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.

12 Turkey Cooking Tips From Real Chefs

To get a turkey this beautiful, follow the tips below.
To get a turkey this beautiful, follow the tips below.
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When it comes to cooking a juicy, flavorful turkey, the nation's chefs aren’t afraid to fly in the face of tradition. Here are a few of their top suggestions worth trying this holiday season.

1. Buy a Fresh Turkey.

Most home cooks opt for a frozen turkey, but chef Sara Moulton recommends buying fresh. The reason: Muscle cells damaged by ice crystals lose fluid while the turkey thaws and roasts, making it easier to end up with a dried-out bird. For those who stick with a frozen turkey, make sure to properly thaw the bird—one day in the fridge for every 4-5 pounds.

2. Buy a Smaller Bird—or Two.

Idealizing the big, fat Thanksgiving turkey is a mistake, according to numerous chefs. Large birds take more time to cook, which can dry out the meat. Wolfgang Puck told Lifescript he won’t cook a bird larger than 16 pounds, while Travis Lett recommends going even smaller and cooking two or three 8-pound birds.

3. Brine That Turkey.


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Brining a turkey adds flavor, and it allows salt and sugar to seep deep into the meat, helping it retain moisture as the bird cooks. You can opt for a basic brine like the one chef Chris Shepherd recommends, which calls for one cup sugar, one cup salt, five gallons of water, and a three-day soak. Or, try something less traditional, like Michael Solomonov’s Mediterranean brine, which includes allspice, black cardamom, and dill seed. One challenge is finding a container big enough to hold a bird and all the liquid. Chef Stephanie Izard of Chicago’s Girl and the Goat recommends using a Styrofoam cooler.

4. Or, Try a Dry Brine.

If the thought of dunking a turkey in five gallons of seasoned water doesn’t appeal to you, a dry brine could be the ticket. It’s essentially a meat rub that you spread over the bird and under the skin. Salt should be the base ingredient, and to that you can add dried herbs, pepper, citrus and other seasonings. Judy Rodgers, a chef at San Francisco’s Zuni Café before her death in 2013, shared this dry rub recipe with apples, rosemary, and sage. In addition to a shorter prep time, chefs say a dry brine makes for crispier skin and a nice, moist interior.

5. Bring the Turkey to Room Temperature First.

Don’t move your bird straight from the fridge to the oven. Let it sit out for two to three hours first. Doing this, according to Aaron London of Al’s Place in San Francisco, lets the bones adjust to room temperature so that when roasted, it "allows the bones to hold heat like little cinder blocks, cooking the turkey from the inside out."

6. Cut Up Your Turkey Before Cooking.

This might sound like sacrilege to traditional cooks and turkey lovers. But chefs insist it’s the only way to cook a full-size bird through and through without drying out the meat. Chef Marc Murphy, owner of Landmarc restaurants in New York, told the Times he roasts the breast and the legs separately, while chef R.B. Quinn prefers to cut his turkeys in half before cooking them. Bobby Flay, meanwhile, strikes a balance: "I roast the meat until the breasts are done, and then cut off the legs and thighs. The breasts can rest, and you can cook off the legs in the drippings left in the pan."

7. Cook the Stuffing on the Side of the Turkey.

A traditional stuffing side dish for Thanksgiving in a baking pan
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Many chefs these days advise against cooking stuffing inside the turkey. The reason? Salmonella. "With the stuffing being in the middle, a lot of blood drips into it and if everything in the middle doesn't come to temperature then you're at risk," chef Charles Gullo told the Chicago Tribune. TV host Alton Brown echoed this advice, and writes that it’s very difficult to bring the stuffing to a safe 165 degrees without overcooking the bird. (You can check out some more tips to prevent food poisoning on Thanksgiving here.)

8. Butter Up That Bird.

No matter if you’ve chosen a dry brine, a wet brine, or no brine at all, turkeys need a helping of butter spread around the outside and under the skin. Thomas Keller, founder of The French Laundry, recommends using clarified butter. "It helps the skin turn extra-crispy without getting scorched," he told Epicurious.

9. Use Two Thermometers.

A quality meat thermometer is a must, chefs say. When you use it, make sure to take the temperature in more than one spot on the bird, checking to see that it’s cooked to at least 165 degrees through and through. Also, says Diane Morgan, author of The New Thanksgiving Table, you should know the temperature of your oven, as a few degrees can make the difference between a well-cooked bird and one that’s over- or under-done.

10. Turn Up the Heat.

If you’ve properly brined your meat, you don't need to worry about high heat sucking the moisture out, chefs say. Keller likes to cook his turkey at a consistent 450 degrees. This allows the bird to cook quickly, and creates a crisp shell of reddish-brown skin. Ruth Reichl, the famed magazine editor and author, seconds this method, but warns that your oven needs to be squeaky clean, otherwise leftover particles could smoke up.

