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Sunday, November 21, 2010

PEOPLE & VOICES: Celebration of Thanksgiving in BAJA

By Jeannine Perez of El Caballo Blanco
Loreto BCS Mexico

The sun is warm on my back as I water our foot-high tomato plants and try to mentally  plan a Thanksgiving feast for two with no turkey. There's  no possible way to roast a turkey in my toaster oven!  Not even a dismembered. turkey baked one small part at a time.  The tiny kitchen here in our bookstore is compact and (somewhat) organized, but there is no stove in it, and my husband misses the usual huge Thanksgiving turkey with all of the trimmings. A toaster oven, crockpot, coffee pot, and microwave have done us well for six years, and they have also turned out many passable and even a few gourmet meals. Life here in Loreto is different and interesting, and it is also a very good life.
However, Thanksgiving is the holiday when we most miss our  families in Illinois and Colorado, as we remember all of the beautiful and unbroken traditions that happened without a hitch for so many years. Adult children are now creating their own Christmas traditions for their young families, and Beto and I now enjoy summer reunions that are certainly memory-makers. But Thanksgiving is a precious family time, and we now live far away from the families we love. 
The celebration of Thanksgiving has become one of America's most important holidays, and to date has resisted most efforts to over-commercialize it. Whether or not the  first Thanksgiving actually happened in exactly the way we've always read and heard in historical legends and stories, is not really important.  Thanksgiving is the time in the year when we pause our busy and hectic lives to feel gratitude for all of the good things in our lives; and it's also a time to pause before the rush, glitter, and stress of Christmas. Thanksgiving is an American holiday, although all of earth's cultures have their own times and ways of celebrating life's blessings and giving thanks, whether that celebration centers on a plentiful harvest, success in hunting, or is a gathering of family and friends. 
We have Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of  Godey's Lady's Book  to thank for this National holiday dedicated to gratitude and family, and what has now also become the  gateway to another holiday season.  Between 1846 and 1863, Sarah campaigned tirelessly to make Thanksgiving a national holiday.  A very strong minded woman, she wrote long letters to six presidents proposing a national holiday of thankfulness in November.  Letters barraged the presidentual offices of Polk, Taylor, Filmore, Pierce, Buchanon, and Lincoln.  It was Lincoln who finally signed the proclamation making Thanksgiving a national holiday, and in a touching gesture, he did so in the same year he signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Sarah's determination (and also some stubborness), is clearly demonstrated by her singleminded opinions about what should be served on this day. She filled Godey's magazine with her own recipes using cranberries, turkey, potatoes, and pumpkins.  Perhaps this became the primary source for the recipes we adapt and still use today.  She also published  some exotic and less popular suggestions (to modern cooks). Her menus include boiled and  stewed eels along with decorated tables groaning under a wide variety of other meats; .mutton, ducklings, meat pies, a goose, several different beef dishes, and also pork in many forms.
What should I plan? 
Ahh!  Beto and I have just been invited to share a Thanksgiving dinner with friends (he is a gourmet cook, and he also has an oven).  Beto is thrilled to think of eating turkey again on Thursday, and so I am now searching recipes for my contribution....perhaps a stunning and spectacular dessert that uses ingredients easily found here in Loreto, and that will fit easily into a toaster oven.
We all make our own traditional foods.  I do not serve seven sweets and seven sours in heavy cut glass dishes on a damask tablecloth covering a heavy oak table,  as did my German grandmother, and eel has never graced our table, but the premise of eating together in gratitude for our blessings continues, today.
The sun is warm, our tomatoes grow daily, and our children all send  love and best wishes.  Life is good.