Thanksgiving Potlatch – 5th Annual
First of all a note about the name of this event… The potlatch is a celebration or ceremony that typically takes place amongst certain Indigenous peoples in North America, and is often associated with groups living on the Pacific Northwest coast of the United States and the Canadian province of British Columbia. The host of any given potlatch demonstrates their status through both the quantity and quality of goods they distribute, whether that is food or trinkets or other resources. A hallmark of some potlatches is the destruction of a portion of these resources as a definitive display of the ability of the host to redistribute their wealth.
My first year in graduate school we started a tradition of a Thanksgiving potluck held the week before Thanksgiving, and being anthropologists, we dubbed it the Thanksgiving potlatch. There were discussions of breaking things or setting things on fire during the course of that first party, but these have since died down. The main point, as with all parties this time of year was a reason to get together and share some great food in a warm house with wonderful company. This year we expanded the guest list a bit to invite some non-anthropologists and the party could definitely be pronounced a resounding success.
Part of the reason I love these potlucks is because you get to sample traditions from different people’s families, or try new recipes that you’d never other wise have an opportunity to. My family is 100% stuck in a rut when it comes to the Thanksgiving menu. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining about the food, I look forward to it and I love every last bite of it, but there is always room to try new things and to same other traditions as well.
The tradition at the potlatch is to serve roasted chickens rather than turkey because our original hosts (who were unfortunately in Africa on field research this year) prefer chicken and honestly, it’s much more manageable of a bird. So I left the host in charge of preparing them and watching them as they roasted in the oven, knowing full well that he’d probably get caught up in a conversation and forget to baste the birds or leave them in too long, which ta da, yep kids it happened, just as I predicted. But fortunately the birds were quite resilient and they weren’t in the least bit dry.
Another funny little cooking misstep was assigning the cranberry sauce to my friend from the Czech Republic who’d never made it before. It’s simple I said, you just follow the instructions on the bag. Of course she didn’t manage to read all the instructions all the way through to notice that you need to make it a day in advance to stick it in the fridge so it will solidify. We had very liquid cranberry sauce, but hey it’s still better than the canned stuff (personal opinion I know), and it still tasted awesome.
My own cooking snafu came when I was trying to make the gravy, often a difficult task. How many stories have you heard about lumpy gravy? Believe it or not I’ve never had to make it before, it’s always my mom’s job on the holiday, though I’ve certainly watched and know how. Problem was I didn’t catch that the big cup full of liquid on top of the microwave was the pan drippings, so I just used what was literally on the bottom of the roasting pan and started making the gravy. Then once we realized I had missed out the major source of flavor we just poured the pan drippings into the already-started gravy and tried to thicken it from there. I ended up making about two quarts of gravy I think; it was ridiculous. And by the time I’d finished everyone was already eating, so they could have cared less about it.
Other dishes we had included two kinds of stuffing, steamed veggies with cheese, a fabulous salad with strawberries and walnuts, my own sweet potato casserole (check out the recipe on the sidebar – it’s not the kind with the marshmallows and I promise it’s awesome!), bread, spaghetti squash, and mashed potatoes with onions. For dessert (this time I had a minute to take a few pictures before everyone got to the table) there was a pumpkin pie and an apple pie, two kinds of cookies, and pumpkin bread. All of them were lovely, believe me I tried everything!
Thanks to everyone for coming! And for those who weren’t able to be there for one reason or another, perhaps think about starting your own similar tradition with your friends. It’s wonderful to have these family traditions that we carry on, but also fantastic to expand out and make new ones with your friends. Happy Thanksgiving!