Marshmallows, memories & crackers...
PART 2: Thanksgiving pudding
Thanks for your letter and Sarah’s Thanksgiving Date Pudding; not to mention those gorgeous photos of you in your heyday!
I so enjoyed reading your letter; as I was brought up in England and Australia, Thanksgiving is something of an unknown celebration; except, as you say, the fodder for tv sitcoms and family conflicts. It does, however, share the origins of many festivals around the world observed to celebrate and give thanks for the harvest and safe bringing-in of the crops.
The above photo shows my slightly tweaked version of Sarah’s recipe; I replaced one cup of the dates with a cup of sour cherries, and the Graham Cracker crumbs with a digestive biscuit crumb. I also used fresh cultured cream, whipped to stiff peaks with added vanilla. And because I’m a child at heart, some sprinkles and toasted marshmallows on top…
As always with us Naomi, food is the focus, but, as with our Christmas meals, each family seems to have their own favourites and there are many viewpoints on what is on and off the list.
As far as I can establish, the most common ‘must haves’ (according to Newsweek at least) are turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, corn (or cornbread), dinner rolls, cranberry sauce, gravy and pumpkin pie. Macaroni and cheese appears frequently on menus, although I think this is a modern addition and will certainly up the carb load! Please remember this is an outsider’s view of Thanksgiving and I’m sure there will be much debate over my list…
Sarah’s dessert includes another common ingredient – marshmallows, sometimes also used on what we would consider a savoury dish such as sweet potatoes.
My rabbit hole journey this week took me down the road of investigating some ingredients unknown to me. One of these is Graham Crackers – I have seen these specified in countless recipes, often as a crust for pies and cheesecakes. The crisp, lightly sweetened cracker was inspired by the preaching of Sylvester Graham, a leading light in the 19th century temperance movement. Graham (and his followers, known as Grahamites), believed that a life of abstinence and following a vegetarian diet would be an example of piety and faith, and that the use of whole wheat, in particular, would help counteract the dietary deficiencies of the industrial revolution. The distinguishing flavour of Graham Crackers is the coarsely ground whole wheat flour, and in the US is actually named Graham Flour. This is hard to come by in Australia, and good quality stoneground whole wheat flour will give a similar result. The Graham Cracker is also one of the main ingredients in the dessert known as S’mores, along with chocolate and marshmallow, providing a foil for the richness, along with crunch.
Marshmallow has a much older history than the cracker, with their history dating back as far as 2000 BCE. The name marshmallow comes from the mallow plant species which has fleshy stems and leaves, along with white flowers. It is believed that the ancient Egyptians used the plant to soothe sore throats and heal wounds. The first product we would recognise was prepared by boiling root pulp with honey until thick; then strained and cooled.
By the early 1800’s the marshmallow plant was being used by confectioners in France, who would whip the dried marshmallow roots with sugar, water and egg white to produce a substance called Pate de Guimave, sold as a small bar. The mallow root was gradually replaced with gelatine which gave a more stable form of the sweet.
By the early 1900’s methods had improved, and mass production was possible, using a form of extrusion; these are the sweets we recognise today.
There are now countless varieties of marshmallows being produced by artisan companies, such as lemon meringue, strawberry cheesecake, mint choc-chip and raspberry – who knew?
Sarah’s lovely letter reminds us once again of the power of memory and tradition, especially around feast days and special occasions; I love the fact that four generations of her family have kept their grandmother’s memory alive in this way; and trust it will continue for many years to come…
All the best, as always