So as you may have seen in previous years (2014, 2015), our family has started doing a “colonial” Thanksgiving celebration. I use the quotes because it’s far from strictly colonial in terms of preparation and authentic recipes, but we do try to keep things mostly historical, and then we use only candles and oil lamps once it gets dark. I also have grand ambitions to grow everything we eat. Maybe if I really get the vegetable garden sorted out next year! In the meantime, we’ll settle for locally grown.
This year, my mother is gung ho to make a stew outside over a cookfire, which I think will really take the whole thing to the next wacky level. Our house was built in 1795, but due to some remodels and a fire, doesn’t have that classic brick kitchen oven setup, or you could bet your breeches I’d be using that.
The biggest change this year is that we won’t have a turkey. I made many, many tasty turkeys during the WoW Cookbook process, so it turns out that nobody in the family is quite ready to eat any more just yet. I think there’s still some in the freezer, waiting to be made into soup. But that’s actually pretty traditional. Just take for example this account from 1748 New Hampshire:
“Our bay is full of lobsters all the summer and affordeth variety of other fish; in September we can take a hogshead of eels in a night, with small labor, and can dig them out of their beds all the winter. We have mussels … at our doors. Oysters we have none near, but we can have them brought by the Indians when we will; all the spring-time the earth sendeth forth naturally very good sallet herbs. Here are grapes, white and red, and very sweet and strong also. Strawberries, gooseberries, raspas, etc. Plums of tree sorts, with black and red, being almost as good as a damson; abundance of roses, white, red, and damask; single, but very sweet indeed… These things I thought good to let you understand, being the truth of things as near as I could experimentally take knowledge of, and that you might on our behalf give God thanks who hath dealt so favorably with us.” -William Haywood’s journal, Charlestown, NH
Or this account, from 1779 Connecticut:
“Of course we could have no roast beef. None of us have tasted beef this three years back as it all must go to the army, & too little they get, poor fellows. But, Nayquittymaw’s hunters were able to get us a fine red deer, so that we had a good haunch of venison on each table. These were balanced by huge chines of roast pork at the other ends of the tables. Then there was on one a big roast turkey & on the other a goose, & two big pigeon pasties. Then there was an abundance of good vegetables of all the old sorts & one that I do not believe you have yet seen. Uncle Simeon had imported the seed from England just before the war began & only this year was there enough for table use. It is called sellery & you eat it without cooking. It is very good and served with meats. Next year Uncle Simeon says he will be able to raise enough to give us all some. It has to be taken up, roots & all & buried in earth in the cellar through the winter & only pulling up some when you want it to use. Our mince pies were good, although we had to use dried cherries as I told you, & the meat was shoulder of venison instead of beef. The pumpkin pies, apple tarts & big Indian puddings lacked for nothing save appetite by the time we had got around to them.”
I don’t know about you, but those descriptions definitely set my mouth watering!
Here’s the current plan, which always changes at the last minute. I’ll hopefully be posting any new recipes that turn out well:
- Hand washing water – (also makes the house smell nice)
- Beeswax and bayberry candles
- Pewter, linen, antler, and assorted other period dishware
- Venison Stew – traditional, 1749
- Cod in Coals – traditional
- Cranberry Chutney – 1767, with some tweaks
- Blueberry Chutney – ad lib, homegrown
- Roasted Squash with homemade maple syrup
- Cabbage, onions, and bacon
- Pumpkin Pie – 1653
- Mother McCann’s Lemon Pie – pre-1891, from a family cookbook
- Cider Cake – 1881
- Apple Tansy – 1754
- Gooseberry Hops – 1792
- The First American Cookbook, Amelia Simmons, 1796
- The Compleat Housewife: or, Accomplished Gentlewoman’s Companion by E. Smith, 1754
- Vinetum Britannicum, J. Worlidge, 1691
- Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, Mrs. Beeton, 1861
- The Way to a Man’s Heart, various authors, pre-1891
- Dr. Chase’s Receipt Book, Dr. Chase, 1887
- Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery, Karen Hess, 1749
As my mother put it, “Why would anyone settle for turkey when they could do this?!” We had an absolute blast, and the extra smoky flavors from cooking over the fire put everything right over the top. From shaking up cream to make our own butter, to toting that giant cod to and from the firepit, it was a holiday to remember. My mother prepped the cod by wrapping it in cabbage leaves and clay (8 lb turned out to be a lot of fish), and baked some bread in her woodstove. The star of the day, the venison stew, was rich and hearty, with chunks of meat, sausage, and root vegetables swimming in a flavorful broth. The handwashing water was a big hit, and while the lemon pie didn’t quite set right, it was tasty enough to perfect- more on that later. We concluded the evening, as always, with dramatic readings in the livingroom, by candlelight.
The thing I love most, perhaps, about approaching a holiday like this is that it takes away so much of the pressure that can do in what should be a festive time. Nobody was worried about the turkey prep, or whether their cranberry sauce would hold up to Aunt Mabel’s scrutiny. Instead, it’s about the adventure of the cooking, and having fun together. And because we try to make the dinner with all local or homegrown ingredients, it gives us a proper appreciation for the effort that goes into growing and preparing the food. Looking back in time, it’s easy to marvel at the amount of hard work that went into keeping a family alive and fed. Here’s to all the hunters and housewives that have gotten us to where we are today!
And speaking of that, I’m thankful for the years you all have spent here at The Inn with me, and I hope you’ll join me for many more to come!