Weather Forecast


A salute to mashed potatoes

How was your Thanksgiving dinner? They're almost always wonderful, aren't they? But before you talk about the traditional turkey and dressing, let me address a more basic issue -- mashed potatoes.

When the Pilgrims and Indians celebrated their first Thanksgiving feast at the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts in 1623, the menu included wild turkey, venison, geese, ducks, fish, journey cake, corn meal bread with nuts and succotash. The meal was marvelous, and everyone was thankful, but there was some quiet grumbling that it could have been better, and "something seems to be missing."

It wasn't until 1747 that the first written recipe for mashed potatoes appeared. Hannah Glasse's formula appeared in "The Art of Cooking Made Plain and Easy." History doesn't record when mashed potatoes first appeared on a Thanksgiving table, but it was probably before Hannah's recipe in 1747, because mashed potatoes were inevitable -- succotash (also known as Narraganset msickquatash, consisting of kernels of corn, lima beans and tomatoes cooked together) just wasn't doing it.

Kids understand this in their gut, but maybe you haven't heard it yet -- not only are mashed potatoes delicious and easy to swallow, but they are the number one comfort food in America, beating out meat loaf, cinnamon buns and casserole (hot dish in North Dakota and Minnesota). Millions of Americans turn to comfort food when they are stressed because it gives them a sense of security -- whether they realize they are doing it or not. Also, it's warm when the weather gets cold.

Kids, almost all of them, love mashed potatoes. But once I asked a kid how he liked mashed potatoes and he said, "What are mashed potatoes?" I was shocked. Any kid who doesn't know what mashed potatoes are has had way too much cotton candy and is living in a borderline child-neglect home. He has probably also asked this question: "What is homework?"

When the Pilgrims and Indians grumbled about something being missing, they were probably pioneering an ongoing grumble that will never end. As the years rolled on, cranberries, squash and sweet potatoes were added. Then, as we all know, pumpkin pie also became a traditional Thanksgiving dessert, but there are some who would grumble about pumpkin pie and prefer pecan pie instead. That would hardly seem like a thankful attitude, but sometimes the spirit of thanks gets a bit watered down.

Only once in my life have I had a Thanksgiving dinner in Massachusetts, home of the original Thanksgiving. Our hosts presented us with a dessert they called Indian Pudding, a pudding made of cornmeal and milk sweetened with molasses. It was delicious -- topped with vanilla ice cream. They probably didn't have ice cream on that first feast in 1623, but they may have had Indian Pudding.

And so it goes -- we keep wanting something more, and we keep adding to the traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Depending on our ethnic roots, folks add lefse, spaghetti, meatballs, sausage, sauerkraut, Creole gumbo, egg rolls and tamales.

As long as we are a nation of immigrants the tradition can only grow richer. But only one thing should never be forgotten: to give thanks. Yes, you are reading this article after Thanksgiving, but it's never too late, is it?