Behind Your Holiday Sweet Potato Dish, Hard Work In The Fields
Dan Charles | NPR
This year, Burch Farms has a monster crop, the biggest ever. Jimmy Burch’s problem, on this day, seems to be running out of wooden pallets and bins to store them all. He keeps making phone calls, trying to find more.
“I mean, it’s a good thing, don’t get me wrong. The Lord gave me a good crop, and I’m gonna dig ’em. I’m going to get them in the house, somehow or other.”
But digging this crop takes many hands. As Jimmy Burch puts it, “a world of people.” People like Nabor Segundo and his wife, Rosalia Morales. I meet them early in the evening at their home in a small trailer park that sits along a country road amid the fields east of the town of Mount Olive. They and their infant son, Alan, share this two-bedroom trailer with one other family. All together, four adults and four children live here.
Why Pumpkins And Squashes Aren’t Extinct
Ed Yong | Phenomena | National Geographic
The pumpkin shouldn’t exist. Nor should squashes, gourds, and courgettes. These common dinner-table vegetables are all part of a group of plants called Cucurbita, whose wild ancestors were deeply bitter and encased in tough rinds. They depended on large animals like mammoths to break them apart and disperse their seeds. And when these megabeasts went extinct, the squashes should have followed them.
Logan Kistler from Pennsylvania State University thinks that they almost did. Their populations started to decline and fragment. They avoided extinction only by forming a new partnership with the only remaining animal with the right qualities to spread their seeds—us.
Here’s What Your Part Of America Eats On Thanksgiving
Walt Hickey | 528
What about dessert? Every region enjoys pumpkin pie. But beyond that, there are three Americas: The America that disproportionately has apple pie (New England and the Middle Atlantic), the America that has pecan pie and sweet potato pie (the assorted South), and the America that consumes cherry pie (the Midwest and West).
Talkin’ “Turkey”: The Linguistic Link Between the Bird and the Country
Layla Eplett | Scientific American
[T]here are differing explanations for the name. Some have speculated that it has to do with Luis de Torres, Christopher Columbus’s interpreter. In 1492, upon arrival in the new land, de Torres–who was Jewish–wrote a letter to a friend and described the bird using the Hebrew word for peacock, tuki, which appears in Bible in I Kings 10:22.
Many have dismissed that explanation as pure gobbledygook and instead favor theories that connect the bird with the country. According to linguist Mario Pei, its name may have something to do with the way it was imported. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the bird’s arrival in Great Britain came via Turkish merchants in Constantinople. The British had a lackadaisical habit of naming things after where they arrived from, rather than the place they originated. For example, instead of calling flour grown in India “India flour,” it would be called “Turkey flour” since it was imported from there. Following this logic, the American bird that was imported through Constantinople would have been called a “Turkey coq” in Great Britain.
Don’t Squander That Squash: Like Fine Wine, It Might Improve With Age
Julia Rosen | NPR
All winter squash are not created equal. Acorn, butternut and Hubbard squash — just a few of the season’s delights — fill different culinary niches. And, although they’re all typically picked within a month or so of each other in early fall, the optimal moment to eat them can differ quite a bit.
“Once a squash is harvested, it’s still very much alive,” says Michael Mazourek, a plant geneticist and breeder at Cornell University who has been growing winter squash since he was in grade school. Like peaches in a paper bag, squash continue to ripen as enzymes convert its starch into sugar. And, Mazourek says, squash taste best when they achieve a good balance of starch and sugar.
Butternut squash, on the other hand, contain plenty of starch and last much longer off the vine. In fact, these squash — particularly if grown in short-season climates — actually get better after a few months of storage, says Brent Loy, a plant breeder at the University of New Hampshire. Not only do their flavor and texture improve, they actually become more nutritious. Most notably, the concentration of colorful pigments known as carotenoids — which help fight inflammation— can more than double after harvest, Loy says.
We Tried A Futuristic Cranberry. It Was Fresh And Naturally Sweet
Angus Chen | NPR
The cranberry breeding program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was created in the early 1990s to help growers produce better berries. Brent McCown, a biologist who helped found the program, says growers want berries that are larger, have a consistent red color and produce a reliable crop year after year. Flavor — and sweetness, in particular — have generally been an afterthought.
Nicole Hansen, a Wisconsin cranberry grower working with the university’s breeders, says she wasn’t expecting a sweet variety to come along. “As a cranberry grower, you always hope that you’ll find that [sweet] variety, but you’re thinking cranberries are just too tart,” she says. Then a few years ago, she was taste-testing experimental varieties grown by the university with another grower. “And they said, ‘You gotta taste this,'” Hansen says.
Turkeys have gotten ridiculously large since the 1940s
Liz Scheltens | Vox
Here’s a fact to keep in mind as you pile your plate with Thanksgiving turkey: The bird we roast and enjoy these days looks almost nothing like the turkey your grandparents ate.
The average turkey weighed 13.2 pounds before slaughter in 1929. By 2013, that number had more than doubled to 30.3 pounds.
Sweet potato vs. yam: what’s the difference?
Joss Fong | Vox
The reason “yams” and sweet potatoes taste the same to Americans is because they are the same. What producers and grocery stores in the US have been calling “yams” are actually sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas).
Your Thanksgiving Turkey Is a Quintessentially American Bird: An Immigrant
Brian Handwerk | Smithsonian
“These are essentially Mexican birds, arrived in the U.S. by way of Europe,” explains archaeologist Erin Thornton, who studies turkey husbandry among the ancient Maya.
Genetic studies show that M. gallopavo gallopavo, the South Mexican wild turkey, is the ancestor of all today’s domestic turkeys. Bones from these birds were present as early as 300 B.C. at the Maya city of El Mirador in Petén, Guatemala, which is a site outside their natural range. This suggests that they were being traded by humans and raised in captivity.
Another study of bones, fossilized excrement and DNA from dozens of archaeological sites concludes that a different turkey lineage was domesticated separately in the American Southwest at approximately the same time. But those early domesticated turkeys weren’t raised for their succulent taste.
“It does look like the very earliest domesticated turkeys in the Southwest were probably not for eating but used more for ritual purposes, for feather blankets, for prayer stick feathers perhaps, and even ritual interment,” says archaeologist Camilla Speller of the University of York.