‘holidays’, it’s a refreshing change from the festive media onslaught and provides a pensive pause to remind everyone what really matters before the insane Christmas rush begins. The day after Thanksgiving—aptly known as Black Friday—traditionally marks the start of the Christmas shopping season, and is similar in hernia-inducing stress levels to the Boxing Day sales in the UK.

The star of the show on Turkey Day is, unsurprisingly, the turkey. In recent years, a trend to deep fry the bird (very dangerous, see YouTube instruction if tempted) has gained alarming popularity. Common sides include the obligatory cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, cornbread, and something called green bean casserole (which sounds slightly ominous), along with canned sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping and many other historically inaccurate pilgrim delicacies. And that’s just the main course! For dessert, prepare yourself for pie and lots of it—usually pumpkin, apple or pecan, or all of the above— after which you are fully permitted to collapse on the ‘couch’. You deserve it.

If you feel like getting into the spirit of Thanksgiving, why not attempt a classic pecan pie?

Pecan Pie

Recipe from

375g pack ready-made shortcrust pastry

3 large eggs, beaten
150g (5 oz) dark brown soft sugar
2 tablespoons golden syrup or maple syrup
170g tube Carnation Condensed Milk
100g (3½ oz) butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
150g (5 oz) pecan nuts

Prep: 30 mins | Cook: 1 hour | Extra time: 20 mins | Serves: 8

  1. For the base, preheat the oven to 200ºC / Gas 6. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to line the tin, allowing the excess pastry to hang over the sides of the tin. Prick the base with a fork and chill in the refrigerator or freezer for 10 minutes. Cover the pastry base with a sheet of baking parchment and fill with baking beans. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove the beans and paper and return the pastry case to the oven for a further 10 minutes. When cool, take a sharp knife and cut away the excess pastry, leaving a neat edge.
  2. Reduce the oven temperature to 170ºC / Gas 3.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together all the filling ingredients except the pecan nuts. Pour into the pastry case, then carefully sprinkle over the pecans. Bake for about 50 minutes until the filling is just set.
  4. Remove from the tin and leave to cool for about 20 minutes. The pie is at its best either served warm with vanilla ice cream or chilled with a spoon of crème fraîche.

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