2010 UPDATE: I'm dusting off this ancient article, not because it's particularly well-written or even properly structured, but because recreating Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving dinner is (perhaps sadly) one of the best ideas I've ever had. If you want to make your November awesome, follow these instructions!
Thanksgiving never seemed like much of an important holiday, at least on the level what it was going to do for me. Yes, I realize that our nation is celebrating one of its most important moments, but come on -- no toys? No free candy? No fireworks? If they want us to buy into the occasion in a big way, especially when it's packed between two of the really fun holidays, they're going to have to give us more than an excuse to eat the biggest turkey we can find. Tryptophan and cranberry shirt stains are nice, but Santa Claus or a Dracula costume they ain't. Actual historic significance aside, I've always viewed Thanksgiving more like a small concession given to those depressed over the passing of Halloween; a little something to tide us over before the even more glorious Christmas season.
Course, if you're Jewish or from Canada, my theories won't work well for you. Doy. For the rest of us totally-unpracticing-but-still-very-Catholic proud Americans, Thanksgiving doesn't have to be such a passing interest. November packs its own bits of holiday spirit...it just takes more searching to find 'em. In an attempt to unearth more worth in a holiday seemingly limited to one gigantic family dinner, we'll be taking a look at some of the season's best traits over the next few weeks. If you've a regular reader to this site and use your brain, I think you'll be able to guess where we're headed. That's for later. For now, to start things off on the right turkey leg, I decided to make good on a vow set many, many years ago. It all began with my yearly viewings of "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving," back when the networks actually broadcast Thanksgiving specials.
First airing in 70s, the special is one of Schultz's lost treasures. I wouldn't dare call it as entertaining as his Christmas or Halloween exploits, but with the limited material lent by a holiday as materialistically boring as Thanksgiving, it was great stuff. Likewise, there's a few other Thanksgiving cartoon specials that've become almost forgotten over the years -- I'll be reviewing some of 'em over the coming weeks.
Anyway, as the story went, Charlie Brown's family was going to spend Thanksgiving with his grandparents. Fair enough. Peppermint Patty gives him a call, pressuring him into hosting a little pre-Thanksgiving feast for all of his friends. Chuck didn't seem thrilled with the idea, but he's just too much of a pushover to say "no" to anybody. With his parents gone, a virtually empty kitchen, and only novicial knowledge on how to prepare meals, Charlie Brown hands the cooking reigns over to Snoopy. Ever the crowdpleaser, Snoopy spends most of the episode alternating between wearing a chef's hat and wearing a pilgrim's hat. Either way, hat-wearing dogs are funny shit.
This takes us to one of my favorite moments of any cartoon show -- Charlie Brown, Linus and Snoopy attempting to prepare Thanksgiving dinner for a party of seven...
I admit that there's plenty of things I love without any justifiable reason for doing so, but come on, this was fantastic stuff. With none of the usual foods available and the combined cooking skills of an armchair Emeril critic, the trio gleefully cuts corners and conjures up a peculiar menu: buttered toast, pretzels, ice cream sundaes, popcorn and jelly beans. The "toast scene" is phenomenal -- they just keep repeating the same animation of Linus and Chuck throwing bread into a series of what looks to be at least 5,000 toasters, with Snoopy impaling the bounty on shish kabob sticks before buttering 'em to all fatty Hell. Snoopy also makes popcorn the old fashioned way -- in a stovetop pan -- long before convenient microwave bags became the norm. I only mention this because the popcorn invariably explodes into a classic cartoon cliche, where the kitchen fills up with approximately ten million times the popcorn than could've possibly fit in the pan. Fittingly enough, the end result is a table full of grade school birthday party snacks. As a child, I was absolutely entranced by the meal they put together. I'm not sure if I found it strangely appetizing or what, but one notion burned into my brain and hasn't left since: before I died, I had to recreate Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving feast.
When the kids arrived and the food was served, Peppermint Patty got all bitchy over the lack of turkey and pumpkin pie. Unappreciative twat. She later apologized for the attitude, and in the climactic moment, everyone was invited to Chuck's grandparents' house for a more traditional holiday dinner. Fuck that. What about all the toast and popcorn? The sundaes? The jelly beans! This was a dream meal for kids, and during my youth, nothing brought the gourmand out of me quicker than watching this stupid cartoon. It may be twenty years too late, but a few days ago, I made a decision. It was time to collect on that vow. I was going to recreate the god damned Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. One trip to the supermarket later (two, actually...forgot the popcorn), and I was on the road to a promise kept.
Keep in mind, some of the items on Charlie Brown's menu were kinda obscured. They obviously made toast and popcorn, but a few of the selections were only seen as "bowls of something" left up to the viewer to identify. The ingredients listed below seem to be the consensus, so if you feel like joining in the fun, here's what you'll need:
* Bread. Lots of it.
* Popcorn. Enough to fill a bowl that's substantially larger than your head.
* Ice cream.
* Maraschino cherries.
* Whipped cream.
* Pretzels. (they alternate between regular knots and sticks in the toon -- I went with sticks)
* Jelly beans.
Okay, ready to party? Let's do it...
I was fairly sure that Snoopy started off with the popcorn, and hey, I was going for realism. With that, I should've used some oil in a pan, but how am I supposed to resist Jiffy Pop? The choice was bittersweet, because as fun as Jiffy Pop is to cook, I've never been able to do it without burning the popcorn. It's just one of the many curses that make me me. To get around the issue, I simply bought two containers and made someone else cook the second. Ah, who am I kidding? I just wanted to see two giant balls of popcorn-stuffed foil shit steam from my stovetop. The running theory was that it'd be twice the normal supply of fun, and for once, the running theory proved correct. Now I know why the Peanuts gang smiled so much during that manic precursor to an Iron Chef cook-off -- it's way more entertaining than it has any right to be.
