Br(u)no: Teaching Turkey
Photo credit: Stock picture / Freepik.
As a teacher of English here in the Czech Republic, I have talked about Thanksgiving, the American holiday, countless times.
Here are some facts: Fourth Thursday of November. Roast turkey, yams, gravy, stuffing. Family get-together. American Football. The next day is Black Friday. A few days later is Cyber Monday. It is all an important part of American culture.
This is important for my high school students because they might draw “Holidays in English-speaking Countries” during their graduation exam — which is also known as the most stressful test of their young lives — so they’d better be prepared to talk turkey.
That is why, this week, I will talk about Thanksgiving with my students.
They always want personal stories, so I will tell them about my family back home in the U.S.: My mother usually serves a 20-pound turkey, which is about 9 kilograms. She is Czech, so she will make sauerkraut (zeli) and dumplings (knedlíky) in addition to the American fare, which includes mashed potatoes, sweet potato pie and a bean casserole (which must be new because I don’t remember ever having eaten it).
The inevitable question that I will get is: just how big are ovens in America?
More generally, Thanksgiving has a lot of interesting aspects. It is a non-denominational holiday, which means that people of all religions gather together much more than during Christmas, Passover or Easter. Of course, politics always seems to come up, especially when an uncle or a grandmother (or both) get a bit too much alcohol into them.
For the record, the ovens are not that much bigger in America. The birds may weigh more, but the meat is spread evenly around their bodies. It is a tasty meal and pretty easy to cook. If you have the frozen ball that is common in the United States (and which is now available in Makro and Tesco and other local supermarkets), then you end up with about 95 percent meat and leftovers for several days.
If you’re interested, don’t be afraid to cook one. There are plenty of recipes and YouTube videos online. It is hard to screw up. Just remember to baste it often so that the meat doesn’t dry out. And, if you’ve never eaten one, it would be worth the experience.
Here are some other fun facts that I share with my students (with the belief that, if you make something interesting, then you make it memorable):
- The “first” Thanksgiving was in 1621 when the survivors of the Mayflower crossing of the Atlantic celebrated their first harvest. Reportedly, it was a three-day festival that included 50 pilgrims and 90 Wampanoag Indians. A total of five women attended; they were the only female pilgrims to survive that first year.
- There was no turkey served at the first Thanksgiving. Seafood — oysters, lobster, eel and fish — was on the menu, along with duck and goose. Also: no forks. Just spoons and knives.
- The Bald Eagle is the national symbol of America. Yet, Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers, pushed hard for the turkey to be the national bird. He was outvoted. Can you imagine the national crest with a turkey?
- Sarah Josepha Hale is famous for two reasons. No. 1, she spent years trying to make Thanksgiving a national holiday until President Abraham Lincoln finally decreed it as one in 1963 in a futile attempt to get the North and South to stop fighting the Civil War and come together over their shared foundation myth. No. 2, she wrote the children’s song “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”
- Americans eat 46 million turkeys each Thanksgiving.
- The first meal that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin ate after walking on the moon was roasted turkey from a tinfoil pouch.
- American football is a traditional foundation for many gatherings. The men sit on the couch, drinking beer and watching football and the women cook dinner in the kitchen. Good times.
- My vegan roommate in New York had a Tofurkey one year. It is a piece of tofu in the shape of a turkey, which, in my opinion, is really strange because, unlike a slice of meat, the Tofurkey was shaped like a turkey and made it seem like he was eating a turkey.
- Some classy restaurants have Turducken on the menu. That means that they put a chicken inside of a duck inside of a turkey, deep-fry it, and serve it sliced so that you get three different colors of meat: turkey-duck-chicken-chicken-duck-turkey. That may seem strange, but medieval royalty did the same thing over an open fire, and with many other types of bird combinations.
Of all of the maturita graduation tests in which I have taken part, no student has ever had trouble with describing Thanksgiving. Maybe strange stories are memorable, although I have had more than a few students recite that the men watch American Football and the women cook the turkey.
Sometimes a joke (read: the truth) has a way of being remembered.
I hope that this column will provide thought-provoking observations of local life that will be interesting for a Saturday-morning read. If you have any suggestions or comments, please pass them along to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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