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.

DreamBigPhotos/iStock via Getty Images

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.

NWphotoguy/iStock via Getty Images

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.

DronG/iStock via Getty Images

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.

bhofack2/iStock via Getty Images

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.

artisteer/iStock via Getty Images
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.

bhofack2/iStock via Getty Images

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.

bhofack2/iStock via Getty Images

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.

Roxiller/iStock via Getty Images

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.

levkr/iStock via Getty Images

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.”

bhofack2/iStock via Getty Product

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.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

The 12 Best TV Shows on Amazon Prime Right Now

Stephan James and Janelle Monáe in Homecoming.
Stephan James and Janelle Monáe in Homecoming.
Ali Goldstein/Amazon Studios

If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you’re entitled to free expedited shipping, free Kindle downloads, and lots of other perks. But some customers are perfectly content to relegate their use of the service to the company’s considerable streaming video options. Check out our picks for the best TV shows on Amazon Prime right now.

1. Undone (2020-)

Rosa Salazar and Bob Odenkirk star in this trippy tale of a young woman named Alma who's struggling with her sister, mother, and boyfriend—and then her dead father begins appearing to her with a request to master time travel. Filmed with actors and then beautifully rotoscoped to lend it an air of animated surrealism, Undone will take you for a spin.

2. The Boys (2019-)

If you've had your fill of both superheroes and superhero meta-analysis, you'll still want to check out The Boys. Supernatural creator Eric Kripke's adaptation of the Garth Ennis comics imagines a world in which heroes are corporate tools, social media icons, and very, very morally bankrupt. The head of the vaunted Seven (think an ethically destitute Avengers) is Homelander, played with red-eyed menace by Antony Starr. When mortal Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) targets Homelander, the full scope of the hero industrial complex is revealed. The first three episodes of season 2 hit Prime on September 4, with new episodes being released weekly.

3. Fleabag (2016-2019)

Phoebe Waller-Bridge created and stars as the title character, a downtrodden Londoner with a too-perfect sister, a wicked soon-to-be stepmother (played by The Crown's Olivia Colman), and a lust for hedonism that masks the fallout of an unresolved emotional crisis. Like Ferris Bueller, Waller-Bridge interrupts the action to address the viewer directly, offering a biting running commentary on her own increasingly complicated state of affairs, including having the hots for a priest (Andrew Scott).

4. Hanna (2019-)

Based on the 2011 film, Hanna follows a 15-year-old girl (Esme Creed-Miles), who possesses combat skills and other traits that make her a person of interest to the CIA. To figure out where she's going, Hanna will first need to discover where she comes from.

5. Homecoming (2018-)

Julia Roberts stars in the first season of this critically-acclaimed drama, which sees her working at a facility that helps soldiers reacclimate to civilian life. Years later, an investigation into the program reveals some startling truths. Janelle Monáe headlines season two, which pushes the story in new directions.

6. Forever (2018)

The less you know going into this half-hour series, the better. Don't let anyone tell you anything beyond the fact that Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph portray a couple in a floundering marriage. Where it goes from there is best left to discover on your own.

7. Goliath (2016-)

David E. Kelley (The Practice) heads up this series about a downtrodden lawyer (Billy Bob Thornton) who brushes up against his former law firm when he tackles an accidental death case that turns into a sprawling conspiracy. Thornton won a Golden Globe for his performance; William Hurt should've won something for his portrayal as the diabolical firm co-founder who keeps pulling Thornton's strings from afar. Seasons two and three up the ante, with the latter co-starring Dennis Quaid as evil California farmer Wade Blackwood. A fourth and final season is expected.

8. Bosch (2015-)

The laconic detective of the Michael Connelly novels gets a winning adaptation on Amazon, with Titus Welliver scouring the seedy side of Los Angeles as the titular homicide detective. Don't expect frills or explosions: Bosch is content to be a police procedural in the Dragnet mold, and it succeeds. The sixth season premiered in April.

9. The Americans (2013-2018)

If Stranger Things stimulated your appetite for 1980s paranoia, FX’s The Americans—about two Soviet spies (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) embedding themselves in suburban America—is bound to satisfy. As Russell and Rhys navigate a complex marriage that may be as phony as their birth certificates, their allegiance to Russia is constantly tested.

10. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (2017-)

Critically-acclaimed and showered with praise by Amazon viewers, this dramedy stars Rachel Brosnahan as Miriam "Midge" Maisel, a 1950s housewife who takes the bold (for that decade) step of getting into stand-up comedy. Brosnahan practically vibrates with energy, and so does the show, which captures period New York's burgeoning feminism. In Midge's orbit, Don Draper would have a heck of a time getting a word in.

11. Hannibal (2013-2015)

At first glance, Bryan Fuller’s (Pushing Daisies) take on the Thomas Harris novels featuring the gastronomic perversions of Hannibal Lecter seems like a can’t-win: How does anyone improve on The Silence of the Lambs and Anthony Hopkins’s portrayal of the diabolical psychiatrist? By not trying. Mads Mikkelsen’s Lecter is a study in composure; FBI agent Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) is the one who seems to be coming unhinged. While Fuller has time to explore the finer details of Harris’s novels, he also has the temerity to diverge from them. Hannibal’s brief three-season run is a tragedy, but what’s here is appetizing.

12. Luther (2010-)

Idris Elba stars in this BBC drama as DCI cop John Luther, a temperamental but dogged investigator who runs afoul of some of the UK's most wanted criminals. Ruth Wilson co-stars as Alice Morgan, a charmingly psychotic foil-turned-friend. Amazon has all five seasons, including the most recent season that premiered in 2019.

This story has been updated.