Berger’s Burg: I’m thankful for memories and cranberry sauce

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Did you know that the wild turkey is a patriotic bird? The male’s plumage is red white and blue.

Thanksgiving, known as “The Harvest Holiday,” will be celebrated this year on Nov. 22. It is a time for families and friends to gather, and EAT, socialize, and EAT, give thanks for their blessings, and EAT some more!

Since I love cranberry sauce, my salivary glands have already begun to water thinking about the red and juicy cranberry sauce (the jellied kind) that I will devour shortly. I love Thanksgiving.

You may ask how did this idea of Thanksgiving ever get off the ground? I’m glad that you asked.

The holiday began in America in 1619 with the British colonists, who landed near Charles City, Virginia the year before. They had experienced a sorrowful first year of near-starvation in which many of them perished.

In the second year. these hardy pioneers produced a bountiful crop and in their joy, felt compelled to celebrate and give thanks for their blessings.

When some copy-cat Pilgrims from Plymouth, Massachusetts got wind of the sweet smells drifting in from the colonists’ first sit-down dinner - spicy, salty, sour, sweet, buttery, roasty, crispy, toasty, gingery, sharp, peppery, tart, candled sugary, and fresh - they decided to have a similar harvest feast of their own, but with a twist. They invited many of their newly-made acquaintances, the American Indians they met while playing football with a pumpkin. Not only was wild turkey on the menu, but also duck, venison, fish, and corn meal.

Why wasn’t cranberry sauce served at the meal? you may now ask. Extensive research reveals that the probable reason was not that it was too bitter to eat as the Native-Americans prepared it. It was because it was mixed in its natural bitter state with deer meat and grease before cooking. Ugh!

It wasn’t until sugar became more available and used in the preparation that it became popular. (Civilization had to wait some 300 years until a Waldbaum’s had the courage to put cans of cranberry sauce on their shelves preceding the Thanksgiving holiday. The first can was immediately scooped up by Emeril, and a precedent was set.)

Since many of the pilgrim revelers were not able to read the Surgeon General's warning about the dangers of smoking tobacco, it was disregarded. So naturally, as a token of friendship, they joined the Native-American smoke-feast. At its conclusion, the poor pilgrims coughed all the way home. Nonetheless, a good time was had by all despite the fact that most of the indulgers also wound up suffering from various forms of indigestion.

And thus, the tradition of our Thanksgiving was born. It wasn’t until 1853, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the fourth Thursday in November as a day of prayer and thanks. We have been officially celebrating and overeating on Thanksgiving ever since. (Many Americans also give thanks for Pepto Bismol and cold compresses.)

Each and every Thanksgiving, I find my thoughts focusing on a special celebration that occurred when I was a child I came from a poor family of two parents, eight children, one cat and one permanent boarder, all residing in a small, four-room apartment on the Lower East Side. I was the second youngest of the eight children.

Thanksgivings for the family generally meant just being grateful to be living in America, the land of plenty. However, although the land of plenty surrounded us, we did not enjoy too many of the fruits of this plenty. Our annual Thanksgiving dinners usually consisted of an extra potato tossed into the daily pot of soup my mother prepared for the large family. Jack, the oldest child at 18, had a job paying $8.00 per week. From this amount he contributed $7.50 to the family coffers.

On this particular Thanksgiving, he watched Mama cooking the family dinner. “Cabbage soup is good, Mama,” Jack said, “but we need something more. Something very special for Thanksgiving.”

So, with 50 cents in hand Jack raced down to the vegetable market (the “Little Busy Corner”), and glanced over the wide assortment of fruits and produce. He finally spied two affordable choices - large, plump chestnuts and succulent sweet potatoes. He then bought 25 cents of each and raced home with his bag of goodies.

“Mama, today is Thanksgiving, and in America everyone must eat a special meal,” Jack said. “Put away the soup for tomorrow. Today we celebrate Thanksgiving the right way.”

With that, , he handed Mama the bag of chestnuts and sweet potatoes. It wasn’t long before the sweet smell of the roasting treats filled the air. The whole family (including the cat and the boarder) rushed into the kitchen to see what their noses were telling them. Mama chased them all away. “Don’t come back until I call,” scolded Mama.

Finally, Mama made the grand announcement. “Everyone, come sit down to our first Thanksgiving dinner.” Everyone came and enjoyed the “feast.” Since then I have eaten many scrumptious Thanksgiving meals both at home and in fine restaurants, but none tasted as sweet as the meal Jack’s 50 cents produced.

Have a happy and enjoyable Thanksgiving — and when you munch on chestnuts and sweet potatoes, think of my wonderful Thanksgiving dinner Jack's 50 cents bought.

Gloria, pass the cranberry sauce, please.

Reach columnist Alex Berger by e-mail at or call at 229-0399, ext. 139.

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