Issue: November 2001

New World Crops Dominate Thanksgiving Table

A variety of traditional vegetables will please palates this Thanksgiving, providing an ideal opportunity to reflect on the rich American history behind our holiday spreads.

Corn, one of the most traditional Thanksgiving vegetables, is rich in nutrients and history. Corn provided food for Coronado's men as they marched up the Rio Grande Valley in 1540. Nearly a century later, it sustained the Pilgrims through the bleak winter of 1620.

Yet Europeans had never even seen corn, or maize, until Columbus reached the Americas in 1492. A Native American crop, maize was a founding pillar of great New World civilizations such as the Incan, Mayan and Aztec. The oldest known corn remains are cobs found in Tehuacn, Mexico, that date back 7,000 years.

Today, corn continues to be one of the most important economic crops in the Western Hemisphere, from the U.S. Corn Belt to the hillsides of Guatemala. ItÕs one of natureÕs most diverse grain crops, making it a logical mainstay in our diets.

Thanksgiving meals may include corn-on-the-cob, corn bread or cornbread stuffing. Holiday turkeys are fattened on dent corn. Table spreads usually include margarine made from corn oil. After lunch, football lovers will eat popcorn and corn chips and drink corn-based beers.

In the Southwest, Thanksgiving spreads may include corn tacos cooked in corn oil, blue corn enchiladas, tamales made with corn dough, and posole or stew made with corn chicos. Guests may arrive in cars powered by gasoline fortified with ethanol, which is made from corn.

The flavorful pepper is also a Native American crop that originated in Mexico and Central America. Native Americans grew peppers as early as 5200 B.C.

Most holiday salads include sliced bell peppers. They can also be stuffed and cooked as a side dish. The pimento pepper is a great olive-stuffer.

In the Southwest, the chile pepper is king. High in vitamins A and C, chile provides holiday flavor in sauces for tacos and enchiladas, salsa for chips or as chiles rellenos.

The potato, a Thanksgiving staple, is a New World vegetable from the Andes. Whether mashed or baked, potatoes are a good source of carbohydrates with moderate levels of protein and minerals. For something different, try a blue potato or yellow Yukon variety.

Squash is another seasonal favorite. Many types of winter squash originated in Northern Argentina. Most summer squash came from Central America.

And what holiday spread would be complete without pumpkin pie? Pumpkins are a type of squash that also originated south of the border.

No Southwestern Thanksgiving is complete without beans. The common bean and the lima bean both originated in Central America. Green beans contain elevated levels of vitamins A and C. Dry beans are an excellent source of protein.

Whether we are Native Americans or descendents of Spanish explorers, Pilgrims or other immigrant groups, Thanksgiving is a time to remember our cultural history. It's also a time to reflect on the bounty we've inherited in America.

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For more gardening information, visit New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service publications world wide web site at

George W. Dickerson, Ph.D., is is a horticulturist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.

Also Please join us on Southwest Yard & Garden, a weekly garden program made for gardeners in the Southwest on: KNME-TV Albuquerque at 9:30 p.m. Saturdays, KENW-TV Portales at 10 a.m. Saturdays, and KRWG-TV Las Cruces at 11:30 a.m. Saturdays (repeated at 1 p.m. Thursdays.)