A NEW ENGLAND THANKSGIVING
Tradition holds that the first Thanksgiving feast was celebrated by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians at Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts, in 1621. In addition to turkey, which was a Native American staple, they reportedly served an impressive array of New England delicacies including waterfowl, venison, fish, lobster, clams, berries, fruit, pumpkin and squash.
As interesting as what was served at the first Thanksgiving is what was not. Smithsonian Magazine reports that while turkey was present, it was not the centerpiece of the feast. Goose or duck were preferred. Shellfish, including lobster, clams, oysters and mussels, were available, and the forests yielded chestnuts, walnuts and beechnuts. Indian corn was grown, along with beans, garlic, onions, pumpkins, squash and other vegetables. But white potatoes, native to South America, and sweet potatoes, from the Caribbean, were not in Massachusetts with the Pilgrims. And, while cranberries were native, a sugary cranberry sauce was not. Without butter and wheat flour, pie crusts were absent, thus no pumpkin pie. And what beverage accompanied the meal? Probably water.
The Founding Fathers, especially Ben Franklin, regarded the turkey as an American icon, and Alexander Hamilton once proclaimed that no “citizen of the United States should refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day.” Nevertheless, turkey was uncommon as Thanksgiving fare until after 1800. Midcentury brought increased interest in the nation’s history when Of Plimoth Plantation, Governor William Bradford’s account of the founding of Plymouth Colony, was rediscovered and published. Abraham Lincoln nationalized the holiday in 1863 under pressure from Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, a trendsetter for household management among women at the time.
She argued that the celebration of Thanksgiving would unite a country divided by the Civil War. By 1867, turkey was part of the traditional dinner, at least in New England.
A NEW ENGLAND THANKSGIVING
THANKSGIVING PLAN OF ATTACK
THE WEEK BEFORE
- Make a shopping list and identify any ingredients that may be hard to find. Track these items down early or, if they aren’t available, make substitutions or menu changes. If you are using a purchased brine mix, buy that, and turkey brining bags (Williams Sonoma is a likely source).
- Inventory your cooking equipment against the menu and make sure you have what you need to prepare each dish. Check your linens, china and flatware and clean anything that needs it. Decide which serving pieces you will use for each dish. Buy cocktail napkins and candles. Make place cards.
- Order flowers from your florist if necessary. Buy liquor and wines.
- Order turkey to be picked up the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. You want a fresh- killed, never frozen bird (resist the temptation to avoid crowds by picking it up earlier – storage in most home refrigerators is a problem).
- Order any baked goods – pies, rolls, etc. – that you plan to purchase, not bake yourself. If the bakery is open Thanksgiving morning, and you can assign a helper to pick up your order, do that. Otherwise, pick up on Wednesday.
- Clean out your refrigerator to make room for all of the comestibles to come.
FIVE DAYS AHEAD (Saturday)
- Buy the ingredients for the roasted turkey stock. Prepare and store, refrigerated.
FOUR DAYS AHEAD (Sunday)
- Buy all the remaining non-perishable ingredients on the shopping list.
THREE DAYS AHEAD (Monday)
- Buy the ingredients for the turkey brine. Prepare and chill overnight.
- Make the cranberry relish.
TWO DAYS AHEAD (Tuesday)
- Pick up turkey and brine it.
- Buy all the perishable items on shopping list.
- Make the apple galette
- Tear bread for stuffing into ½ inch pieces, spread it out on a jelly roll pan and leave it, uncovered, overnight to dry.
- Set the table
ONE DAY AHEAD (Wednesday)
- Make stuffing
- Trim Brussels sprouts, chop chestnuts and refrigerate
- Bake the Indian pudding and refrigerate, covered
- Trim crudité vegetables and refrigerate
THANKSGIVING DAY (Thursday)
- Take cranberry relish, olives and pate out of the refrigerator and bring to room temperature at least an hour before you plan to serve them
- Make lobster corn chowder
- Stuff and roast turkey and dressing
- Make the gravy
- Make watercress dip
- Make the Brussels sprouts
- Make both mashed potatoes
- Warm the Indian pudding and whip the cream