Calvin Trillin's Campaign to Make Spaghetti Carbonara the National Dish for Thanksgiving –the real story of the first Thanksgiving
[The following has been shamelessly excerpted from "Third Helpings," by Calvin Trillin. (These passages are quoted from Trillin, C. "The Tummy Trilogy," Farrar, Strauss and Giroux: New York, 1994, pp. 259-67.)]:
I have been campaigning to have the national Thanksgiving dish changed from turkey to spaghetti carbonara.
It does not take much historical research to uncover the fact that nobody knows if the Pilgrims really ate turkey at the first Thanksgiving dinner. The only thing we know for sure about what the Pilgrims ate is that it couldn't have tasted very good. Even today, well brought-up English girls are taught by their mothers to boil all veggies for at least a month and a half, just in case one of the dinner guests turns up without his teeth... (It is certainly unfair to say that the English lack both a cuisine and a sense of humor: their cooking is a joke in itself.)
It would also not require much digging to discover that Christopher Columbus, the man who may have brought linguine with clam sauce to this continent, was from Genoa, and obviously would have sooner acknowledged that the world was shaped like an isosceles triangle than to have eaten the sort of things that the English Puritans ate. Righting an ancient wrong against Columbus, a great man who certainly did not come all this way only to have a city in Ohio named after him, would be a serious historical contribution. Also, I happen to love spaghetti carbonara.
[In our family]...Thanksgiving has often been celebrated away from home. It was at other people's Thanksgiving tables that I first began to articulate my spaghetti carbonara campaign--although, since we were usually served turkey, I naturally did not mention that the campaign had been inspired partly by my belief that turkey is basically something college dormitories use to punish students for hanging around on Sunday... I reminded everyone how refreshing it would be to hear sports announcers call some annual tussle the Spaghetti Carbonara Day Classic.
I even had a ready answer to the occasional turkey fancier at those meals who insist that spaghetti carbonara was almost certainly not what our forebears ate at the first Thanksgiving dinner. As it happens, one of the things I give thanks for every year is that those people in the Plymouth Colony were not my forebears. Who wants forebears who put people in the stocks for playing the harpsichord on the Sabbath or having an innocent little game of pinch and giggle?
Finally there came a year when nobody invited us to Thanksgiving dinner. Alice's theory was that the word had got around town that I always made a pest out of myself berating the hostess for serving turkey instead of spaghetti carbonara...
However it came about, I was delighted at the opportunity we had been given to practice what I had been preaching--to sit down to a Thanksgiving dinner of spaghetti carbonara.
Naturally, the entire family went over to Rafetto's pasta store on Houston Street to see the spaghetti cut. I got the cheese at Joe's dairy, on Sullivan, a place that would have made Columbus feel right at home--there are plenty of Genoese on Sullivan; no Pilgrims--and then headed for the pork store on Carmine Street for the bacon and ham. Alice made the spaghetti carbonara. It was perfection. I love spaghetti carbonara. Then I began to tell the children the story of the first Thanksgiving:
In England, along time ago, there were people called Pilgrims who were very strict about making everyone observe the Sabbath and cooked food without any flavor and that sort of thing, and they decided to go to America, where they could enjoy Freedom to Nag. The other people in England said, "Glad to see the back of them." In America, the Pilgrims tried farming, but they couldn't get much done because they were always putting their best farmers in the stocks for crimes like Suspicion of Cheerfulness. The Indians took pity on the Pilgrims and helped them with their farming, even though the Indians thought that the Pilgrims were about as much fun as teenage circumcision. The Pilgrims were so grateful that at the end of their first year in America they invited the Indians over for a Thanksgiving meal. The Indians, having had some experience with Pilgrim cuisine during the year, took the precaution of taking along one dish of their own. They brought a dish that their ancestors had learned from none other than Christopher Columbus, who was known to the Indians as "the big Italian fellow." The dish was spaghetti carbonara--made with pancetta bacon and fontina and the best imported prosciutto. The Pilgrims hated it. They said it was "heretically tasty" and "the work of the devil" and "the sort of thing foreigners eat." The Indians were so disgusted that on the way back to their village after dinner one of them made a remark about the Pilgrims that was repeated down through the years and unfortunately caused confusion among historians about the first Thanksgiving meal. He said,
"What a bunch of turkeys!"