Wednesday, November 23, 2011

golden heartstrings

golden heartstrings
in a butternut heart cave
protect the ripe seeds

For Thanksgiving dinner I am preparing a casserole with layers of Butternut squash, Gala apples and cranberries. With a cleaver I slice open the squash from stem to stern, exposing the firm orange-gold flesh. I notice, for the first time it seems, that the seed-filled cavity is shaped like a heart. 
          The American tradition of Thanksgiving is a wonderful celebration of the heart. Family and friends gather together for a feast commemorating the first Thanksgiving, when the Pilgrims gave thanks to God for their safe arrival in the New World. The first feast provided food for 13 Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans and lasted three days. Perhaps this is why the official holiday, proclaimed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, was set for a Thursday, conveniently providing us with a long weekend to consume the leftovers. 
          The first feast consisted of fish, shellfish, wild fowl (including our traditional turkey), venison, vegetables, berries and fruit, grains, and the Three Sisters: dried Indian maize (or corn), beans and squash. My casserole includes squash, apples and cranberries, called sassamanash by Native Americans, who may have introduced them to the Pilgrims. 
         In addition to the squash, I am baking pinto beans and tomorrow I will pop some Chief Appanoose popcorn. This tiny, hull-less popcorn is named for the chief of the Sauk tribe in the early 19th century. Appanoose means "a chief when a child," indicating that his position was inherited. He was one of the "peace chiefs" sent to Washington, D.C. in 1837. The Sauk ("yellow earth people") and their relatives the Meskwaki ("red earth people") shared this heirloom variety of popcorn with a pioneer family in Iowa in the 1850s, and it was grown on the family farm for generations. The last quart of this flavorful popcorn was nearly lost in the 1970s, but enough was saved for planting. One more thing to be thankful for!

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