10 Facts About Your Favorite Thanksgiving Foods

bhofack2/iStock via Getty Images
bhofack2/iStock via Getty Images

Sure, there may be football and a parade on Thanksgiving, but true fans of the holiday know it's all about the food. A traditional Thanksgiving meal consists of special dishes that celebrate America's history—including some fairly recent developments in the country's cuisine. You may not be thrilled to see a ridged tube of cranberry sauce or marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes any other time of the year, but on Thanksgiving, they're a welcome treat. From side dishes to desserts, here are some facts you should know about your favorite Thanksgiving foods before sitting down to dinner.

1. Green bean casserole was invented by a Campbell Soup employee.

Green bean casserole in dish.
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Campbell’s test kitchen supervisor Dorcas Reilly was responsible for developing recipes for the backs of soup cans in the 1950s. Her most successful dish—green bean bake, or green bean casserole as it later came to be known—featured condensed cream of mushroom as one of its six ingredients. Home cooks are still making her original recipe 60 years later.

2. Cranberry sauce is canned upside down.

Cranberry sauce from a can.
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Ocean Spray knows you love the sight of a cylindrical, perfectly ridged mass of cranberry sauce sliding out of the can. To facilitate this process, the company packages the condiment so that the rounded end of the can is up top and the sharper, rimmed end is at the bottom—which is the opposite of what you see in most canned products. This design creates an air bubble vacuum at the top of the can. When you remove the bottom panel and loosen the contents with a knife, the air bubble gently pushes the cranberry sauce out of the can and onto your plate. So when serving jellied cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving, remember to open it upside-down for the best results.

3. Some festivals feature mashed potato wrestling.

Mashed potatoes in a bowl.
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Mashed potatoes are extremely versatile. You can eat them, sculpt with them, and at some American festivals, you can wrestle in them. The Potato Blossom Festival in Maine, Potato Day in South Dakota, and the Potato Days festival in Minnesota all include mashed potato wrestling matches as part of the festivities. If it pains you to think of gallons of potatoes going to waste, don’t worry: According to Guinness World Records, these potatoes are made out of "(inedible) floor sweepings from a factory or outdated flakes that are no longer saleable." They usually become feasts for local cattle afterwards.

4. Sweet potatoes aren’t really potatoes.

Sweet potato casserole with marshmallows.
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True potatoes like russets are members of the nightshade botanical family, while sweet potatoes belong to the morning glory family. But that doesn’t make sweet potatoes yams either; though they aren’t actually potatoes, orange sweet potatoes are their own thing. Yams, which are often white or yellowish on the inside, are related to lilies and grasses and mostly grow in tropical environments.

5. The pumpkin pie you have at Thanksgiving likely doesn’t contain pumpkin.

Slice of pumpkin pie.
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Any pies baked with canned pumpkin puree are often criticized as not being "pumpkin" pies at all, but the truth is more complicated. There’s no hard and fast rule as to what is or isn’t a pumpkin, but the most iconic pumpkin is a variety of Cucurbita pepo, while most store-bought canned pumpkin is made from Dickinson pumpkin, or Cucurbita moschata. However, many authorities argue pumpkin either has no botanical meaning or consider C. moschata to be a valid type of pumpkin. For their part, the FDA comments that since 1938 they have "consistently advised canners that we would not initiate regulatory action solely because of their using the designation ‘pumpkin’ or ‘canned pumpkin’ on labels for articles prepared from golden-fleshed, sweet squash, or mixtures of such squash with field pumpkins."

6. Turkey probably won’t make you sleepy.

Thanksgiving turkey.
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Many people feel tired at the end of Thanksgiving dinner, which is a natural reaction to gorging on heavy foods and washing it down with alcohol. Despite this logical explanation, people have chosen to blame the amino acid L-tryptophan for their drowsiness instead. It’s true that tryptophan is present in turkey, but the bird doesn’t contain enough of it to put you to sleep. The stuffing, pumpkin pie, and three glasses of merlot are more likely to blame for your post-dinner nap.

7. Whether you call it dressing or stuffing depends on where you’re from.

Stuffing in a pan.
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Some say that there is a difference between stuffing and dressing: The former is “stuffed” into the turkey and cooked that way while the latter is cooked separately in a pan (to avoid turning what’s arguably the best dish at Thanksgiving into a salmonella bomb, many people prefer cooking their cubed bread mixture outside their turkey). According to others, though, whether you call it dressing or stuffing comes down to where you live. People in the South are more likely to call it dressing, while people from northern and western states tend to stick with stuffing.

8. The largest serving of macaroni and cheese weighed 2469 pounds.

Macaroni and cheese in a pan.
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In 2010, the Cabot Creamery Cooperative and Chef John Folse & Company made every cheese-lover's dream come true by whipping up the world's largest serving of mac and cheese. The gooey monstrosity weighed 2469 pounds—and that's not including the 1902-pound kettle it was cooked in. It earned the title of largest macaroni and cheese ever made from Guinness World Records.

