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Sake Traditions – How Sake Would Have Rocked The First Thanksgiving

The great thing about historians is that everybody has a different view about how and why things occurred. I love reading conflicting accounts of how things actually went down. And a great case in point is the quote unquote first Thanksgiving dinner in 1621 sometime near the end of September and early November.

First Thanksgiving 2014-11a

We know the Hallmark image of a big horn of plenty and a huge platter with a massive turkey and everybody looking fit and oh! several of those natives mixed in amongst the white faces. Hmmmmm! I guess that’s the image that was ingrained in my holiday psyche. And of course they were watching football on their plasma screen hanging on the plastered wall. Wait – sorry! Went too far with this image.

That is indeed one vision of how people reflect back on the first giving of thanks. But there is another school that believes that all was not so good and rosy. Some actually state that there was almost starvation at that point as the crops did not come in and the wild life was far less prevalent then first perceived. These folks have a far different image of the “pilgrims” and what they actually sat down to eat for this special offering.

First Thanksgiving 2014-11b

In fact, they believed that the early settlers’ clothes had sand on them because they were not off hunting deer and picking vegetables, but rather down at the beach collecting eels, mussels, and even seals. Huh? Yup, this school believes that the Atlantic Ocean actually supplied most of the components for the first meal. And when you say Ocean you say SAKE! Can somebody give me a S and an A and a K and an E and what’s that spell?

The History Channel put together a piece on the first meal and this is a partial list of what they believe the earliest immigrants ate for “Thanksgiving Dinner.” (On a side note I still have not seen the History Channel show on Rice where they filmed in the store for a very long time – have you seen it?)

Herewith is the list of foods consumed and I took the liberty to put a “Check” or a “PN” which stands for Probably Not by each item. Basically I am acting like a pilgrim sommelier for sake being paired with the first feast! So imagine me adorning one of those amazing shirts with the flowing collar and sleeves and placing the black hat on my head with a towel over my folded arm and for the first time in sake history I will pair sakes with the first Thanksgiving meal:

Pumpkin – Check! Probably a smooth and rich Junmai.
Peas – Check! This is a texture pairing and I’d go with a soft and dry Honjozo.
Onions – Check! If big and zesty I’d toss that muroka nama genshu at them.
Lettuce – Check! I’m thinking a very herbaceous Junmai Ginjo with big acidity.
Radishes – Check! Hello sake pairing little wonder – think dry and tight sake.
Carrots – Check! I’ve always loved a deep, fat and rich Junmai Ginjo for carrots.
Plums – Check! Are you kidding? We take the plums and add them to the sake for Ume-shu.
Grapes – NOPE! Grapes are not allowed. No grapes! Out! Outside the walls now!
Walnuts – Check! Let’s throw a big earthy and nutty Yamahai at these nuts.
Chestnuts – Check! Again a big, dirty, musky and nutty Yamahai.
Acorns – Hmmmmm! Check! I’m going to go with a check using a Nigori!
Wheat Flour – Check! Yeasty sake goes well with yeasty bread! A dry ricey Junmai here!
Indian Corn – Check! Again let’s talk about starch with starch! Dry Nama Genshu!
Wild Turkey – Check! There are so many splendid light koshus that would rock the turkey!
Goose – Check! This gamey bird goes well with koshu and deep earthy Yamahais.
Duck – Check! You bet it’s duck season with a 5 year-aged brown rice Junmai.

First Thanksgiving 2014-11b

Crane – Check! Oh crap! The Japanese love their cranes and I’ve never tasted crane and I’ll get in trouble BUT sake gets a check – thinking an aged sparkling!
Swan – Check! Double Crap! The kids love swan lake and I’ve never tasted swan but as a professional I am going to say the Otokoyama Fukushu Junmai Genshu! SMV:-60 Acidity:2.4.

Partridge – Check! Phew an easy one! Let’s warm a gentle Honjozo that is earthy and smooth.
Eagle – Check! Oh God! I mean gosh! Hmmmmm acting purely in my Puritanical sommelier capacity I would close my eyes and pour an aged room temp sparkling kijoshu.
Cod Fish – Check! Oh phew! Back to easy pairings. Let’s hit the cod with a nice clean and dry Junmai Ginjo from Niigata.
Eel – Check! Hello eel at the first meal. Guess they didn’t have unagi sauce so I’d pair the eel with a rich and fat sweet Junmai Ginjo.
Clams – Check! This is easy! First we would steam the clams in sake then pair with a dry Junmai with good acidity.

First Thanksgiving 2014-11c

Lobster – Check! Hello favorite crustacean that pairs so well with plump and semi-sweet Junmai Ginjos that pull the sweetness out of the shellfish.
Venison – Check! I’ve done this plenty! A room temp. aged brown rice koshu.
Seal – Check! Hmmmmm! Thinking blubbery and need to cut the grease with a super crisp and dry Ginjo.

Ha! Despite pairing with eagles and cranes I think this exercise was very useful to get you to think out of your red wine mindset for Thanksgiving! By all means check out the Top Ten Sakes for Pairing With Thanksgiving and look around the store for bottles of sake that have little turkeys hanging from the necks! This means these sakes are word with the bird!

PS. Did you notice sake batted 1000%? Of course you did!

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