The American colonists who celebrated their first Thanksgiving in Plymouth lived in cabins that were built into hills, dugouts similar to the earthwork homes being advocated by many of today's energy-conscious architects.
One wall was occupied by a colossal fireplace filled with and surrounded by the pots, pans and other cooking equipment they had brought from England. Pots were made of bronze, brass and iron and either hung above the fire from a metal crane or set on little feed over a bed of coals raked to the front of the hearth. A large, footed casserole doubled as an oven. Foods to be baked were placed on a rack inside and the entire vessel was surrounded by coal. In most homes there were long-handled skillets with feet, a teapot, a spit, a toasting grid and a few trivets with legs of varying lengths to help with the control of the head. The cook also had several wooden bowls, a roaster for coffee and for a few, the luxury of a waffle iron.
Not an extensive inventory of kitchen equipment but, judging from contemporary reports of the time, sufficient to prepare some pretty good food.
Today's Thanksgiving menu has changed radically from those first celebrations of the early 17th century, and so has our roster of utensils. Four pieces of equipment I suggest you consider adding to your kitchen in preparation for the holiday cooking schedule weren't known then. They are a ham slicer with hollow ground ovals, a fat separator, a bulb baster with an injection needle and some turkey lacers.
The ham slicer with hollow ground ovals has a 10-inch to 14-inch blade of high carbon steel. It won't stain. The ovals have been machined out of the blade along the cutting edge. These are not serrations that will rip and tear through tough surfaces. The blade is perfectly straight and smooth and designed to produce long, thin, even slices of turkey, roast beef or ham. The ovals are staggered in height and break the friction between the warm moist meat and the blades. They are manufactured by various companies and range in price from $25 to $50. Henckels makes an excellent example of this type of knife. For most home carvers, the least expensive models will do a sufficient job.
The fat separator is a measuring cup with a pouring spout at its base. The liquid remaining in a roasting pan after you have cooked turkey or beef is a mixture of natural juices and fats. If you pour this mixture into the fat separator, the juices will sink to the bottom ot the cup leaving the fat inside. Called by its inventors a gravy-strain, it retails for about $7. In addition to separating juices from fats, it will serve as a butter clarifier (pour melted butter into it and the solids will float on top, the clarified butter can be poured off) and an oil dispensor for the making of mayonnaise.
Bulb basters are giant eye droppers. A rubber bulb at one end of a tube creates a partial vacuum when pressed and the opposite end of the tube is submerged in liquid. When the bulb is depressed a second time the liquid is forced out. When you are trying to lift the pan juices beneath a hot turkey or roast beef that's delicately balanced at the end of an oven, these bulb basters do a much better job than a spoon. When you are selecting a bulb baster make sure it has a bulb that is made of good quality, fairly thick rubber. You don't want it to collapse and have its sides stick together. The smaller end should still have a sufficiently large opening to allow tiny pieces of minced vegetables from a marinade to pass through it.
This type of baster comes in four materials: stainless steel, aluminum, glass and nylon. The nylon will discolor and can melt when accidentally brought in contact with a hot pan. The glass breaks easily. The aluminum will interact with high acid foods. Stainless steel is therefore best of class. There is a model that comes with a thin screw-on needle tip for injecting liquids into the meat. Injecting a wine base marinade to the center of a roast will season the meat. The acid in the wine will also soften the fibers making the entire roast a bit more tender. Bear in mind, however, that the addition of large amounts of hot fatty liquids to the center of the meat tends to steam that area. Don't overdo it.
Finally, there are the turkey lacers. Somewhere between a needle and a skewer, they are pinned through the skin of the fowl to join the flaps. They are held in place by lacing twine, much like the technique used in closing the hooks on hiking boots. When you are selecting lacers make sure they have a loop on one end. The tine of a fork, or other utensil is put through this loop in order to remove it from the bird. This may not sound important but when you have a hot bird with hot lacers standing between you and the stuffing, the grip loops are essential.
Pay attention to length. They are made from 3 1/2 inches to 5 inches. The longer models are a bit more convenient to handle when you are installing or removing the lacers. But, if they are on the long side and you are using a V-shaped rack to hold your fowl in place that extra inch can cause trouble when you try to turn the bird over.Make sure they are sturdy stainless steel. This material will not interact with foods and, when thick enough, will not bend. Some manufacturers have begun to make lacers in aluminum. These do interact with high acid foods and will often bent into a pretzel when you are trying to pierce the thick skin of a turkey. These are inexpensive tools ranging in price from about $1 to $3 for a set of 10 lacers. It pays to buy the best.
And when it comes to the proper twine for lacing avoid anything made of nylon or coated with wax, both materials will melt easily. A tight weave non-absorbent cord is the best.