With the tragedies of last week and the resulting xenophobia flooding this country, I feel Thanksgiving could not have come at a better time. If it doesn’t manage to shift the mood from hostile to welcoming, at least there will be mountains of food and, for a brief moment, we can focus our attention on the gluttony that has us buying stretchy pants in every color. Isn’t that what America is all about? It sure seems that way sometimes.
Thanksgiving was made official during the throws of the Civil War. Now maybe this is me getting all EMO, but I think it would be a good reminder for us all to explore why we celebrate and Lincoln’s Proclamation from October 3rd 1863 puts it splendidly. (Note: fill in the God references with whatever suits you for maximum effect).
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.
It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.
President Abraham Lincoln
Now for your required dose of history: We all know Thanksgiving had been celebrated prior to 1863. The Thanksgiving we all think of was in 1621. The Pilgrims in Plymouth Colony invited the Wampanoag tribe for a three day feast of wild turkeys, duck, venison, lobsters, and a host of other local fare. Later, George Washington made November 26th a day of thanks, but Jefferson and John Quincy Adams broke the tradition, saying it was a violation of church and state. From that time until Lincoln’s proclamation, Thanksgiving was up to each Governor and most were celebrated in October and November after the harvest. Makes sense.
Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, Editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, a leading ladies magazine of the mid-19th century, is the true mother of our modern Thanksgiving. Her persistent lobbying of Lincoln to make the day official paid off and here we are. Now when it comes to the menu, turkeys been a constant but the sweets and sides were ever-changing. We have chosen some favorites throughout the years, which are easy to make and budget friendly. They all come from a different Presidential eras, marking trends of that time. Only thing that’s not on the menu: hatorade.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours,
Washington’s Era Turkey
To Stuff and Roast a Turkey or Fowl
One pound wheat bread, 3 ounces beef suet, 3 eggs, a little sweet thyme, sweet majoram, pepper and salt, and some add a gill [a quarter of a pint] of wine fill bird therewith and sew up, hang down to a steady solid fire, basting frequently with butter and water and roast until steam emits from breast, put one third of a pound of butter into the gravy, dust flour over the bird and baste with gravy; serve up with boiled onions, cranberry sauce, mangoes, pickles or celery.
American Cookery- Amelia Simmons- 1796
Roosevelt’s Era Veggie Alternative
Boil one pound chestnuts until tender, remove the shells, add a teaspoon of salt and a pinch of thyme, and mix thoroughly. Boil together a large turnip, one carrot, two potatoes, two stalks celery, three peppercorns, and two cloves. When the vegetables are tender, drain through a colander; add chestnuts; mash all together, adding two Tablespoons each of butter and cream. Salt to taste, place in a buttered mould, in a hot oven; heat thoroughly and serve on a meat platter, garnished with slices of lemon and sprigs of parsley.
Raisin Center Cook Book – 1904
Sweets & Sides
Succotash from Benjamin Harrison’s time
One pint green Lima beans, one – half dozen ears corn grated, one-half pound salt pork; freshen the pork a little; then cook beans and pork together. About one-half hour before serving put in corn. Use no more water necessary.
Mrs. W.C. Wynne- 1891-The Housekeepers Friend-Chicago IL
-I made mine vegetarian and cooked the beans and corn in salted water. It does not take ½ an hour, try ten minutes and see how you go.
- Suggested additions: finely chopped red pepper and a good glug of heavy cream. Salt and pepper will be essential.
-This recipe can be easily doubled or cut in half to fit your needs.
String Beans and Peas – Cape Cod Style from Grover Cleveland’s time
Cook beans four hours with salt pork. After they have cooked two hours and a half put peas in on top with a little water. As served add half a cup of cream. Salt and pepper to taste.
Miss M.E. Quigley – 1885- The Web-Foot Cookbook- Portland OR
-PLEASE DO NOT COOK YOUR BEANS FOR FOUR HOURS. I cooked my green beans (cut in half, ends removed) in salted boiling water. Cook 5-7 minutes. You still want a bit of a bite. Drain.
- I then cooked my frozen peas (small bag) in salted boiling water. These should only take 5 minutes max. Drain.
-I got my pork in the form of bacon. In a small frying pan, cook ½ of a large onion(finely chopped) and 4 strips of bacon (chopped) over medium heat. When you start getting some color, add 1 ½ cups of heavy cream and ample salt and pepper.
-For that extra crunch, mix in some chopped pecans at the end.
Cranberry Pie from Chester Arthur’s time
Wash and chop (not very fine) 1 ½ cups cranberries; add 1-2 cups seeded raisins and 1 cup sugar. Sprinkle on a little flour and spice, and bake between 2 crusts in moderate oven from 1-2 to 3-4 hour.
Mrs. J.Q. Adams- 1882-Our Home Favorite- Saratoga New York
- This was the first time I had a cranberry pie. I thought it would be an interesting alternative and it sure was. It is not offensive but also no pecan pie so give it a whirl.
- Instead of spice, add 1 tsp grated orange zest, and the juice from the orange to the cranberries and sugar.
- Substitute craisins for raisins.
- Google easy pie crust. Any recipe will do.
- I bake my pie for 90 minutes in a 350 F oven. If your crust starts to brown too much, cover in foil while baking.