Positively Philadelphia: The roots of Thanksgiving dinner explained

Lauren Lipton
November 24, 2019 - 4:30 am
Roasted pepper turkey for Thanksgiving, garnished with pink pepper, blackberry, and fresh rosemary twigs on a dinner table decorated with mini pumpkins, beans, carrots, baked potato, pie, cranberry relish, gravy, flowers, candles, and flutes of champagne.

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Thanksgiving dinners today reflect what was around when the holiday started. 

If you wonder why we eat some of the things we do on Thanksgiving, who better to ask than chef Walter Staib?

Staib is the culinary ambassador of the city of Philadelphia, and the chef and proprietor of the City Tavern Restaurant in Old City, where the holiday dinner is as historically close as you can get to the early days.  

"The turkey came about because it was plentiful," Staib explained. "Turkeys were everywhere. Dressed, they could be 45 pounds — they were huge!"

How about all those pastries with fruit in the middle?

"Fruits wouldn't hold up very well; there were no supermarkets around then. So once the fruit got picked, the flavor was still there months later but the fruit became shriveled. A strudel would camouflage the shriveled fruit," he added.

And how about that Thanksgiving standard: the green bean casserole?

"Green beans in a cream sauce would camouflage the green beans because many were dry," said Staib. The mushroom soup and the crispy onion topping would come much later. 

As for cooking and slicing the turkey, the chef said to relax.

"First, have a big glass of eggnog and relax," he advised. "You shouldn't be afraid of slicing a turkey — it's like a chicken." 

Yeah, a really big chicken. Maybe have a really big glass of egg nog first.

Related: Turkey tips for Thanksgiving prep