9. The origins of the turducken go back to the 18th century.

Turducken on carving board.
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While the turducken may seem like a modern Thanksgiving monstrosity, its origins actually predate the current version of the holiday. The 1774 book The Art of Cookery contains the earliest known instructions for cooking a bird within a bird. But instead of a chicken and a duck inside a turkey, the recipe calls for a pigeon, partridge, fowl, and goose to all be stuffed inside a turkey.

10. There’s a “Brussels sprout gene.”

Brussels sprouts in a dish.
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If you’re the only person you know who can’t stand the taste of Brussels sprouts, blame your genes. Some people have a variant gene called TAS2R38 that allows them to taste certain bitter compounds, such as those found in Brussels sprouts. The presence or absence of the so-called “Brussels sprouts gene” may explain why some people hate Brussels sprouts and others can’t get enough of them.

15 Facts About the Westminster Dog Show

Sarah Stier/Getty Images
Sarah Stier/Getty Images

One of America's oldest sporting events is also its most slobbery. This year, the Westminster Kennel Club dog show returns to New York City for the 144th time, promising one preeminent pooch the coveted title of "Best in Show" and a lifetime supply of positive reinforcement. While the show has evolved over its many years, it remains a beguiling spectacle for dog fanatics and casual observers alike. Here are 15 facts to get you competition-ready.

1. The original show was for gun dogs.

Champion Stingray of Derryabah, aka Skipper, a British Lakeland Terrier, wins Best In Show at the 92nd Westminster Kennel Club show at Madison Square Gardens, New York City, February 1968
H. William Tetlow, Fox Photos/Getty Images

Around 1876, a group of sportsmen began to hold regular meet-ups in a Manhattan bar to swap hunting stories. Their trusty canine companions eventually made their way into the conversation, and the idea for a dog club was formed. The group met at a bar in The Westminster Hotel, and aptly named themselves the Westminster Breeding Association (later the Westminster Kennel Club). It was after helping to stage a dog show in Philadelphia that the group decided to hold their own to compare and showboat their pups.

The first show, featuring primarily Setters and Pointers, was an immediate success. A total of 1201 dogs entered the first year, with tens of thousands of spectators by the second day. The first prizes included such items as a "Gold and Silver Mounted Pearl Handled Revolver"—an appropriate reward for an active hunter.

2. The show has seen its share of tragedy.

A photo of J.P. Morgan.
Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images

A champion collie belonging to J.P. Morgan, who spent millions on his obsession with dogs and competed in Westminster regularly, drowned itself. Its trainer called the dog's death "a clear case of suicide" in an 1895 New York Times article.

3. You don't have to be young to win.

Vintage Westminster Dog Show photo.
Lady Iddo at the 53th Westminster Dog Show in 1935.
Imagno/Getty Images

In 2009, a 10-year-old Sussex spaniel named Stump (registered name: Clussexx Three D Grinchy Glee) broke the record for oldest dog ever to win "Best in Show." He later appeared on the cover of AARP magazine.

4. Nepotism has made its way into the competition.

Westminster Dog Show 2019
Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Dog-judging has always been subjective. Judges at the first modern dog show ever, in Newcastle in 1859, were also the owners of the show's two winners. Today, the Westminster Kennel Club website acknowledges that's it's not a precise science. "Each judge, applying their interpretation of the standard, gives their opinion on that day on which dog best represents its breed," it explains.

5. Life has imitated art.

A dog competes in the Masters Agility Championship during the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 2018.
Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Parker Posey, famous for playing a manic, metal-mouthed Weimaraner-owner in the 2000 dog show parody Best in Show, has also spent some time backstage at the Westminster Dog Show. As she told The Wire at the 2014 WKC Dog Show, she met some personalities resembling her own persnickety character while on set: "[Director Christopher Guest] brought over a professional groomer. She came over right before a take and she criticized our dog. She said, 'The coat's all wrong.'"

6. The top dog gets the royal treatment.

The 2019 winner of the Westminster Dog Show.
Gary Gershoff/Getty Images

The winner of the Westminster Dog Show traditionally eats a celebratory lunch at famed Broadway watering hole Sardi's—breaking New York City's health codes which prevent animals from entering restaurants.

7. It's not all about good looks.

Maximus from the Westminster Dog Show 2019.
Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The show doesn't only value looks. A two-legged dog named Nellie participated in the first Westminster show ever in 1877, and 1980's "Best in Show" was a true underdog: Cinnar, a Siberian husky missing part of its ear, won with handler Trish Kanzler—one of the few amateurs to ever win the title.

8. The dogs are refined, but their names sometimes aren't.

Westminster Dog Show 2015 photo.
Andrew Burton/Getty Images

The 2015 WKC Dog Show featured a Pomeranian named Starfire's Spank Me Hard Call Me Crazy, a basset hound named Easthill Broxden Woodland Lettuce Entertain You, and a border terrier named McHill's His Royal Highness Prince Gizmo House of Gremlin.

9. Things have even turned criminal.

A very good boy at a dog show.
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Eight dogs belonging to one prominent New York City dog breeder were poisoned during the 1895 Westminster Dog Show. Despite the story making the front page of The New York Times, no suspect was ever prosecuted for the crime.

