The Origins of Thanksgiving

Yes I am a Brit celebrating Thanksgiving and honouring togetherness with great food. Why? Well we need to understand a little more about the origins of this American celebration to answer that.

Thanksgiving is a celebration of the first harvest between the earliest American colonists and the Wampanoag Native Indians.

In 1620 a small ship called the Mayflower carried 102 pilgrims from England to the New World, a land that promised prosperity and the opportunity for pilgrims to own their own land. The following year a shared autumn harvest took place between the colonists and the locals in a town called Plymouth on Thursday, November 25. This celebration was honoured for more than two centuries between individual colonies and states before Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a National Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.

Jungle Goddess Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving always takes place on the 4th Thursday of November. This year the date aligns with the original date of 25th November.

Celebrating Thanksgiving and Food in Costa Rica

You may be wondering why a Brit is talking about Thanksgiving. Well, let me tell you.

I was first introduced to this National holiday in 2008 at the beginning of my travels through the Americas. I was in Nebraska at the time and two Mexicans from the research project I was involved with invited me to their party. There was a mountain of traditional Thanksgiving food with plenty of contrasting Mexican cuisine. I spent the afternoon in a basement ‘Man Cave’ trying but failing to learn the rules of American football.

My travels took me to Costa Rica where I ended up living for nearly 11 years. Puerto Viejo is a beautiful remote village surrounded by jungle and adjacent to the ocean on the Caribbean coast. It was a haven for travellers. People who wanted to get off the beaten track, find a better life and immerse themselves in the culture. Puerto Viejo was a melting pot of nationalities with a diverse set of ‘colonists’ who had made Costa Rica their home, me included.

When you are far from friends and family, national holidays can be very lonely, especially when you are living on your own. Not in Puerto Viejo. National holidays were always a time for social gatherings and there were many places that offered a haven for ‘colonists’ and travellers alike to celebrate with friends and loved ones. Tasty Waves and La Ruka were the places to go for Thanksgiving and The Lazy Mon always opened its doors at Christmas where the Lazy Family made sure everyone had a place to be.

Koki Beach friends
Hanging out with friends

The infamous “Turducken”

Thanksgiving celebrations were ‘potluck’ affairs. A number of American owned businesses and families opened their doors and laid on the turkey with a few side dishes to give a basic traditional dinner. The rest was ‘potluck’ as it depended on what dishes the guests would bring. Each guest would bring something to eat and given the diversity of nationalities it was always a culinary delight. Without a doubt you would get three tuna pasta salads and the transient souls with no kitchen could get away with chips and dip.

La Ruka and Tasty Waves were masters of the ‘Turducken’; the creative operation of stuffing a deboned chicken into a deboned duck and then further stuffing it into a deboned turkey. Turkeys and ducks were not easy to come by and you certainly couldn’t buy them deboned but every year we got to enjoy this gastronomic treat. It was always prepared and cooked to perfection, often over an open flame.

The Greenwoods had the best music and Rick and Kathleen’s was the place to go for dessert because nothing could compare to Kathleen’s peach cobbler.

Jungle Goddess turducken

Thanksgiving – A Culinary Hedonistic Affair

To truly enjoy Thanksgiving dinner, you have to come to terms with the fact that you will consume at least 3 days’ worth of calories in one afternoon. If you suffer regularly from digestive issues you should probably stay at home. On more than one occasion a bad belly ache was the price I paid to attend these joyful gatherings.

Thanksgiving is a somewhat of a culinary hedonistic affair. There is an obscene amount of food and most things are sweetened with sugar, honey or maple syrup, including the savoury dishes! Believe it or not a good sweet potato casserole has marshmallows on top! Cream features heavily in casseroles and is used to whip up the perfect mashed potatoes. Cheese is another prominent attendee so grab a scoop of the hot spinach dip and a spoonful of mac ‘n’ cheese. Stuffing is a big deal, as is the turkey gravy and if you have any southern folk at the party, y’all be sure to find some corn bread! Dessert is homely rather than decadent with pies and crumbles and cobblers, however it is guaranteed to be no less of an indulgence.

Christmas dinners in Costa Rica were similar type gatherings and shared many of the same dishes but the whole affair lacked a little “je ne sais quoi”. It took me a while to figure out what it was but now I understand. The true essence of Thanksgiving is simply friends and family celebrating togetherness over great food. Nothing more, nothing less. No religion, no presents, no expectations. A simple celebration with important values.

So, I think back fondly on these celebrations because for so many years these people were my family (many still are) and Puerto Viejo is the only place that has ever really felt like home.

Sweet potato casserole
Jungle Goddess Peach Cobbler

 A Few of my Favourites Foods for Partying this Thanksgiving

Why don’t you think about celebrating this Thanksgiving with some of the food that I’ve adopted into my repertoire? Here are a few of my recipes.

Hot Spinach Dip

Hot spinach dip is one for the cheese lovers out there but be warned! It is very rich and while I really like it, I can only eat it in small doses. You can easily half this recipe to try a smaller amount.

Many recipes call for frozen spinach, but I like using fresh. It is easy to make early in the day and bake it when you need it. For a slightly healthier version use low-fat creams and cheeses.

Find the recipe here.


Jungle Goddess Hot spinach dip

Stuffed Pumpkin

Small squashes can be roasted within 30 minutes and stuffed with any number of fillings. Put them back in the oven for 10-15 minutes and you are done.

Cut the top off, wide enough so that you can easily get in to hollow it out but narrow enough to fill it fully. Scrape out the seeds and any stringy membrane. Brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper and place on a baking tray.

Bake in the oven at 200C for 30 minutes or until the flesh is soft.

Stuff the pumpkins and return to the oven for 10-15 minutes.

Filling ideas:

  • Roasted vegetables and mixed grains
  • Chili con carne or three-bean chili
  • Quinoa, walnut and feta with sauteed mushrooms, red peppers and onions

Don’t forget to save the seeds for roasting or toasting.


Jungle Goddess Super squash bowl

Pumpkin Pie

At Halloween I visited a pumpkin patch at a local farm and bought three big pumpkins. I roasted one and made 7 pints of pumpkin puree, which can easily be frozen. There are still 2 in the garage waiting to be used.

I’m sure that canned pumpkin puree is not as readily available in the UK as it is in the States but I’m sure you’ll be able to find it around Thanksgiving. If not it is really is easy to make yourself.

For my pie I made my own short crust pastry with some good stone-milled flour. You could just as easily buy some short crust pastry from the supermarket.

Find the recipe here.


Jungle Goddess Pumpkin Pie

Stay In Touch!

Newsletter Sign up!

Follow Me On Social Media!