Thanksgiving in Canada

Soooooo, this post was intended to be a “hey look at our great Thanksgiving celebration” post. I was going to show you my gorgeous tablescape complete with centerpiece, placecards, and table favours. I was going to share my favourite Thanksgiving recipes with you, the ones I was using this year for the big feast. Of course, interspersed with all these fabulous ideas would be beautiful photographs showing you our celebration with friends and family. I guess that’s the blog post that would have been. I guess that’s the Thanksgiving that would have been…the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving picture that I have in my head each year leading up to the holiday…the one that I have sometimes in the past turned myself into a mass of stress and exhaustion over in an attempt to duplicate it.

In 1998, I learned a very very important lesson about such holidays. My mother, daughter, and I were in a serious car accident and were told many times over that we were all very lucky to be alive. Since that time, we have lived with chronic pain and medical conditions but the main point is that we have lived. The thing is, huge holiday scenes from Norman Rockwell paintings are not terribly realistic for my daughter and I anymore. In our attempt to create the perfect holiday, we create such stress and make ourselves so sick that it’s difficult to really even enjoy it. We have learned to scale back and focus a little more on what’s really important.

This year our celebration was going to be a small dinner to which we invited over a couple of close friends. Mandy, my daughter’s best friend, has just moved here from Australia and this would be her first Canadian Thanksgiving and she and her boyfriend were going to join us for our meal. First glitch: I go to pick up my daughter at university to bring her home for the weekend and she is sick…as in potentially sick with the flu…as in potentially THE flu. (note: It’s NOT the flu. Just another thing to be thankful for this holiday weekend!) Second glitch: One of our dinner guests became ill and couldn’t make it either. Our small Thanksgiving celebration became even smaller. Not having a large boisterous family Thanksgiving could have become something to bring us down, but it didn’t. We have had a lovely holiday weekend despite the last minute changes and although I can’t really say I am thankful for having been in a car accident, I am grateful for this lesson that is has taught me: The little things, the family time, the time together, the LOVE is what really counts…you don’t need lots of people around, big elaborate meals, tons of gifts, fancy decorations…YOU DON’T NEED TO OVERWORK AND STRESS OUT to celebrate a holiday. My daughter and I have talked and talked. We have laughed. We have hung out for hours and hours. We have even snuggled. Sure, we are still enjoying some good food but we have rolled with the last minute changes and our holiday is filled with love and laughter just as it should be.

So, while I cannot entirely share with you all the tablescapes and decorations and food I had planned in terms of experience, I am still happy to share my ideas with you in case you can make use of them.

Thanksgiving in Canada:
Most people are familiar with the story of the first American Thanksgiving and its pictures of Pilgrims and Native Americans sharing a meal together. Not as many realize that Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving a good 6 weeks earlier than our southern neighbours and that it has nothing to do with Pilgrims. Actually, Canadian Thanksgiving was celebrated as a national holiday decades before the American one. Thanksgiving in Canada originated from the English and European church celebrations of Harvest Festival, which in turn was related to Biblical stories of the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot. Martin Frobisher, early explorer, is credited with establishing the first Thanksgiving celebration in Canada. These were truly celebrations of Thanksgiving and gratitude (not necessarily always of the harvest and not necessarily held in the autumn). In 1578 in what is now Newfoundland, he held a ceremony to celebrate his safe return from looking for the Northwest Passage and this included a huge feast In 1604, Samuel de Champlain held another huge feast of celebration to raise the spirits of the new colonists and build bonds with the Native Canadians in the area. Native Canadians had long held fall harvest celebrations to thank Mother Nature for her bounty and it was natural that these celebrations were joined together. Throughout the 19th century, various Thanksgiving celebrations were held to commemorate such occasions as the end of cholera in Lower Canada, end of the war between Britain and France, peace with Russia returning, and for the recovery of the Prince of Wales after a serious illness. By 1879, Thanksgiving had become the fall harvest celebration we are aware of today. From 1921 to 1930 the commemoration of Thanksgiving was combined with Armistice Day (now known as Remembrance Day). The actual statutory holiday is the second Monday of October but Canadians may have their big feast at any point throughout that holiday weekend. (Note: It has been celebrated on this date since 1931 with the exception of 1935 when it was rescheduled due to a conflict with a general election). This weekend is also commonly used as the last weekend at the summer cottage or for other outdoor autumn activities like taking a drive to see the fall leaves or going pumpkin picking. The Canada Football League holds a nationally televised doubleheader football game known as the Thanksgiving Day classic (much like the American tradition of football at holidays) and some cities hold Thanksgiving Day parades (although I must admit I have never seen any that come close to the American Macy’s parade!).