10. A bunch of your favorite breeds have never won "best in show."

A chihuahua poking its head out.
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Despite being a favorite among dog-lovers, there has never been a chihuahua, Great Dane, dachshund, or golden retriever crowned "Best in Show." Here's the full list of breeds to never win, as of 2019.

11. Mutts are slowly making their way into the competition.

A dog looking at the camera.
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In 2014, mutts, a.k.a. "All-Americans," were allowed to participate in Westminster's Agility Championship for the first time since 1884—but they’re still ineligible for "Best in Show."

12. Labs are voted most popular, but not head of the class.

Lacey, a Labrador, runs through a sport course during a press preview for the Westminster Dog Show on February 12, 2015 in New York City
Andrew Burton, Getty Images

Despite being the most popular dog in the country, a Labrador retriever has never won "Best in Show." The reason? Experts say their friendly temperament prevents them from desiring the spotlight. Labs can also be disqualified for deviating by half an inch from height standards (between 22.5 and 24.5 inches for males and 21.5 and 23.5 for females)—a regulation that was nearly challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court in 1994.

13. Some practices are ancient—and weird.

A dog receiving a prize at a dog show.
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While nowadays some breeders cut their dogs' tails for aesthetic reasons, the practice originated with 5th century BCE Greek statesman Alcibiades, who cut the tail of his dog so that the Athenians would have something else to talk about rather than Alcibiades.

14. The dogs have friends (and relatives) in high places.

A photo of a Portuguese water dog.
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Matisse the Portuguese water dog (officially registered as GCH Claircreek Impression De Matisse) has quite the pedigree. In addition to being the most decorated male show dog in the United States, he is also related to the country's former First Family; his cousin, Sunny, belongs to the Obama family.

15. Naturally, there have been some great underdog stories.

A very tiny dog at the Westminster Dog Show.
Matthew Eisman/Getty Images

Tickle Em Jock, "Best in Show" winner at the 1911 Westminster Dog Show, was a Scottish terrier and a dark horse to boot. His original owner was a butcher who sold him for 2 pounds (or about $15), which turned out to be the Scottish terrier's lucky break. After a few years with trainer Andrew Albright, Tickle Em Jock was valued at $5000. Once, after winning the title of "best of breed," the scrappy champ bit a judge's wrist.

A version of this list first ran in 2016.

5 Facts About Thomas Crapper

MJC Plumbing, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain
MJC Plumbing, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

You may have heard a tale or two about Thomas Crapper, the Victorian-era inventor and sanitary engineer, but there’s a good chance those stories are untrue. So, in honor of Thomas Crapper Day on January 27 (which this year marks the 110th anniversary of his death), we want to set the record straight. Here are five facts about one of the world’s best-known but least-understood plumbers.

1. No, Thomas Crapper did not invent the flush toilet.

The biggest myth about English plumber Thomas Crapper is that he invented the first flush toilet. This would make for an amusing anecdote—"Crapper invented the crapper"—but the fact of the matter is that Crapper wasn’t even alive when the first flush toilet came to be. That dubious honor goes to Sir John Harington (a distant ancestor of Game of Thrones star Kit Harington), who built the toilet in 1596 for his godmother, Queen Elizabeth I. (She reportedly complained it was too loud). According to Snopes, many of the myths surrounding Crapper’s accomplishments stem from the 1969 book Flushed with Pride: The Story of Thomas Crapper, which “has often been dismissed as a complete fabrication.”

2. Thomas Crapper did hold other plumbing patents.

Thomas Crapper & Co flush toilet in Sir John Soane's Museum
By Rainer Halama, Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA 3.0

Unless you’re a plumber, you’ve probably never stopped to appreciate the inner workings of a toilet. That little floating valve inside some toilets that prevents tank overflow is called a ballcock, and Crapper did invent that. Altogether, he held nine patents for his inventions, including designs for water closets (early flush toilets), manhole covers, pipe joints, and drain improvements.

3. Thomas Crapper plumbed for the British royalty.

Crapper’s plumbing company was commissioned to do plumbing projects for some pretty high-profile clients, including the people over at Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, and the Sandringham Estate. Sadly, any tales that he was knighted by the Queen are untrue.

4. Thomas Crapper opened the world’s very first bathroom showroom in 1870.

This is perhaps Crapper’s greatest claim to fame. At a time when it was considered improper to publicly acknowledge bodily functions, Crapper’s Marlboro Works showroom boldly placed functioning toilets on display—and customers could even try them out before buying them. According to Snopes, an article in Plumbing and Mechanical Magazine argued that Crapper “should best be remembered as a merchant of plumbing products, a terrific salesman, and advertising genius.”

5. You can still see Thomas Crapper's name on manholes in London.

Manholes with Thomas Crapper's name on them
Barry W, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

If you head to Westminster Abbey and look down, you might see a manhole sporting Crapper’s name This is because he re-plumbed the building. According to the Londonist, some original Crapper toilets can also be found around the city—complete with chain-pulls—and a plaque commemorating Crapper’s achievements can be seen outside his former home in the London Borough of Bromley.

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