Thankful for immigration

  • Noodle soup and a squash pancake at Manna House is a very filling meal — and delicious. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • Petroula Balis is a member of the family that founded Village Pizza over 50 years ago with a pizza fresh out of the oven. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • “The Immigrant Cookbook: Recipes that Make America Great,” edited by Leyla Moushabeck. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

Published: 11/27/2019 9:26:16 AM

Squanto, of the Pautuxet tribe, was a part of my childhood Thanksgiving tradition. Squanto (Tisquantum) was captured by English explorers in 1605 and spent a number of years in England where he learned to speak English. He found his way back to the Plymouth Bay area in 1619 and learned that his own tribe had all died from disease.

Massasoit, the sachem of the Wampanoags, and Samoset who had learned a bit of English from fishermen, decided they needed Squanto to meet with the Pilgrims who had landed. This was a good thing for the Pilgrims. They were grateful for this interpreter, who, among other things, could teach them about using fish as fertilizer in the poor soil. and about unfamiliar crops like corn, beans and squash.

There must have been a feeling of great satisfaction at the success of their first harvest. The Pilgrims gave thanks and praise to God and joined the Wampanogs and Squanto in a feast in the fall of 1621. This gathering is what we now consider the first Thanksgiving. 

There were wild turkeys in New England and that first Thanksgiving meal may have included turkey. Certainly, by the time President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, the turkey was well-established as the holiday’s celebratory bird.

The Pilgrims were the first successful immigrants to New England. Over time, other immigrants arrived, bringing delicious foods and recipes with them.

Think of those who came to the colonies in the 1700s — Germans, Scotch-Irish, French and prisoners from England, who were transported for their crimes. In the 1800s, the Potato Famine brought millions of Irish, as well as Eastern Europeans, especially Poles, Jews fleeing massacres taking place and Italians. Those immigrants brought their skills and energy to build and expand our country. That changed in 1924.

Although the Chinese had been immigrating to the U.S. since the California Gold Rush, the Asian Exclusion Act and National Origins Act of 1924 prevented them from immigrating as well as greatly limiting Greeks, Jews, Italians, Poles and Slavs. It was not until President Lyndon Johnson signed the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act into law that limits on nationality were ended.

Our country has benefited in many ways. I am the granddaughter of Italian and Swedish immigrants. They came and prospered, as did their children and grandchildren.

As we approach Thanksgiving, I give thanks to those immigrants who came here sharing their skills and knowledge to make our country what it is today.

In 1971, when I came to Greenfield, The Village Pizza was the only restaurant owned by immigrants. The Balis brothers from Greece began their business more than 50 years ago. Now, Chris, Betty and Petroula Balis are still in business on Bank Row, making delicious Greek pizzas and other items on their menu. 

Nowadays, there are several other restaurants in Greenfield that were started by immigrants. The Korean restaurant Manna House is right across the street from Village Pizza, Hyun Soon Lee has owned this restaurant for 16 years. I have had wonderful soups there, as well as other dishes including a gratifying squash pancake. Hattapon and Thai Blue Ginger serves great Thai food, Namaste has spicy Indian food and the China Gourmet has delicious Chinese food. 

Without immigrants, we wouldn’t have paella, kung pao chicken, perogis, enchiladas or hot dogs.

In addition to international restaurants, we have to thank other immigrants for creating successful food businesses in the U.S. David Tran was born in Vietnam and was one of the over 3,000 refuges on the Taiwanese freighter Huey Fong leaving Vietnam in 1978. His family food business was named after that freighter. Siracha is the hot sauce he created to please his own palate as well as that of other south Asian refugees. Now, it is a staple for us all.

Baskin and Robbins ice cream was started by a Polish and Russian family. The owners of Goya, the largest Hispanic-owned company in the United States, emigrated from Spain. Chobani yogurt was started by a Greek.

I found a cookbook on my doorstep the other day titled “The Immigrant Cookbook: Recipes that Make America Great,” edited by Leyla Moushabeck.  In this beautiful book, professional cooks who are immigrants themselves or children of immigrants, share recipes from soups to pickles and desserts.

Hari Nayak was born in India and is now a chef, a cookbook author and restaurant consultant. I was quite taken with his recipe for lentil and spinach soup.

Didem Hosgel grew up in Turkey but found her way to Boston in 2001, where she went to work at the Oleana Restaurant. She is now the chef de cuisine at the Sofra Bakery. She has a satisfying recipe for Kurus (a combination of potato and bulgur patties) with Spoon Salad.

This Thanksgiving I am giving special thanks for all those from every corner of the world who have given us the most delicious foods every day.

Pat Leuchtman has been writing and gardening since 1980. Readers can leave comments at her website:

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