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Thanksgiving Traditions

Americans have a lot to celebrate on this holiday.

At this time of the year, we Americans traditionally pause to give thanks for our many blessings. This includes such things such as a voluminous variety of victuals, more televised football games than any nation on the planet, and the fact that we won’t have to endure another election for another two years.

As we know, our Thanksgiving tradition was begun by the Pilgrims. This small, scrappy group of entrepreneurs wanted to establish a new society that had its own quirky set of rules such as, “Thou shalt not yelleth at thy neighbor’s dog upon the Sabbath, unless the cur be caught digging in thine flowerbed in which case it shall be deemed acceptable to hurl vociferous imprecations, but only those that have to do with the mutt’s most recent ancestry.”

In essence, the Pilgrims were a 17th century version of a social media start-up. But in their rush to create something new and cutting-edge, the Pilgrims neglected to formulate a sustainable business model, and the struggling young company nearly went belly-up. A group of local established businesspersons – the Wampanoag – took pity on the Pilgrims and gave them a much-needed injection of intellectual capital. This was probably our nation’s first example of a synergistic multibandwidth debenture paradigm realignment. In other words, the Wampanoag saved the Pilgrims’ bacon.     

The Pilgrims expressed their gratitude by throwing a corporate gala that featured such delicacies as muskrat canapés. This celebration lasted for several days and included some high-spirited athletic competitions. It’s widely believed that the games were interrupted at regular intervals by beer commercials.

Turkey was enjoyed at this feast. We know this thanks to archeological digs that have unearthed the fossilized remains of construction-paper turkeys that resemble the outline of children’s hands. These birds are often left-handed.

Over the past four centuries, each of us has done our part to keep the Pilgrims’ tradition alive by consuming approximately the same number of calories on Thanksgiving Day as are contained in a blue whale.  

None of this would be possible without the skills of the cooks. For instance, Dad once told me that Grandma Nelson routinely made angel food cakes from scratch in her wood and/ or cob-fired cookstove. By kerosene lamplight. While managing seven kids.

Like many great cooks, Grandma operated mostly on instinct. She seldom measured anything and would check the oven’s temperature by putting her hand in it for a few seconds. I doubt if she used a timer other than the one that decades’ worth of experience had given her.

My wife’s grandma, Millie, was a superb cook. Her sticky buns contained a level of scrumptiousness that would cause mere mortals to give up the nuclear launch codes.

When my wife was a teenager, Millie tried to pass along some of her hard-won baking skills. Sadly, my wife hadn’t inherited any of Millie’s genes for cooking genius. When yet another of my wife’s baking efforts met with monumental failure, Millie patted her hand and said, “That’s OK, dear. You can always go to the Hy-Vee.”

My mother made a point of teaching her daughters and, eventually, her granddaughters and grandsons the proper method for making lefse.

For the culturally ignorant, lefse is a traditional Nordic potato-based flexible flatbread that’s baked on a large circular grill called, fittingly, a lefse grill. In a sign of the times, I recently saw that a superstore was selling lefse grills – except they were labeled as an “ethnic grill.” Does this mean they are made for grilling ethnics?

But back to lefse, otherwise known as the Norwegian tortilla. There is one right way and countless wrong ways to make lefse. The right way results in tender sheets of deliciousness that are as thin as Bible leaves. The wrong way yields a product that is best suited for work boot repair.

Once the lefse is baked and cooled, it’s slathered with a generous coat of butter, rolled up, and stacked on a plate like miniature logs of firewood. Some choose to accessorize their lefse with sprinkles of sugar, but I’m a purist. Nothing but pure, dairy-based butter for me.

Lefse can be used to mop up gravy or chase down stray bits of turkey. Its versatility knows no bounds, although I wouldn’t go so far as to recommend that it be used to remove earwax.  

Nobody knows if lefse was served at the first Thanksgiving. There’s little hope that we will ever find any answers in the archeological record because, at least in my experience, no lefse has ever survived until the end of a meal.

In conclusion, I will be giving thanks for many things. Especially expandable elastic waistbands.   


Jerry’s book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available at and in bookstores nationwide.

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