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Cranberries, Yams…Must Be Thanksgiving

Fri., Nov. 21, 1997

A year ago today, the ground shivered under a blanket of snow while we shivered under goosedown comforters. It was day three of no electricity and no heat and not much hope for either.

Wasn’t it ironic that Thanksgiving was only a few days away? For it was in the fall of 1621 that a group of Pilgrims gathered to give thanks for their survival of not only the voyage across the Atlantic, but of their first year in the new world.

Last Thanksgiving was truly a day to be thankful. Though the storm affected some of us worse than others, the conditions could have been much more devastating. So today, I honor Thanksgiving with a bit of potpourri related to this holiday.

First and most important, Thanksgiving is a time set aside to give thanks for our blessings. This year, the Stephens’ household will be filled with many blessings. All our children, grandbabies (with two more on the way), parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins will join to celebrate. It will be pure bedlam, and positively grand.

Though Thanksgiving is a time of feasting and enjoying the company of family and friends, the roots of Thanksgiving go back much further than the Pilgrims and the Native Americans. The ancient Greeks, Romans, Hebrews, Chinese and Japanese all celebrated a harvest festival in one way or another.

We can thank Mrs. Sarah Hale for making Thanksgiving a national holiday in America. As the Civil War drew to an end, she persuaded President Lincoln to proclaim the last day in November as Thanksgiving for the entire nation. The date was later changed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the fourth Thursday in November.

Much of the food we eat is also traditional - turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. This year, let’s take a closer look at two of these menu items - sweet potatoes and cranberries.

Do you eat sweet potatoes or yams - or is there a difference? According to Inger Skaarup, botanically these two vegetables are very different. Sweet potatoes go by the botanical name Ipomoea batatas and are related to morning glories. The edible parts of the sweet potato are not tubers, but rather part of the plant’s root system. Sweet potatoes are natives of the New World, where they were discovered by Columbus.

Yams, on the other hand, are of the lily family belonging to the genus dioscorea. The edible parts are the plant’s rhizomes. They are grown in the heat and humidity of the tropics. The yams displayed beside the sweet potatoes in our American supermarkets are rarely, if ever, true yams. Most likely, what you have in front of you are two varieties of sweet potatoes, a soft-fleshed and a firm-fleshed. The firm-fleshed sweet potato has a pale tan jacket and is creamy inside. When cooked, it has a dry, almost mealy texture and is not terribly sweet. The soft-fleshed sweet potato, on the other hand, is sugary and moist. The skin is copper-red and the flesh bright orange to red. It is this sweeter variety that is commonly mistaken for a yam.

Cranberries also have an interesting story. The Pilgrims gave this sour berry the name crane berry because its pink blossoms and drooping head reminded them of the head of a crane. With time, the name evolved to cranberry.

Washington state is one of the leading producers of this berry.

Cranberries grow on trailing vines in swampy, acidic areas referred to as bogs.

Often the bogs are flooded to protect the plants from the freezing and thawing ground during the winter and insects during the summer. By late September, the berries are ready to harvest and ship.

Depending upon their variety, cranberries can be either round or oblong.

As we sit down at our meal with friends and family, let us give thanks for our many blessings. And please, help those who are less fortunate by giving generously to the food bank. It is in great need of turkeys.

Happy Thanksgiving.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Phyllis Stephens The Spokesman-Review

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