Oh yeah- Thanksgiving. The mother of all quintessentially American holidays… and- not coincidentally- the mother of all gluttonous holidays as well.
It’s kind of amazing all the different foods that we’re supposed to concoct in order to have it be “real” or “traditional.” It’s daunting. In fact, I have a dear friend whose family bags the whole thing and makes a large Thanksgiving pizza. Not just turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes- oh no!- but cranberries, gravy, and whatever other sides you grew up eating with them: maybe peas, corn, applesauce… maybe green bean casserole with the crunchy tin-can onions on top or strawberry Jell-O with little banana UFOs floating inside, or perhaps yam casserole drenched in brown sugar, butter and tiny marshmallows… No matter what, everyone seems to have a food it just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without. (For the record, for me it is my mom’s Oyster Stuffing. It. Is. So. Good.)
So once you get through making all the mandatory foods, the “it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without” foods, and anything special or new that you decided to throw in this year – you’ve got yerself a fairly serious Mount Kilimanjaro of food.
However, despite the fact that it was a ridiculous starch-fest (more stuffing with your mashed potatoes, my dear?) and the fact that many of those “traditional” dishes (marshmallows? Did the Pilgrims have those?) can practically cause instant diabetes, despite all that we got through the entire meal- with only minor modifications- No Sugar style.
Gravy is always a prime suspect- but Mom bought it at Whole Foods and checked the ingredients so we were safe on that account. She also made that green bean casserole and I was amazed to find only dextrose (!), not sugar or any icky variant thereof, in the ingredient list. Well, yay! Not that this was health food you understand, but still.
My proudest achievement of the day was my dextrose cranberries, which I had practiced earlier in the week just to be sure they would meet everyone’s Official Turkey Day Fruit expectations. I mean, these might be the only cranberries some of our guests would eat all year! In the making, I was amazed on many counts:
- It was ridiculously easy. Because everyone I know always buys those cans of jellied stuff saturated with High Fructose Corn Syrup, I’d gotten the impression it was rocket science- instead its about as easy as making oatmeal.
- I was very stressed about gaining the correct amount of sweetness and jelly-like texture. The problem was solved by cooking the berries in a mixture of boiling water and dextrose, and then adding a healthy dollop of one of my newest favorite things: glucose syrup. More on that in a minute.
- Did you know cranberries pop when you cook them? How much fun is that?
Luckily, I had recently gone in search of glucose syrup- thanks once again to No Sugar guru David Gillespie- in the attempt to make one of his No Sugar recipes. Glucose Syrup? It sounded scary, like an ingredient for a science experiment involving frogs and tweezers. And it sounded even less appetizing than dextrose. Hmm. But I really wanted to make his granola bars recipe, and my attempt to do without resulted in a delicious granola bar confetti- it just didn’t hold together at all.
So like dextrose, I found it online. I purchased a tiny tub of the mysterious stuff, which arrived looking more like an ingredient for my laboratory than food. It’s clear, gooey, and tar-like in consistency… it gets absolutely everywhere when you try to measure it. Yuck- this was not the kind of ingredient anyone was going to want to lick the spoon of. Then again, I reasoned, Gillespie had never steered us wrong yet.
And of course, he was right: glucose syrup is the perfect solution for anything that needs not only sweetening, but also the viscous thickening that many traditional sweeteners provide: molasses, for example. More and more lately, I’ve been using dextrose powder, to the point where I actually almost forget that I’m making any modification. If the recipe says “1/2 cup sugar” I read “1/2- ¾ cup dextrose. But there are situations where dextrose alone just isn’t going to create that thick texture you need. Enter: Glucose Syrup. Wearing a cape. The cranberries are saved!!
Lastly, I need to talk about the pie. Our Sugar Dessert for the month was to be our Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. But because, as I described, I’m so used to my big orange container, I completely forgot at first and used dextrose in the crust rather than actual sugar. When I got to mixing the pumpkin with the spices, I had to remind myself- go get the sugar.
The pie was delicious, as pumpkin pie always is. It only takes ¾ cup of sugar in the entire recipe, so compared to many desserts, the swetetness is fairly mild and not likely to cause us all Banana-Cream-Pie-style headaches. Actually, our monthly dessert passed with such little fanfare that it made me wonder- have we entered a new stage here, where sugar just doesn’t matter so much any more? Can it be, after eleven months of diligence, and with the help of magical ingredients like dextrose and glucose syrup, that we can get to a place where we are conditioned to be perfectly happy with a vastly reduced level of sweet? Have we really, at last, shunned sugar?
And I couldn’t help but also wonder… if I had used dextrose in the pie filling too, would anyone have noticed?