11. Baste Your Turkey—But Don't Overdo It.

Man basting a turkey
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Spreading juices over top the turkey would seem to add moisture, no? Not necessarily. According to chef Marc Vogel, basting breaks the caramelized coating that holds moisture in. The more you do it, the more time moisture has to seep out of the turkey. Also, opening the oven releases its heat, and requires several minutes to stabilize afterward. It's not really an either/or prospect, chefs agree. Best to aim somewhere in the middle: Baste every 30 minutes while roasting.

12. Let It Rest.

Allowing a turkey to rest after it’s cooked lets the juices redistribute throughout the meat. Most chefs recommend at least 30 minutes’ rest time. Famed chef and TV personality Gordon Ramsey lets his turkey rest for a couple hours. "It may seem like a long time, but the texture will be improved the longer you leave the turkey to rest," Ramsey told British lifestyle site Good to Know. "Piping hot gravy will restore the heat."

11 Times Mickey Mouse Was Banned

Getty Images
Getty Images

Despite being one of the world’s most recognizable and beloved characters, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Mickey Mouse, who was "born" on November 18, 1928. A number of countries—and even U.S. states—have banned the cartoon rodent at one time or another for reasons both big and small.

1. The Shindig scandal

In 1930, Ohio banned a cartoon called The Shindig because Clarabelle Cow was shown reading Three Weeks by Elinor Glyn, the premier romance novelist of the time. Check it out (at the 1:05 mark above) and let us know if you’re scandalized.

2. Romania's rodent nightmare

With movies on 10-foot screen being a relatively new thing in Romania in 1935, the government decided to ban Mickey Mouse, concerned that children would be terrified of a monstrous rodent.

3. The Barnyard Battle battle of 1929

In 1929, a German censor banned a Mickey Mouse short called “The Barnyard Battle.” The reason? An army of cats wearing pickelhauben, the pointed helmets worn by German military in the 19th and 20th centuries: "The wearing of German military helmets by an army of cats which oppose a militia of mice is offensive to national dignity. Permission to exhibit this production in Germany is refused.”

4. The "miserable ideal" ordeal

The German dislike for Mickey Mouse continued into the mid-1930s, with one German newspaper wondering why such a small and dirty animal would be idolized by children across the world: "Mickey Mouse is the most miserable ideal ever revealed ... Healthy emotions tell every independent young man and every honorable youth that the dirty and filth-covered vermin, the greatest bacteria carrier in the animal kingdom, cannot be the ideal type of animal.” Mickey was originally banned from Nazi Germany, but eventually the mouse's popularity won out.

5. Disney's "demoralizing" cast of characters

Laughing Winnie the Pooh doll
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In 2014, Iran's Organization for Supporting Manufacturers and Consumers announced a ban on school supplies and stationery products featuring “demoralizing images,” including that of Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, Sleeping Beauty, and characters from Toy Story.

6. Germany's "Anti-Red" rodent ban

In 1954, East Germany banned Mickey Mouse comics, claiming that Mickey was an “anti-Red rebel.”

7. Disney vs. the Boy King of Yugoslavia

A photograph of King Peter II of Yugoslavia
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1937, a Mickey Mouse adventure was so similar to real events in Yugoslavia that the comic strip was banned. State police say the comic strip depicted a “Puritan-like revolt” that was a danger to the “Boy King,” Peter II of Yugoslavia, who was just 14 at the time. A journalist who wrote about the ban was consequently escorted out of the country.

8. The miraculous Mussolini escape

Though Mussolini banned many cartoons and American influences from Italy in 1938, Mickey Mouse flew under the radar. It’s been said that Mussolini’s children were such Mickey Mouse fans that they were able to convince him to keep the rodent around.

9. Not going for "I'm going to Disneyland"

Mickey and his friends were banned from the 1988 Seoul Olympics in a roundabout way. As they do with many major sporting events, including the Super Bowl, Disney had contacted American favorites to win in each event to ask them to say the famous “I’m going to Disneyland!” line if they won. When American swimmer Matt Biondi won the 100-meter freestyle, he dutifully complied with the request. After a complaint from the East Germans, the tape was pulled and given to the International Olympic Committee.

10. The great Seattle liquor store war

In 1993, Mickey was banned from a place he shouldn't have been in the first place: Seattle liquor stores. As a wonderful opening sentence from the Associated Press explained, "Mickey Mouse, the Easter Bunny and teddy bears have no business selling booze, the Washington State Liquor Control Board has decided." A handful of stores had painted Mickey and other characters as part of a promotion. A Disney VP said Mickey was "a nondrinker."

11. An udder humiliation

Let's end with another strike against The Shindig (see #1) and Clarabelle’s bulging udder. Less than a year after The Shindig ban, the Motion Picture Producers and Directors of America announced that they had received a massive number of complaints about the engorged cow udders in various Mickey Mouse cartoons.

From then on, according to a 1931 article in Time magazine, “Cows in Mickey Mouse ... pictures in the future will have small or invisible udders quite unlike the gargantuan organ whose antics of late have shocked some and convulsed others. In a recent picture the udder, besides flying violently to left and right or stretching far out behind when the cow was in motion, heaved with its panting with the cow stood still.”

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