Table Favours: These adorable little turkeys made of cookies and candies are quick and simple to assemble and always bring a smile to our dinner guests’ faces. I have made these as favours for several years including making 100 of them to take in to staff and students at a school where I worked.
Blessings Mix:
I have been also making this snack mix as a special appetizer for our feast for many years now. It is not only tasty but has a special meaningful holiday lesson to it. Basically it is a “nuts and bolts/bits and bites” type snack mix containing: Bugles (those corn snacks you can purchase) to represent cornucopias, the small bow shaped pretzels to represent hands folded in prayer, candy corn to represent the scarcity of food for early settlers as there were times they had to survive on only a few kernels of corn a day, some sort of seeds or nuts to represent the promise of a future harvest (I often use a combination…sunflower seeds are nice in this as are the seasonally appropriate pumpkin seeds, walnuts, pecans, and so on), Runts (a brand of candies shaped like fruits…to represent fruits of the harvest…some people prefer to use dried fruits such as raisins, cranberries, and apples in place of the candy…there are also several other brands of fruit flavoured/shaped candies that can be used; I don’t use those because they contain natural strawberry and I am allergic), M&M’s to symbolize the memories of the loved ones who have come before us, and Hershey’s Kisses as the love of our family and friends now. This can simply be combined in large bowls and placed around for guests to nibble on or you can package them individually in cellophane bags. If you follow this link, you will find a printable tag that can be attached to these goodie bags or simply printed out to make a couple little signs to post near the bowls.
PS – She has a patriotic version there too complete with printable tags appropriate for 4th of July, Memorial Day, or even as special additions to care packages for the military.

Place cards: For place cards, I like to put the “legend of the 5 kernels” on a little card with the person’s name and of course 5 kernels of (candy) corn. I have varied the presentation of the candy corn from year to year: in a half walnut shell with the card attached, in tiny little baskets I found at the Dollar Store, on a fall leaf. I have also seen the idea of taking little candy cups and fashioning a little ship’s mast and sail to them out of toothpicks and construction paper. They were adorable little Mayflowers which would be great for an American Thanksgiving but not so appropriate here. The story of the 5 kernels of corn relates back to those settlers who survived a long hard winter sometimes existing on merely 5 kernels of corn a day and it is reminder to us to count our blessings. It can be used as a conversation starter by having your guests go around the table and have each of them pick what they are grateful for, one item for each of their 5 kernels. Each of the kernels symbolizes something (love, freedom, etc.) and you can find the complete details here.

Honestly, I think that with a big feast like this you don’t need a lot of table décor. Really, the food kind of takes centre stage anyway doesn’t it? Once you add in the little cookie turkeys at each person’s place and the 5 kernels of corn place cards not much else is needed as far as I am concerned so I wasn’t going to do much else but gather up whatever leaves, pinecones, acorns and other natural supplies I could find outdoors and perhaps supplement them with a few mini pumpkins and gourds. I have a really pretty tablecloth with fall leaves and fruits and vegetables on it all in yellows and oranges which I would use and then I planned to use large leaves that I cut out of felt as sort of chargers under each guest’s dinner plate. I found the pattern for the leaves here from Martha Stewart.

Another place card idea: While surfing the net for ideas for Thanksgiving I found this really cute place card idea. It won’t really work for the Canadian holiday because all of the questions are American based but those of you in the US might like to check it out or perhaps some clever Canuck will adapt it for us! 😉 Turkey Trivia Place Cards

Another table favour idea: Here is another little table favour idea that I just love and have used many times. Sometimes I have used it almost as a garnish for dessert simply to have a place to incorporate it because I already had the cookie turkeys and 5 kernels of corn as favours! These are mini individual cornucopias made of ice cream cones. I am including here a link for instructions on how to make them a la Martha Stewart but to be honest, I simply take the pointed ice cream cones and fill them with Runts (those fruit shaped candies again which work especially well here) and candy corn. Easy peasy! Martha of course adds a little more effort to hers! 😉

Our Thanksgiving Dinner:
Some delicious sounding appetizers from Rachael Ray that I would have used but to be honest have not tried yet!
Mom’s Nut and Cheddar Ball (I found some really yummy sounding cranberry crunch gourmet crackers at the store and thought these would be good together).
Caramelized Onion and Apple Crostini
My daughter and I love Brie that has been cooked inside phyllo dough or some kind of pastry. This sounded like a yummy variation! Brie Sticks with Raspberry Mustard Dipper

I used Nigella Lawson’s roast turkey recipe. It involves brining the turkey so you must start at least 24 hours ahead of time but it produces such a moist bird!

