By Peter Hamilton Travis
If you’re fortunate enough to live along the South Fork of Long Island — particularly East Hampton, Southampton, North Haven and Noyac (all the bucolic communities this award winning, historic newspaper covers) you’ve got a bull rake of quahogs to be thankful for.
For those of us celebrating Thanksgiving in Sag Harbor — the holiday is double stuffed with historical significance. Contrary to academic convention (primarily history buffs with an impartial allegiance to Plymouth, Massachusetts), the 53 surviving Pilgrims celebrated the very first Thanksgiving at The American Hotel.
Not to gossip…but according to a certain gentleman proprietor of Sag Harbor’s only establishment recognized by The Historic Hotels of America National Trust for Historic Preservation — the bill totaled 37 beaver pelts!Split 53 ways. The tip was left in Wampum.
For those not currently working in the fur trade, volunteering for PETA, or in the process of earning their Ph.D. in Puritanical Currency (you know the program exists somewhere) — 37 beaver pelts is equivalent to: The skins of 74 foxes, 74 woodchucks, 148 raccoons, 37 bears, 37 otters, 18.5 moose hides, or 185 pounds of feathers.
I dislike both math and history, but this is fun…
185 pecks of Indian corn, 370 pounds of pork, 222 fathoms of tobacco (I cannot begin to fathom how much tobacco is in a fathom), 74 small axes, 37 pints of shot, 74 pints of powder, 222 knives, 740 skeins of thread or 74 yards of cotton.
Thanksgiving is on the lower end of my skin lesion-inducing holiday scale (according to my brilliant, compassionate Dermatologist — Dr. Bernard Berger — my skin is a “target organ”). I’m taking a risk here. After scoring the prestigious (thanks Chief!) “Thanksgiving” Our Town column, leading with such an unappetizing avowal is tantamount to hand mining —intra carcass — deep inside your cold, slippery main course — and pulling out a rabbit.
A seemingly random reference that is anything but.
Remember the Turlapin®?
So not knowing the origin of the retro, culinary glitch — the Turlapin® — has never kept you awake at night? Perhaps you’re one of those self-obsessed types. Incapable of losing a single wink over anything but your soon-to-expire unemployment benefits, lack of family health insurance, or terrifically prickly foreclosure proceedings?
True story. And it could easily be the seed of an episode of Mad Men. If Matthew Weiner knew who I was.
Or cared whether I lived or died.
The scene opens on a blustery autumn day. Thanksgiving. 1968. Glen Head, NY. My mother’s twin sister, Sunny — wearing a quilted dinner skirt patterned after a curbside pile of leaves, an overturned crate of overripe avocados, and a snarled length of garden hose.
Ever the consummate hostess, Sunny remained ensconced behind the swinging doors of her sweltering kitchen. Entirely focused on preparing our extended family’s Thanksgiving “feast” (still one of Sunny’s favorite words). Fortunately — distracted by the NASA Mission Control-esque complexity of subdividing her range’s coiled real estate (in preparation for no less than seven boil-in-the-bag side dishes) — Sunny inadvertently reached for a Triscuit.
And ate a slightly rusty S.O.S® Pad.
As legend has it, the next thing Sunny remembered was concocting the Turlapin®— a turkey stuffed with a rabbit. Followed by an obscenely lucrative, home-based game/lagomorph industry from 1968 to 1972. Sunny even splurged on a brand-new Cadillac in dark brown — the color of a perfectly roasted Turlapin®.
Until the pesky know-it-alls from the FDA, CDC, and a dozen or so local ASPCA chapters got whiff (no doubt from the LIE exit eight miles downwind) of Sunny’s subterranean bird/bunny processing plant. And promptly shut it down. The only way Sunny could avoid losing her home — and the 1,200 square foot walk-in freezer (Coming to Radio City Music Hall This Holiday Season: “Turlapin® on Ice”!) — was to have her basement filled with cement by her neighbor, Mick — a baker and Deacon.
The current owners of Aunt Sunny’s home have appeared a total of nine times on Long Island’s News 12 to whine about the random, unidentifiable stench that permeates their home. They’re convinced it’s another Amityville Horror.
We know better.
When it comes to food, I have a fairly limited palate. I eat a grand total of five things.
The traditional Thanksgiving menu rarely strays from my standards: meat (breast, please), potatoes (“can someone please pass the butter?”), canned black, pitted olives, and pumpkin pie. Preferably Lisa’s — from Round Swamp Farm. Those hellions who contaminate their Thanksgiving table with pearl onions need more help than I can possibly provide in 800 words. Personally, I prefer South Sea Pearl Onions. And canned Ocean Spray cranberry sauce over Pearl Jam.
I’m partial to tart, gelatinous jellies with deep ridges. Although a deal breaker for me would be any kind of blue cheese. Like the “exceptional” Roquefort Papillon Black Label.
According to one mouse:
“This world famous Roquefort is a noble, all-natural ewe’s milk blue cheese from the Auvergne region of France. Papillon (which means butterfly in French) wraps their top-of-the-line Roquefort in black foil to distinguish it from lesser brands. The taste of a good Roquefort is similar, in terms of analysis, to a grand cru wine: balanced, fairly salty, with a big personality, it is melting, slightly granulated and lingers in the mouth. In the mouth, its unctuous and supple texture melts deliciously with a recognizable taste, powerful and lingering aftertaste.”
A dear friend of mine recently lost the contents of his home and his health to just such an “exceptional” cheese. Toxigenic molds are referred to as black mold. Not every mold that is black is toxic, however. Toxigenic molds are highly dangerous and can cause severe problems. The most common type of toxigenic mold is Stachybotrys, which produces mycotoxins that act as toxic agents. Some molds can result in critical damage to any number of internal organs or systems. Once toxic mold enters the body, it can attach itself to an organ and begin to reproduce, consuming the organ in the most severe cases.
So, for my dear friend’s benefit this Thanksgiving — lay off the mycotoxins.
PETER HAMILTON TRAVIS is spearheading a star-studded power charity next season to eradicate blue cheese, ticks, and other useless/dangerous/deeply upsetting things from Long Island’s South Fork. Like Cablevision. And Kathy — who regularly hangs from the rafters of the Cablevision Optimum Store in Southampton.