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The Uncommon Life

Gorge on Knowledge: Uncommon Facts About 5 Traditional Holiday Foods

November 26, 2015

Popcorn Bowl with Kernel Sifter | UncommonGoods

Many of us will, thankfully, have multiple opportunities to stuff our faces during the holiday season. We thought you might also like to stuff your heads with a few fascinating facts about some traditional holiday foods.


The cranberry was a staple in Native American Indian diets at the time the Mayflower arrived. The Algonquin called them “sassamenesh;” the Wampanoag and Lenni-Lenape word was “ibimi,” which means “bitter/sour berries.” They were one of the foods that natives taught the Pilgrims to cultivate, enabling them to survive. To European eyes, the pink cranberry flowers that bloomed in spring resembled the head of a crane, so they called them craneberries. The slide from “crane” to “cran” has been lost to history.

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Author: nigel from vancouver, Canada

Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis), British Columbia, Canada. (This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Photographer: nigel from vancouver, Canada)


Soapstone Pot with Copper Handle | UncommonGoods

Cooks have probably been stuffing foods with other foods since cooking began. Recipes including stuffing appear in the first known Western cookbook, the Roman Apicius (c. 900 AD). The Latin “farcire” (gorge, stuff) became the French “farcir” and the English “farce.” The term “stuffing” first appeared in print in English in 1538.

Sometime during the Victorian era, it was decided by refined elements of society that the word “stuffing” was too suggestive. So, just as a leg of poultry became a “drumstick,” thighs became “dark meat,” and breasts became “white meat,” the euphemism “dressing” became preferred over the original term. We have been uncertain about which is which ever since, but they are one and the same.


Classic Blue Serving Bowl with Felt | UncommonGoods

Chestnuts are mostly thought of as seasonal treat today, but they have actually been a staple food for millennia in parts of Europe, the Middle East and Asia, in mountainous regions where it was difficult to grow grains. The earliest evidence of human cultivation dates to around 2000 BC. Alexander the Great and the Romans planted chestnut trees across Europe to help fuel their empire-building. The chestnut was a major source of complex carbohydrates on the Continent until the introduction of the potato in the 16th century. Highland Italian peasants still survived on chestnuts for part or all of the year even in the 19th century.

Candied Yams

Olive Swirl Ruffle Serving Bowl | UncommonGoods

Thought to be native to Central America, the sweet potato has been cultivated for at least 5000 years. Ipomoea batatas, the species we make into “candied yams,” was commonly grown in the Caribbean and South America by 2500 BC. (It’s not actually a yam, but the misnomer, from the West African languages in which the verb “nyam” means “to eat,” has stuck.) African slaves in the Americas would roast them in the embers of a fire. When the natural caramelization of their sugars gave them a glassy crust, they were described as “candied.” We would probably all be better off if we had just left them that way, and the much later addition of the mass-produced factory marshmallow, perfected in the 1950s, had never happened.

Green Bean Casserole

Sac A Plat | UncommonGoods

The green bean casserole’s origins are not shrouded in the mists of time. It was invented 60 years ago, in 1955, by one Dorcas Reilly, a home economist then employed in the Campbell’s Soup Co. test kitchen in New Jersey, after an Associated Press reporter called asking for a vegetable side dish.

It wasn’t created in a single stroke of instantaneous genius, but went through iterative development. Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup came out in 1934 and turned up so frequently in Midwestern casserole recipes–including Minnesota hotdish recipes–that it developed a nickname: “Lutheran binder.” Reilly tried versions of these casseroles with corn, peas, and lima beans, but in the end, the green bean’s supremacy was too obvious to ignore. The “Green Bean Bake” burst forth to a hungry, time-pressed world.

The aforementioned Associated Press reporter wrote it up, and the recipe appeared in an AP feature for Thanksgiving 1955. The casserole is now served as part of the Thanksgiving meal in 30 million homes.

Campbell’s now estimates that 40% of the Cream of Mushroom soup sold in the US is used in green bean casseroles. There are gluten-free and paleo versions now, of course.

In 2002, Mrs. Reilly appeared at the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame to donate the original copy of the recipe to the museum. The now-yellowed 8 x 11 recipe card can be found in its rightful place among inventions like Edison’s light bulb and phonograph and Enrico Fermi’s controlled nuclear reactor.

See Our Serveware Collection | UncommonGoods

The Uncommon Life


November 24, 2015

Instagram Challenge | Thanksgiving Traditions | #UGInstFun

The next Instagram Challenge theme is THANKSGIVING TRADITIONS! There are few days that make us feel as nostalgic as the fourth Thursday of November. From the unmistakable aroma of our favorite holiday recipes, to the sight of familiar faces gathering to express gratitude, Thanksgiving day is full of special details that instantly trigger cozy memories.  We want to see which traditions you cherish most this week. While sharing your festive photos, be sure to use the hashtag #UGInstaFun to be in the running for a $50 gift card. Visit here to see the creative entries we’ve received so far.


Congratulations to @thegardengrazer for winning our Comfort Food Instagram Challenge with her rainy day minestrone soup! 

Instagram Challenge Winner | Comfort Food | #UGInstaFun

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: What Does “Mary Had a Little Lamb” Have to do with Thanksgiving?

November 22, 2015

Sinclair the Sheep Rug | UncommonGoods
Oh, only EVERYTHING. As you enjoy your beautiful table spread, togetherness, and that fourth slice of pie, maybe give a little nod to Mary, her lamb, and Sarah Joespha Hale, the writer of the nursery rhyme. Hale campaigned for 20 years and through five presidents to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. She lobbied congressmen, wrote annual editorials, and sent letters to every governor in the United States. Sadly, no president or elected official listened to her until Abraham Lincoln. She convinced Lincoln in a letter dated September 28th, 1863 that Thanksgiving would be a great way to unify the country after the Civil War ended. Lincoln agreed and declared the last Thursday in November as our country’s third national holiday, sharing company with Independence Day and Washington’s birthday. Congress officially set the date into U.S. law in 1941. So the next time you’re passing the stuffing, give thanks for Mary and her little lamb.

Sinclair the Sheep Rug | $98

The Uncommon Life

An Uncommon Thanksgiving Recipe Round-up

November 22, 2011

If you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year or attending a potluck, consider taking inspiration for uncommon foods from a few of our favorite blogs. Who knows, you might end up creating a new tradition by cooking up one of the following dishes!

Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond’s unique city-to-country transformation and trademark style have landed her a book deal, Food Network show, and even a movie (to be released next year). Give your guests a taste of pioneer goodness with this unique pumpkin soup, and save yourself from dirty dish duty too!
 (Image courtesy of The Pioneer Woman)

For another stuffed squash dish (and potential main substitute for any vegetarians at the table), Honest Cooking presents a Winter Squash With Stuffing and Goat Cheese that’s just as flavorful as any typical turkey.
 (Image courtesy of Honest Cooking)

Finally, if you’re seeking an alternative to pumpkin or plain apple pie, Jenna of Eat, Live, Run suggests a Chocolate Angel Nut Pie that’s unique and uncommon, but still evokes all the flavors of fall.
(Image courtesy of Eat, Live, Run)

Whether you’re sticking to the classics or making something new, we wish you all an equally Happy Thanksgiving from UncommonGoods!

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