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.

Keep Your Cat Busy With a Board Game That Doubles as a Scratch Pad

Cheerble
Cheerble

No matter how much you love playing with your cat, waving a feather toy in front of its face can get monotonous after a while (for the both of you). To shake up playtime, the Cheerble three-in-one board game looks to provide your feline housemate with hours of hands-free entertainment.

Cheerble's board game, which is currently raising money on Kickstarter, is designed to keep even the most restless cats stimulated. The first component of the game is the electronic Cheerble ball, which rolls on its own when your cat touches it with their paw or nose—no remote control required. And on days when your cat is especially energetic, you can adjust the ball's settings to roll and bounce in a way that matches their stamina.

Cheerable cat toy on Kickstarter.
Cheerble

The Cheerble balls are meant to pair with the Cheerble game board, which consists of a box that has plenty of room for balls to roll around. The board is also covered on one side with a platform that has holes big enough for your cat to fit their paws through, so they can hunt the balls like a game of Whack-a-Mole. And if your cat ever loses interest in chasing the ball, the board also includes a built-in scratch pad and fluffy wand toy to slap around. A simplified version of the board game includes the scratch pad without the wand or hole maze, so you can tailor your purchase for your cat's interests.

Cheerble cat board game.
Cheerble

Since launching its campaign on Kickstarter on April 23, Cheerble has raised over $128,000, already blowing past its initial goal of $6416. You can back the Kickstarter today to claim a Cheerble product, with $32 getting you a ball and $58 getting you the board game. You can make your pledge here, with shipping estimated for July 2020.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

9 Outdoor Accessories for the Perfect Backyard Party

Amazon/OtterBox
Amazon/OtterBox

Hosting the perfect party in the great outdoors doesn't have to involve you moving any further than your own backyard. Whether you’re looking for games to play with friends, chairs to keep you comfortable, or tents to turn your yard into your own personal campsite, check out some of these essential products that will transform your own patch of nature into a true outdoor oasis.

1. Wine Tumbler; $20

Tumblers from Otterbox
OtterBox

These wine tumblers from Otterbox will make your backyard the toast of the summer. Made from 100 percent stainless steel and lined with copper, these 10-ounce cups will keep your wine at the perfect temperature until the last s’more is eaten and the fire is put out. Each tumbler holds two standard wine pours and has a sweat-resistant design so you can leave your coasters inside. And each tumbler is fitted with a press-in lid, keeping your drink secure whether you’re taking a walk or playing a game with friends.

Buy it: Otterbox

2. Wood-Burning Fire Pit; $300

Wood-burning fire pit from Wayfair.
Martha Stewart/Wayfair

This steel wood-burning fire pit is exactly what you need to create a little ambiance once the moon is out and friends and family are ready to unwind with some roasted marshmallows. The pit itself is only a few feet across, so you'll be able to build a cozy fire for a handful of people, and the mesh screen that secures over it will keep the sparks away from you and your party. 

Buy it: Wayfair

3. Kabob Grilling Baskets; $17

Kebob grilling baskets on UncommonGoods.
UncommonGoods

No backyard adventure is complete without a tasty meal, and these kabob grilling baskets will help you spend less time on the grill and more time enjoying the beauty of nature. These baskets can be packed with all the ingredients you could ever want for kabobs, and without wooden skewers involved, you’ll avoid any unwanted splinters in your meal. With the ability to customize each basket, you’ll have the flexibility to create the perfect portable dinner for guests (or just for yourself).

Buy it: UncommonGoods

4. Beer Caddy; $25

A beer caddy on Amazon.
LEGACY/Amazon

Beer lovers won’t have to worry about foregoing a cold one while spending some time outside. This soft cotton canvas caddy can hold up to six bottles or cans, and it comes with a removable inner divider, so you have the flexibility of mixing and matching different-sized beverages. Its attached bottle opener—which is hooked to the caddy via a retractable cord— can be stowed in a side pocket for quick access, allowing you to open your drinks with ease.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Outdoor Jenga; $119

A large outdoor Jenga game
Jenga/Amazon

Mix up the usual ghost stories and campfire singalongs with this giant game of outdoor Jenga. Fifteen times larger than the size of a standard Jenga game, these extra-large Jenga blocks can stack up to over 5 feet high and are the perfect size for a deck or beach towel. This set comes with a portable bag for all the blocks so you can easily transport the game from one spot in the backyard to another.

Buy it: Amazon

6. and 7. Camping Chair; $30 and Loveseat Camping Chair; $73

A Colman outdoor chair on Amazon.
Coleman/Amazon

If you’re not a fan of sitting on wet grass or getting bugs on your clothes, this camping chair from Coleman will help you kick back in style. The chair has a cushioned seat and back for maximum outdoor comfort, and it also has a built-in four-can cooler pouch to keep cold beverages handy. It even comes with a nifty side pocket for books, magazines, and newspapers.

An outdoor loveseat that's available on Amazon.
Goplus/Amazon

For anyone who hates toting multiple chairs outside, check out this loveseat-style camping chair! Its ergonomic design seats two people with ease, and it’s supported by a rust-resistant steel frame and weather-resistant fabric for withstanding the elements (or just a shower from a nearby sprinkler). Even though it can hold up to 400 pounds of weight, the chair itself weighs only 11 pounds, making it an ideal choice for anyone who wants to avoid making extra trips to the garage for gear.

Buy itAmazon (camping chair); Amazon (loveseat)

8. Camping Hammock; $29-$40

A hammock that's available on Amazon.
Wise Owl Outfitters/Amazon

If you're one to go a bit horizontal toward the end of a party, take a look at this hammock from Wise Owl Outfitters. Made from heavy-duty parachute nylon, this hammock is incredibly durable and can be secured to trees with a simple set of straps. The hammock comes in two different sizes, a twin and a full, so you can choose the size that's right for you. And best of all? The largest one weighs only 26 ounces, making it easy to take comfort on the go.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Magnetic Door House Tent; $172

A magnetic door house tent on Wayfair.
Wayfair

Mosquitos, flies, and other outdoor pests don’t stand a chance against this portable screened-in porch from Wayfair. This outdoor sanctuary is big enough to fit a picnic table (and all of your friends) inside, and it features two magnetic-close front and back doors. This tent even comes with a 10-year warranty, so you can rest easy knowing that it will provide you with backyard adventures—and zero bug bites—for years to come.

Buy it: Wayfair

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.