Experience An 1800s Thanksgiving Dinner

If you'd like to find out what Thanksgiving was like in the 1800s, head to Tamworth

Photo courtesy of Remick Museum

Family get-togethers at Thanksgiving are (hopefully) a time of enjoying a great feast, being thankful and watching football. If you're hosting, it's wonderful, of course, but challenging — lots of dishes to make and lots of dishes to wash. By the time you clean up the kitchen and turn on the dishwasher, you're weary from the work.

But one thing is for certain — our apron-ed ancestors in the 18th and 19th centuries wouldn't feel a bit sorry for current-day cooks. Imagine what they would have given to have frost-free refrigerators, convection ovens and dishwashers with a "power scrub" cycle.

If you'd like to compare the two Thanksgivings, to get a hands-on sense of what it was like to create a holiday meal back in the country's early days, without all the modern conveniences, you can.

Remick Country Doctor Museum & Farm in Tamworth each year offers a "Hearthside Dinner" around Thanksgiving that allows you to help prepare a meal over burning coals in a large hearth using the implements of the day. You also learn about all that goes before — preserving the harvest, storing crops and, yes, processing the animals that are cooked, including rendering tallow (fat) for candle making. The evening is guided by museum interpreters, dressed in period costume.

Erica Boynton, Remick museum program manager, says a typical New England Thanksgiving meal of the period included a rich assortment of simple, seasonal foods, with ample vegetables, wild game, fish and other meats — and, of course, several pies. This year's menu: Hearth-roasted turkey with bread dressing, winter squash, boiled potatoes and onions, buttermilk biscuits with fresh churned butter, cranberry relish, ginger cake with whipped cream, coffee, tea and raspberry shrub. It's BYOB.

"The day was about sharing in the spirit of abundance with family and friends along with prayer and worship," Boynton says. "Singing, storytelling and cracking nuts around the fire after dinner were commonplace."

Cooking terms you might not be familiar with:

  • Receipt: Recipe
  • Scotch collop: Small slice of meat
  • Pottage: Stew
  • Fricassee: Cut-up pieces of chicken or rabbit, dressed and fried
  • Haunch: Rear or hind cut of meat
  • Eating knife: Utensil with a rounded end and wide spatulate blade, not used to cut the food
  • Dutch oven: Cast-iron bake kettle with lid
  • Peel: Cast-iron tool used to shovel coals
  • Colonial shrub: Concentrated fruit, sugar and vinegar beverage
  • Spider pan: Cast-iron frying pan with three legs
  • Fool: Fruit and whipped cream dessert



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