Americans have been celebrating Thanksgiving since Abraham Lincoln first declared it a national holiday in 1863, a day to give thanks for all that we have in an effort to unify the country at that time. A full turkey dinner with stuffing, yams and cornbread was what most Americans ate but when Italian immigrants landed here, family feasts took on a life of their own.
Italians, Sicilians embraced the American traditions but couldn’t help but add a foodie flair. Growing up in a family of Italian immigrants meant an antipasto platter full of pepperoni, provolone, artichoke hearts and peppers, and olives for the kids to wear on their fingers. Next came pasta, sometimes manicotti but usually lasagne and then Sicilian stuffed artichokes with cheese, garlic, pignoli and loads of breadcrumbs. The sloppy, finger-lickin’ delicacy was a lot of work for nonna to make but a lot of joy for us to eat. If we were really lucky, there might even be a plate of golden-fried carduni (artichoke) stems.
Now, take a pause and loosen your belt because we haven’t gotten to the turkey yet! Bring on the Yankee food: turkey, cranberry sauce (usually the shaking jelly kind out of a can). After stuffing and frying artichokes and baking lasagne, nonna had no time to cook cranberries! The stuffing also had an Italian flare; you couldn’t bake bread in a dish without adding sausage, right? As for dessert…fughettaboutit! No American apple and pumpkin pie for the Italian kids! We feasted on a table of decadent delights: Sicilian cassata (ricotta) cake, Panettone, pastry by the pound and topped off with only fresh-filled cannoli. Oh yeah, we Italian kids were allowed to drink too. Sure they water-downed the liquor for us in our pretty little cordial glasses but nothing was held back in the food orgy of all orgies.
Thanksgiving Italian style – we wouldn’t have it any other way.