Alright, so I’m open to crowd-sourcing a pithier name for “Vegetarian Thanksgiving.” It’s been a long night, and at least one of these historical cocktails has been REALLY good. Before we start, I’d just like to make something clear: I am not Nora Eva Hulings Siegel.
That name shouldn’t sound familiar (this is the Forgotten Heroes Podcast after all). Under the pen name “Nodie,” however, Ms. Siegel penned a poem in the Chicago-based Vegetarian Magazine that serves us well as a point of reference. Written on Thanksgiving Night, 1901, the exact date and year upon which I arbitrarily decided to start my research, “The Old Gobbler’s Death” paints a not-at-all overdramatic portrait of the turn-of-the-century (the 20th… how annoying is it that we can’t simply use “turn of the century” anymore? Fucking calendars) vegetarian ethos:
Sorry about that yellow… clearly it’s a screenshot of a word search in Google Books. After the opening nod to Villon-ex-Rossetti, my favorite part of this has to be the volta section at the end, in which the Old Heada-less Gobbler finds himself ascended to what can only be a human-free Turkeytopia. Surrounded by an army of his (flightless) six-winged sera-fowl, he learns that “Death at the hands of ignorant mortals”–that’s us, folks–“Opes the door of life ‘on high.'” Safely assuming Nodie doesn’t mean “high” as in 325º for about an hour per every four pounds, we’ve arrived at the point where the Turkey is, if not God, certainly his (tented aluminum) foil.
Now listen. I’m all for not killing animals. I’m a fucking vegetarian, y’all. But I am not turning a turkey into my own personal Equus. And this kind of rhetoric just makes us look stupid. Obviously animals ≠ humans. Turkeys don’t contemplate the afterlife, they don’t yearn to be reunited with their brethren in the garden of Turk-Eden… they are kind of smart birds. Living beings. If you’re cool with killing living things bc they taste good, I mean, you just are. I’m not. And if somehow this lady is right, and a Turkey God with angelic hosts of feathered friends preside over heaven and hell, you’re gonna be screwed.
Just in case you think I’m picking some random nutjob (#shudder… the amount of “nut”-based atrocities in early 20th c. veg cookbooks is gonna give me nightmares), a big thing throughout (at least) the 1950s was for vegetarian societies to gather on Thanksgiving–in what I can only assume were secret, Homer-Simpson-and-the-Stonecutters-style hideouts–and gorge on a meatless feast under the baleful wattle of a LIVE TURKEY, suspended in a gilded cage above the table, often with Ten-Commandment-Like words of warning etched on an adjoining plaque.
This is not a joke. I mean, it is, but I’m not making it up. The very next year (1902) after Nora Eva Hulings Siegel’s poem, the New York Times reported on a meeting of the New York Vegetarian Club’s Thanksgiving Day dinner during which “a live and very lively turkey bearing over his head a placard, ‘I Am Safe Here,’ was a feature of the decorations… There was a strong wire netting which stretched in front of the turkey for a protection, but, notwithstanding this and the mild manners of the vegetarians, it was not until the dessert plates had been removed and the cereal coffee served that he settled down quietly with what seemed to be a feeling that his turn was not coming next.”
After skimming through several similar reports, I finally found what may be an origin. According to Gerald Carson in his shockingly hilarious and amazing 1957 book Cornflake Crusade (seriously an awesome read), Seventh Day Adventist W.K. Kellogg (yes that Kellogg, super-sleuths) hosted a Thanksgiving feast at his Battle Creek Sanitarium–known as the “San” to the hep cats of the 20s-30s–during which “guests were served something which looked like roast turkey and tasted like roast turkey, but wasn’t; while on a raised platform in the dining room The Doctor [Kellogg] had placed a live gobbler. A legend on the coop announced ‘A Thankful Turkey.'” (FYI this is not even CLOSE to the best WKK anecdote in this bitch. He totally is worth his own FHP episode. FUCK C.W. Post).
ANYWAY. I promised some recipes, etc., and some reports on how they went. My first inspiration came from that 1902 NYT article, which mentioned a little number called “Timbale” as a main course. Having only heard ‘timbale’ used in scorching solos at Arturo Sandoval concerts, & in order to maintain historical accuracy, I turned forthwith to my trusty copy of Science in the Kitchen, an 1893 experimental cookbook written in Battle Creek, Michigan by Mrs. E. E.
cummings Kellogg (yes, that Kellogg’s wife, super-sleuths).
I found this:
Since we were staying vegan, the cream and eggs were out.
What temperature should I bake them at, and in what size mold?
Do I set these amorphous “oiled molds” (cake pans?) in “hot” water during or after the bake?
Oh, and WHAT THE FUCK ARE PROTOSE AND NUTTOLENE?
Reader, I looked it up.
And trust me, the dark, dark road of home-made versions of Protose and Nuttolene (two early, peanut-butter based meat substitutes produced by everyone’s favorite cereal company) is not one you want to stroll down. ESPECIALLY not if waiting for you at the end of the road is a round mold filled with a pound and a half of hardened peanut buttery gluten mush floating in lukewarm water and tomato sauce.
