The Herbs of Thanksgiving

Garden sage on the left, Biergarten sage on the right, both have the traditional flavor.

Ever wonder why we have a taste for certain flavors at different times of the year? For example, why do we look for foods like pot roast, baked turkey or boiled ham in winter? Why do foods like spicy chili, corned beef and cabbage, beef stew or chicken pot pie not appeal to us in the summer? The answer has a lot to do with our body’s metabolism. In warm weather we crave foods and flavors that help cool us. In winter, our cravings turn to foods that warm us and give us more fat - a bit like a bear before hibernating.

Or have you wondered why lots of us get a hankering for pumpkin pie, only in winter? Of course there is the issue that pumpkins aren't ready to eat until cool weather. But, the spices we traditionally use for pie making - cinnamon, ginger, allspice - are all warming herbs. In summer, those spices would make us feel hot and clammy. They're not spices that cause sweating (and thus cooling) like hot peppers do. So in winter, spice cake, pumpkin pie, spicy Indian chai tea (made with lots of warming spices) is what our bodies crave. It's the way our bodies adjust to the changing seasons.

(By the way, our late friend, Anne, left us with the best pumpkin pie recipe ever. Wayyyy better than what's on the pumpkin can. Our Anne's Pumpkin Pie Seasoning includes her recipe and it's on sale on our website. Pumpkin pie will be popular all through December. You'll love her seasoning and recipe). 
The herbs considered by many to be, traditional holidays seasonings include rosemary, thyme, savory and sage. Not surprisingly, those are all warming herbs, seasonings that not only give our body a warm feeling, but actually add a warming effect. Those seasonings were traditionally used with the heavy, fatty winter meats. Roast goose, a seriously greasy food, was traditionally seasoned with hyssop, winter savory, onion and thyme. Those herbs helped cut the greasy taste while still warming the meal.

The same holds true for pork. Back in the days when most people raised their own pigs and butchered, putting up pork loin, pork roast and bacon, all had more fat left on than you will find today. If you buy a pork roast now and it will be trimmed of most of the fat, but back in earlier days, people believed fat made flavor and left it on. Rosemary, thyme, savory, sage and hot peppers went into sausage, seasoned roasts and was used in mixes for curing the meat.

Our tradition and tastes for the traditional holiday dressing or stuffing, the seasoning in the gravy and in roast turkey, all come down to us from those olden days. Poultry seasoning, a must-have in the traditional dishes is a mixture of sage, thyme, rosemary and savory. Even though today the modern turkey isn’t fatty, our yearnings for seasoning are still there. What would a pan of baked turkey dressing be without sage? What a bland dish the turkey and gravy would be without the herb flavors.
Bed with several varieties of thyme.

Several years ago I chose to go to a restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner. The meal was advertised as a, “traditional” family-style dinner. I love dressing, maybe as much as turkey, so imagine my surprise at my first taste of the dish. I almost spit. I don’t know where the restaurant chef was trained, but it isn’t traditional to have cilantro instead of sage in turkey dressing! I looked around the restaurant and saw that everyone else was leaving a pile of cilantro-seasoned dressing on their plate, too. No, the flavors we Ozarkers crave for the holidays is traditional sage, rosemary and thyme, just like our ancestors used.
Rosemary has a warming, robust flavor, perfect for winter dishes.


Birds, Bees, Berries, and Blooms said...

Very enlightening. Made me hungry too. Happy Thanksgiving.

Angela Lambert said...

Jim, that's fascinating. I have never thought twice about using different herbs at different times of year, assumed it was down to availability, but of course it's not .......It's instinct, wierd!

Ann said...

Wish my herb garden looked as good as yours!!!