As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, I think of childhood Thanksgivings and the myths perpetrated by my early public education.
It is disconcerting to learn Pilgrims did not wear dark clothing with starched white collars and cuffs like children of my generation had to adorn for the annual classroom Thanksgiving play. Pilgrims wore colors.
Further, they did not have brass buckles on their shoes, though this did not deter young hands having to fashion buckles out of construction paper. Buckles did not appear on shoes until some 50 years after the Mayflower arrived on the eastern shore of our continent in 1620.
Fifty percent of the Pilgrims undertaking the transatlantic crossing did not survive. So in the fall of 1621 the Mayflower survivors had much to celebrate. Rudimentary crops had been planted and harvested, and larders were filled with cured and smoked game, thanks largely to the assistance of friendly natives.
Native Americans did join in the celebration with the new arrivals, but scholars speculate these natives were just curious about all the commotion and when they realized it was a party wandered through over the course of several days bringing contributions of fowl, deer and maize.
Pilgrim women were tasked with cooking the meal for the first Thanksgiving. They likely brought cookery texts with them to the New World. “A New Book of Cookerie” written by John Murrell and first published in 1615 was touted by the author as “setting forth the newest and most commendable fashion for dressing or saucing either flesh, fish or fowl.”
Other 17th-century cookbooks, mostly written by men, followed with titles like “A True Gentlewoman’s Delight,” “A Daily Exercise for Ladies and Gentlewomen” and “The Whole Duty of a Woman.” There were no texts about the whole duties of men.
It was the female cooks of 17th-century America who were charged with dressing the meat, i.e. skinning, removing the entrails and then cooking and saucing the meat.
Food was scarce and nothing was thrown away. Recipes for things like boiled calf’s head, brains, liver and other disgusting parts of the animal abound in antique books of cookery. Certain ingredients like cinnamon, ginger, mace and lemon appear in all these antique recipes.
Undoubtedly these were used to mask the vileness of such dishes.
For my Thanksgiving meal I am cooking traditional Thanksgiving fare, incorporating when possible ingredients prepared by the brave women of Plymouth Colony. Thankfully, I will not be dressing anything other than myself.
First course will feature a shrimp cocktail. Seafood was abundant in coastal Massachusetts, and Pilgrims of necessity sustained themselves by eating oysters, mussels, lobsters and fish.
The pilgrims ate all kinds of fowl, including swans and ducks that could easily have been served in lieu of turkey. My menu will feature an already dressed turkey accompanied by cornbread dressing, a close approximation of the cornmeal mush introduced to Pilgrims by Native Americans.
Side dishes will include a gratin of fresh spinach. By fall of 1621, Pilgrims likely had greens from their gardens. For authenticity, I will add a bit of nutmeg and lemon to my béchamel sauce for the spinach.
There will be a squash casserole. Both abundant native squash and pumpkins were introduced and shared with the Pilgrims by natives — but not sweet potatoes, because they were unknown to both Pilgrims and Native Americans. Though not served at the first Thanksgiving, the Thanksgiving meal would be incomplete without sweet potato soufflé.
I will have dessert, but the Pilgrims would not have had sweets because few among them would have been able to afford such a precious commodity as sugar.
Notably absent from the first Thanksgiving meal was cranberry sauce, for the same reason there was no dessert: lack of sugar to mitigate the abundant tart berries.
I will not serve beer, the beverage of choice of the Pilgrims, but I will serve the two following versatile wines, which I have sampled over the past year and are currently available at Tyson’s Fine Wines and Things in Anniston.
Stolpman Estate Roussanne 2017. $26.75. A rich white wine from a not-so-common varietal. Golden hued. Perfect for the richness of a Southern Thanksgiving meal.
Kate Arnold 2015 Pinot Noir. $19.75. Made by former Annistonian Jean Arnold. From 100 percent pinot noir, fruit for this wine is sourced from three different vineyards in the Willamette Valley, each contributing its own unique traits to this pleasant and versatile wine.
Pat Kettles writes about wine and spirits every other Wednesday. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.