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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Turkey, Fixings Make Happy Thanksgiving

I spent my first North American Thanksgiving in the town of Evansville, Indiana, with the University of Evansville basketball team at the coach's house. We dined on turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie.

The food was fine, but the most memorable aspect was the sense of family and respect for everyone present. Of course we were all orphans, adopted by coach Jim Crewes for the day, but everyone quietly enjoyed the meal while thinking of family and home.

The first American Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 by a group of Puritans who had landed at Plymouth Rock the previous year. Governor William Bradford of Plymouth Colony proclaimed a day of thanksgiving and prayer to celebrate their first harvest. The inspiration for Bradford's original celebration was probably the harvest festivals, held in England and many other parts of the world.

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln, following the precedent set by a number of states, proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day, which now falls on the fourth Thursday of November.

Thanksgiving is also celebrated as a holiday in Canada. First celebrated in 1879, it has been observed since 1957 on the second Monday in October.

Though the exact form of the Thanksgiving meal has evolved and owes much to regional variations, some elements always appear. They are turkey, cranberry sauce, root vegetables such as potatoes and sweet potatoes and some form of pumpkin.

Turkey is the name given to two, large American birds. The ocellated turkey is native to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and the adjacent countries of Guatemala and Belize. The wild turkey is native to northern Mexico and the eastern United States and is the bird featured on colonial Thanksgiving tables. All domestic turkeys have been developed from this bird. It was first domesticated in Mexico and taken to Europe in the 16th century where it has been extensively raised.

There are many turkey ranches around Moscow and their produce can be found in some produkty, or grocery stores, and many rynki, or markets, including the Cheremushkinsky Rynok. Being a city boy, I place my faith in the frozen variety and head for the supermarkets. All the large supermarkets stock frozen turkeys. Kalinka-Stockmann has excellent Butterball turkeys all the way from Downes Grove, Illinois, for $5.70 per kilogram. An average-sized bird is about $50. They also have whole Doux brand turkeys from France for about the same price; an average bird is about $40.

Now sweet potatoes are a different story altogether. One of my American friends says her Thanksgiving dinner would not be complete without them, but they are not readily available in Moscow. Stockmann does have a good supply at $4.90 per kilogram. Get some now and bake them or puree them with butter, whipped cream, cardamom and nutmeg for an exotic touch. You also can use them in Southern Sweet Potato Pie.

Sweet potato is the name applied to a perennial, trailing herb of the morning-glory family. The plant is native to tropical America but is cultivated throughout many warm regions of the world, particularly the southern United States. It is planted primarily for its thick, edible roots, called sweet potatoes. Two main types are commonly cultivated: a dry, mealy variety and a soft, light- or deep-yellow, moist kind. The sweet potato is often incorrectly called a yam, and though the wild yam is native to the eastern United States, it has roots that are not enlarged. The yam and sweet potato belong to quite different families.

My Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys are never without cranberry sauce. It is a tribute to sugar that this small, sour fruit can become such a great accompaniment. The cranberry is related to the blueberry and has several variants.

The large, or American, cranberry is cultivated in the northeastern United States in sand-covered bogs that are flooded to protect the vines from frost and pests. Most of the cranberry crop produced in the United States each year is canned as sauce or jelly or bottled as juice, with the best coming from Cape Cod.

The small, or European, cranberry grows wild in marshlands of temperate and colder regions of Europe and North America. Cranberries, called klyukva in Russian, are widely available in Moscow at all markets and many street stalls. If you boil the berries for 15 minutes then add half their weight in sugar and heat until the syrup thickens, you'll have a fine cranberry jelly. You may also want to welcome guests with a cranberry and vodka punch.

I wrote about pumpkin last week and intend to make a butternut squash flan to accompany my colonial feast.

Potatoes, carrots and parsnips are all reasonably available and will round out your celebratory feast.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Cheryomushkinsky Rynok, corner of Vavilova Ulitsa and Lomonosovsky Prospekt. Metro: Universitet, but better served by trams.

Danilovsky Rynok, corner of Serpukhovsky Val and Mytnaya Ulitsa. Metro: Tulskaya.

Kalinka-Stockmann, 2 Zatsepsky Val. Tel: 233-2602 or 231-1924. Metro: Paveletskaya. Open 7 days a week from 10 a.m. to midnight.