Anna Olson’s yummy Overnight Baked Ham…so simple and so tasty!

Roasted garlic mashed potatoes from Martha Stewart – delish!

Bourbon gravy…another delicious recipe from Martha!

Stuffing: Honestly I don’t use a recipe. I make mine from scratch having stood by my Mom’s side and observed her as she made it over the years so I really can’t give you accurate measurements. I use cubed bread, warm water, eggs, chopped onions, chicken or vegetable stock (my Mom used to use a shortcut of onion soup mix in place of the onions and stock sometimes), sage or poultry seasoning, rosemary, salt (NOT if using onion soup mix), pepper, chopped apples, walnuts, a little melted butter. Some diced celery can be a nice addition but we are not big celery eaters around here so unless I am going to use it for other recipes, I don’t usually buy it.

Candied yams OR sweet potatoes: Again this is not something I use a recipe for. I just wing it based on what I think would taste good. Usually this is comprised of yams or sweet potatoes (depends on what’s readily available and the prices but I prefer sweet potatoes…and yes despite many many Thanksgiving table debates in our family, yams and sweet potatoes are two different vegetables – see this link if you’d like to know more!, brown sugar, little bits of butter, some mini marshmallows, and some walnuts or pecans on top for crunch. You can puree the potatoes first if you would prefer but I just cut them in chunks. It can be nice to add a touch of vanilla to this recipe for an extra bit of yum!

Cranberry salad: Combine 1 pkg. of fresh cranberries with 1 cup sugar. It’s best to let this sit for a few hours to allow the fruit to macerate. Fold in 1 cup crushed pineapple that has been drained, 2 cups mini marshmallows, and 2 cups of whipped cream. You can certainly adjust these quantities to suit your taste!!! Just prior to serving, I like to throw in some nuts such as walnuts, pecans, or slivered almonds.

I had also planned to serve Anna Olson’s Grilled Apple Fennel Salad with Cranberry Vinagrette. I watched her prepare it on her show and it just looked so easy, somewhat different, and yet scrumptious!

Pumpkin pie: I have to confess, I can’t stand pumpkin pie so I rarely prepare it and usually just purchase one of the good quality ones at the store. I do enjoy other pumpkin desserts however. Here are two of my favourites:

Pumpkin Cheesecake
One 9-inch pie shell.
6 ounces of cream cheese, softened.
¾ cup of cooked pumpkin.
2 medium sized eggs.
1 ½ cups of sugar.
¼ cup of flour.
½ teaspoon of ground nutmeg.
½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon.
Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C).

Beat the cream cheese, eggs and sugar together until the mixture is smooth.

Add the pumpkin.

Stir in the flour, nutmeg, and the cinnamon. Beat well.

Pour into the pie shell and bake for one hour.
My all time favourite pumpkin recipe: Pumpkin Swirl Loaf
Easy and Delicious Pumpkin Swirl
This pumpkin loaf, similar to a jelly roll, is my most requested recipe. Every fall I get calls from each school/office I have worked in previously with people requesting that my pumpkin swirl make a guest appearance. It is so tasty that I can’t really tell you how long it will last as leftovers are snapped up very quickly in our household. Since I don’t care for pumpkin pie, this is a Thanksgiving tradition in our home.
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup pumpkin
¾ cup Bisquik baking mix
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. nutmeg
2 pkg. of plain cream cheese, softened
1 cup icing sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Additional ingredient: 1 cup crushed walnuts
Using a mixer, combine the loaf ingredients together and blend until smooth. Pour into a jelly roll pan that has been greased, floured, and lined with waxed paper. Sprinkle on the walnuts. Place pan in a 375 degree F. oven and bake for about 13-15 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow the loaf to cool partially on a rack. I find the loaf rolls up and retains its shape better if it’s still a bit warm but obviously you need it to be cool enough to handle and so that it won’t melt the cream cheese filling! Sprinkle a clean teatowel with icing sugar and turn out the loaf onto it. Use the towel to help gently roll up the loaf jelly roll fashion. Leave this loaf rolled up to finish cooling. With a mixer, combine the filling ingredients and blend until smooth. Gently (partly) unroll the pumpkin loaf removing the waxed paper as you do. Spread with the cream cheese filling and roll the loaf back up again. If you are like me, your loaf will have some cracks and imperfections but it will still be delicious!!! Note: In my online travels, I found variations of this recipe in which they used either 2/3 cup of banana or 2/3 cup of applesauce in place of the pumpkin with very good results. I personally have not tried those versions. Yet.
Another variation on the Pumpkin Roll…a Carrot Roll…again I have not personally tried this one!