I skimmed through the rest of the book, searching for a somewhat edible version of timbale that hopefully (I shouldn’t have hoped) didn’t include Protose, Nuttolene, Meltose foam, Nut Ice, or anything from the section entitled “The Invalid’s Meals.” I finally rested upon a Protose Timbale WITH Spinach Soufflé. I figured this was my best way out: sub some of the spices and existent ingredients from the Timbale into the Spinach Soufflé, which sounded easy and good. So…
Eggs again, but that’s ok, I have a workaround (not using them).
I expected odd measurements such as a “peck;” I’m just gonna use all the spinach I have (two 9 oz bags) and call that a Peckoseolene. I even tried to ballpark the “moderate fire” (325ºF? Right?), and the molds-floating-in-a-pan thing. Subbed in the timbale spices, and guess what?
So… braised spinach. I’ll take this as a failure on my part, but I didn’t want to use modern recipes (there are some great ones, apparently), and I had somewhat limited time.
I’ll skip over some of the more boring cop-outs I used throughout the 20s and 30s–cranberry sauce; whole wheat crackers; celery (shut up); coffee (SHUT UP); and so on–to bring you to an item culled from the very same New York Vegetarian Society’s 1941 menu, as published in the New York Times.
Perhaps the name of the host restaurant– SchildKRAUT’s Vegetarian Restaurant on West 28th Street–should’ve tipped me off. Perhaps the fact that the featured main course was something called “Oyster Plant” (or, Salsify, which until that moment I’d assumed was only used in scorching Timbale solos by Tito Puente), or that salsify comes from the clean streets of Long Island, or that the last item on the menu was simply “Beverage” should’ve given me a hint to move on. But my eye caught on the word “cocktail,” so I bookmarked the page completely ignorant of the words “vitamin,” “saurkraut,” and “tomato” surrounding it.
I tried my best to “reimagine” it as something more familiar, generously interpreting “tomato juice” as bloody mary mix and “vitamin” as vodka (see, the “v” thing, and……. SHUT THE FUCK UP). I even threw in some of my favorite bloody mary garnishes… a shishito pepper, a cherry tomato, the aforementioned stick of celery… and it ended up looking pretty decent.
(Yes, that would be a shameless plug for Mr. & Mrs. T and New Amsterdam. Although really I like their gin… I’m not a vodka guy, except when the alternative is sauerkraut juice).
But I couldn’t lie to myself anymore. I could finesse and finagle every other word in that description and maintain plausible drinkability, but the buck stops at sauerkraut juice. That thing had equal parts of it to the mix (and the vodka). In honor of another somewhat forgotten man most famous for his vegetarianism, I dub this the (Vyacheslav) Molotov Cocktail, because by the time you’re finished you’ll end up smelling like a sour, bloody Russian (not because you’ll have to force it down as painfully as I forced that pun).
Having been pretty thoroughly burned by the first half of the twentieth century, and feeling a sudden urge to start reprimanding my meat-eating family as blood-drinking savages while praying to an oddly meleagrine deity (yeah, I looked it up…), I fast-forwarded to 1974, where I finally started recognizing some real, human foods among the ingredients. Also, I was running out of time because, you know, I didn’t plan this ahead very well. I guess it was only fitting, then, that the consensus “best dish” of the night was something that looked like this:
That, my loves, is Broccoli purée. 3 potatoes, 3 heads of broccoli, cayenne, paprika, salt, pepper, salsify (just kidding), caramelized onions, boiling water, and an excuse to use my favorite Forgotten Hero of the kitchen…
…the grinder attachment on my KitchenAid. Let me tell you, finding vegetarian recipes for that thing is almost as hard as finding an edible preparation of Protose Timbale. Or cleaning ground up broccoli, onions, and potatoes out of a KitchenAid grinder attachment.
So, by this point of the night, I’d really been hoping to find some cool gem from the past, and maybe I still will (I now have about 6 different 19th & early 20th century oddball vegetarian cookbooks in my queue). Perhaps I spent way too much time fixating on potential Protose substitute recipes, or reading all 389 pages of a biographical book only tangentially related to my “project” here. But, such is life.
Oh wait! I nearly FORGOT! The HERO of the night (ugh, I know, this is almost over): Colonial hot ‘buttered’ apple cider rum
You all need to make this. Two big ass cinnamon sticks, 12 whole cloves in a thing so they don’t end up in the drinks, two strong thwacks of nutmeg, brown sugar, and half a gallon of apple cider into a slow cooker ad libitum. Swap butter for nothing, vegan butter of choice, or salsify. Swap whipped cream for nothing, vegan whipped cream of choice, or salsify.
Chestnuts are for show, but they’re also good and were going to be used in a recipe I didn’t get around to.
Goodnight, everybody! May Turkey God Scream You Blood-drinkers To Neverending Sleep.