Surely there's plenty out there who've never tried cooking Jiffy Pop themselves. Extremely popular in past years, ol' Jiffy is more of a novelty these days; it seems to be purchased only by the same demographic who buys those canned Goya juices made from assorted alien fruits no one has ever heard of. We know these people exist, because the products are surviving. Have we ever physically seen such a person? Heard about them from a reliable second hand source? No way. Let me tell you -- Jiffy Pop is worth trying out. Yeah, it's a little extra work, but think about it. With the microwave cooking time so frequently incorrect on those bags of pre-buttered kernels, most of us just stand around staring at the microwave anyway, either making sure the damn things pop or prohibiting the black-burn primarily caused by inattentiveness. YOU'RE GOING TO STAND THERE ANYWAY, SO BUY JIFFY POP INSTEAD. Shit, could've saved myself a paragraph had that I just said that to begin with. Oh well, next time.
Once you hear the kernels sizzling, the directions are to die for: violently shake the foil-covered aluminum pan in a rapid circular motion until the popcorn pops and expands the foil to the size and shape of a soccer ball. Take a look...
When you stop hearing the popcorn snap and crackle, it's time to take the pan off the oven and slice it open just quick enough to ensure a potential "hot steam burn" lawsuit against the company. Alternately, put your face in the steam and reenact the sequence from "Gremlins 2" where one of the creatures gets a bottle of acid to the face and reacts by screeching and putting on a "Phantom of the Opera" mask. For the alternative, you'll need to buy a mask. The thrifty should stick to dreaming about lawsuits.
And if you thought that was fun, get a load of this! We get to make toast! Toast!
In Charlie Brown's cartoon special, they use a different kind of toaster than the typical ones shown above. As a child, I thought they had made it up -- a nonexistent toaster created with "wings" so it would delightfully pop the toast upwards and let Snoopy catch it on a stick. Nope -- they're old and uncommon now, but they're legit. Man, all those years wasted. I used to get so angry with the cartoon for casually slipping in the "fake" toasters. I feel like Inigo Montoya after he killed Count Tyrone. Now that the fire of my existence has been eradicated, I'm not really sure what to do with my life.
Still, I wasn't going to go out and buy old toasters just to make the cooking process more true to its roots. You'd be surprised how much a jar of maraschino cherries costs these days -- the tab for this article was running high enough already. Using the toasters shown above, we scorched an entire fresh bag of Wonder Bread, tying the empty bag around our arms as a sort of "memento bracelet" in the same way a Ugandan keeps a fingernail after hunting down and eating a pregnant woman. There was no just cause; we just felt kinda proud.
When finished, there was enough toast to tempt every last Atkins dieter on the planet off their chosen track. The stupidity of this project lied not only in its execution, but also because I never actually got into eating toast. Wasting that much bread just to take a few lousy pictures seems like the sort of thing people would protest and picket against. Thank God I live in the sewers.
Be sure to add very artificial looking slices of butter -- make it look as plastic and perfect as any cartoon would. Snoopy spreads, so it's not a purist move, but for some reason it just feels right. "Toast," by the way, is an anagram for "ostat," which is German for "microphone stand." But you already knew that.
Perfect. Except for the clothes and the beating heart, it's a representation true enough to make Madame Tussaud envious. Envious and bleeding.
Next up, the ice cream sundaes. Now, in the cartoon, it's hard to tell if they're sundaes, milkshakes, or something else entirely. Whatever you choose, the cups were most certainly topped with whipped cream and a cherry. The vanilla (or "golden vanilla" in this case...they swear it's different) ice cream is incorrect -- a quick look back paints whatever was in Chuck's cups pink. So, we've established that the ice cream should be strawberry, and in truth, maybe even a milkshake. Why the Hell was I doing this, again?
Oh, that's right: I wanted to see it on a serving dish. Nothing could match Snoopy's dignified look as he unveiled the meticulously arranged meal to the dinner guests, unaware of their increasing notion that they were gypped. For what didn't amount to more than toast and assorted junk food, Snoopy made this crap look unbelievably palatable. And again, when you're a six-year-old watching the special so close to a "holiday" where you're forced to dress up and eat terrible yams and leafy vegetables possibly sent from the red core of Hell, the bounty Snoopy delivers seems like the perfect meal. I don't care how many hours Grandma slaved over the stuffing -- the bitch put raisins in it. I'll take the popcorn instead.
Here's the finished product, all done up and pretty:
God, that tray should be accompanied by a theme song whenever it's brought into a new room. Look closely and you'll notice two more items -- the pretzel sticks and the jelly beans. I actually bought three different types of pretzels, deciding that the thin sticks closely matched the ones on Chuck's dinner table. Point is, I bought a whole lot of pretzels. Enough to last me for at least three years worth of Charlie Brown Thanksgiving recreations. It's good to plan long term.
I gotta tell ya, doing this felt pretty great. Obviously just a subversive way for me to review "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" more memorably, but it's not like I didn't have fun. The cartoon special was pretty boring aside from the scenes mentioned, so I can't imagine that I was the only kid on the planet who ever wanted to do this. It's not too late, and though you might feel silly doing it now, at least you won't have to count on Mom's wallet and understanding to get your hands on pretzels and whipped cream. Now is the right time, and we're in the right month. Jupiter is in Saturn, lucky numbers include "7" and "77," and mahogany is your power color.
It's as simple as this: your friend asks what you did last Sunday -- a day you rarely do anything at all. What would you rather say? "Nothing," or... "I recreated Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving?" Get to a supermarket, and don't forget the cherries.
Now, what have we learned from all of this?
Peppermint Patty is one unspirited little bitch. Why must Charlie Brown be destined as an artist unappreciated in his time? Maybe by next century, people will understand.