Another all time favourite Thanksgiving dessert recipe: Apple Cream Pie
4 cups thinly sliced apples
1 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons butter (melted)
2 cups half and half
1 pie crust (bottom only)
Spread the apple slices in the pie shell. Mix the sugar, flour, and spices together and sprinkle on the apples. Stir the melted butter into the cream and pour this over the apple slices. Bake at 375 degrees Farenheit (190 degrees Celsius) for 30-35 minutes. At its best when served warm, but still delicious cold the following day!
Maple Carrots
1 ½ lb of carrots, peeled and cut into half-inch thick rounds.
½ cup of water.
3 tablespoons of butter.
2 tablespoons of maple syrup.
1 tablespoon of brown sugar.
In a large skillet, bring all ingredients to boil.

Reduce heat to medium, then cover and simmer for 8 minutes.

Uncover and cook until the juices are reduced to glaze (4-5 minutes).

Lots of other Thanksgiving recipe links:
How to carve a turkey video
Basics of roasting a turkey
Perfect gravy video
Variety of recipes
Vegan Thanksgiving recipes
Variety of recipes
Festive cranberry recipes
19 surprising pumpkin recipes
Super easy “fake it” Thanksgiving dinner
30 crowd pleasing Thanksgiving recipes
10 creative stuffing recipes
New twist on old classic…20 turkey recipes
Tips and shortcuts for a stress free Thanksgiving
Autumn Vegetables with Maple Ginger Dressing
Variety of recipes
Make ahead mashed potatoes
Lots of crafts recipes and printables here

Dealing with the Inevitable Leftovers:

It is important to remove stuffing from the turkey immediately. Leftover turkey should be taken off the carcass (but save that carcass – put it in the fridge for the next day and you can make soup out of it!) and wrapped well before storing in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. For longer storage, turkey will keep for several months in the freezer. Your other leftovers – stuffing, potatoes, cranberries, vegetables, and so on should be covered and stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. When reheating your leftovers, be sure to heat foods such as stuffing, potatoes, and casseroles to in an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

Recipes for using up those leftovers:

The traditional turkey soup:
Turkey carcass
4 cups of stock (chicken, turkey, vegetable or a combination)
4 cups of water
1 cup white wine
¼ cup flour
6 peppercorns
2 sprigs of parsley
1 stalk of celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 carrot, chopped
2 tsp. butter
1 tsp. vegetable oil
½ tsp. thyme
Directions: Heat the butter and oil in a large stock pot over medium high heat. Add the celery, onion, and carrot. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until slightly softened. Add the flour and reduce the heat to medium, cooking for 2 additional minutes. Stir in the stock, water, and wine. Bring to a boil. Add the turkey carcass and spices. Allow to simmer for at least 90 minutes (I like to do it basically all day long on the lowest setting or put in the slow cooker). It’s best to skim froth that comes up to the surface as it cooks. Strain out the bones before serving or storing in the fridge or freezer. and other leftover turkey recipes!

Some other holiday links:

Creating a beautiful Thanksgiving table

Tips for a fun family Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving crafts for kids, placecards, printables

Differences between traditional American and Canadian Thanksgiving feasts


7 responses to “Thanksgiving in Canada

  1. Oh, you cruel woman! I just started a diet and can’t have most of this. However I really enjoyed reading about the Canadian Thanksgiving and am keeping the recipies as I won’t be on this diet forever! Oh, wait, yes I will but I’m for sure cheating!!

    Thank you for all of this. I have to go eat now cuz I’m really hungry for some reason!

  2. What an amazing post Cyn. We will really have to set you up as resident chef at Soul Food. At one time I tried to include recipes and the Culinary blog was very successful. These sound very taste tempting and quite different to what I am accustomed to making as special treats.

  3. Thanks for sending this link, Cyndi! I enjoyed reading all about your Thanksgiving & am looking forward to ours next month! How is Sam? Did she feel well enough to eat?

  4. Pingback: Turkey Quesadillas with Cranberry and Brie « Little Red Apple Tearoom

  5. Yummy! I might try your pumpkin cheesecake recipe! Sounds de-lish!

  6. Pingback: American Thanksgiving « Cyn's View of Reality

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