November 26, 2008
In honor of our national celebration of face-stuffing, we bring you an excerpt from Calvin Trillin's groundbreaking 1981 essay about his overthrow of the traditional Thanksgiving menu, "Spaghetti Carbonara Day".
It does not take much historical research to uncover the fact that nobody knows if the Pilgrims really ate turkey at the first Thanksgiving dinner. The only thing we know for sure about what the Pilgrims ate is that it couldn't have tasted very good. Even today, well brought-up English girls are taught by their mothers to boil all veggies for at least a month and a half, just in case one of the dinner guests turns up without his teeth. (It is certainly unfair to say that the English lack both a cuisine and a sense of humor: their cooking is a joke in itself.)
It would also not require much digging to discover that Christopher Columbus, the man who may have brought linguine with clam sauce to this continent, was from Genoa, and obviously would have sooner acknowledged that the world was shaped like an isosceles triangle than to have eaten the sort of things that the English Puritans ate. Righting an ancient wrong against Columbus, a great man who certainly did not come all this way only to have a city in Ohio named after him, would be a serious historical contribution. Also, I happen to love spaghetti carbonara.
[At the first Thanksgiving,] The Indians, having had some experience with Pilgrim cuisine during the year, took the precaution of taking along one dish of their own. They brought a dish that their ancestors had learned from none other than Christopher Columbus, who was known to the Indians as "the big Italian fellow." The dish was spaghetti carbonara--made with pancetta bacon and fontina and the best imported prosciutto. The Pilgrims hated it. They said it was "heretically tasty" and "the work of the devil" and "the sort of thing foreigners eat."
The entire essay is available in The Tummy Trilogy.
Spaghetti carbonara doesn't exactly solve the problem that vegetarians face at Thanksgiving, but it's a step in the right direction. Even if your Thanksgiving hosts fail to offer you a tasty plate of spaghetti carbonara, you can feel lucky that you're not a NASA astronaut at the international space station. Here's their dinner:
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