This illustration is a digital calligraphy of the Persian word “noosheh jaan”, a word which you may have noticed I use to sign off on recipes, which literally means “may it be delightful to your being/soul”, a veritable florid mouthful in translation, but one that in common parlance simply expresses the sentiment of: “bon appetit” or “enjoy your meal.” Iranians pronounce this to the gathering at large before beginning to eat – be it an ordinary family meal or an elaborate dinner party, and I thought it might be an appropriate sentiment to anticipate the culinary feast of Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving in the U.S is a lovely national holiday centered around food, togetherness, and gratitude – celebrated on the last Thursday in November with a festive meal with one’s family and close friends. The roots of the holiday are traced to an event commonly called the “First Thanksgiving” when the Pilgrims threw a feast to give thanks for the bounty of their first harvest in the New World in 1621 — inviting 90 Wampanoag Native Americans to join them in celebratory festivities lasting 3 days. New settlers in a new world, grateful for surviving, grateful for the kindness of the native inhabitants, all breaking bread together. One can only conjecture about the exquisite, heightened emotional nature of such an event.
One can also rightly wonder about the delicious food the Pilgrims served. The menu is historically recorded to have included waterfowl, venison, fish, lobster, clams, berries, fruit, pumpkin, squash and wild turkeys. A roasted turkey (the bigger the better it seems; the ceremonial carving of which is an integral part of the holiday ritual) remains the formidable centerpiece of a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner; with goose, duck, and the tofu-turkey vegetarian concoction as alternatives. Cranberry sauce, gravy, mashed sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie are the basic, traditional side dishes – and let’s not overlook the stuffing, which is quite often the most delectable and sought-after delicacy at the table.
I wish I had a photo of our first Thanksgiving meal. When we first left Iran and moved to the U.S. my mom went through an intense period of ferocious homekeeping. She knitted, she sewed, she cooked. She clipped and collected recipes galore and made yogurt, feta cheese, jams, jellies, pickles, preserves, pizza dough, pie crusts, you name it, from scratch; and she embraced Thanksgiving and all its accoutrements with vim, vigor, zeal and zest. Which is not surprising really – come to think of it. Our first year in a new world felt like such a battery of emotions not unlike being shipwrecked at times — exile is a historical punishment for a good reason, it is extremely painful — and food and togetherness are anchors and safe harbors. Our first Thanksgiving was a gorgeous bountiful spread – my mother’s crusade of delicious soldiering-on. Of re-building a home. I took it for granted then and it is only in retrospect that I have the wisdom to admire her resilience and strength.
At some point, I’d love to share some of my mom’s by now tried-and-true family classic Thanksgiving recipes as well as some of our new Persianized concoctions; but for now, let’s conclude with this feast of a poem about giving thanks and thanksgiving by the revered Persian poet and mystic, the one and only Rumi.
Rumi’s Thanksgiving Poem
Thanksgiving is sweeter than bounty itself.
One who cherishes gratitude does not cling to the gift!
Thanksgiving is the true meat of God’s bounty;
the bounty is its shell,
For thanksgiving carries you to the hearth of the Beloved.
Abundance alone brings heedlessness, thanksgiving gives birth to alertness.
The bounty of thanksgiving will satisfy and elevate you,
and you will bestow a hundred bounties in return.
Eat your fill of God’s delicacies,
and you will be freed from hunger and begging.