The modern mind does not always make the obvious connection. A storm had knocked down a power line and the group assembled for a country Thanksgiving crowed with delight. Candlelight and kerosene lamps, the wind howling outside, everything cozy within.
Except the electric stove.
But the woodstove was still there, capable of producing a turkey that was moist and tender and tasted faintly of wood smoke, and if the pie crust was suspiciously dark on one side, who could tell by the flickering lamp light?
That one-day incursion into the past made us feel resourceful and full of pioneer spirit, but our woodstove would have been a luxury to the true pioneer.
"Their facilities for cooking were very rude, it having to be done by the fire in the great, stone fire-place. They had a stout lug-pole, made of the greenest beech or maple, to which they attached the pot-hooks and trammels, so constructed that they could be made long or short, and on these were hung the pots, kettles and large iron pans," wrote William Little in his history of a small New Hampshire town.
"In them they boiled the potatoes, garden vegetables, the salt beef and moose meat. Haunches of delicate venison, fat, juicy quarters of the bear, whole 'coons, woodchucks and wild turkeys when they had them, were generally roasted. These were hung by a stout cord to the oaken mantel-piece in front of the hot fire, a dripping pan was placed beneath, cooking it on all sides alike. When the string was once hard twisted it would unwind and wind itself up, requiring but very little work to tend it . . . "
Or the following description by Rebecca Burlend of conditions she found after emigrating from England to Illinois in 1831. Baking was done in "a shallow flat-bottomed iron pan, with a cover to it . . . This is the common, and indeed almost the only kind of oven used in Illinois. It is vulgarly called a skellit. To make it hot it is immersed in glowing embers, the lid is then removed till the dough is put in; it is then replaced and ashes again thrown over it, till the cake is baked."
Although Thanksgiving wasn't officially declared a national holiday until 1863, Mrs. Burlend also attempted to share a turkey dinner with a friend. Her story of the meal shows that being a hostess could be every bit as difficult then as now:
"We observed several kinds of birds, which we had not before seen, one in particular, which we took to be a species of turkey, engaged our attention; my husband tried several times to kill one, without effect. One Saturday, however, he was successful, and brought home his game with as much apparent consciousness of triumph as if he had slain some champion hydra of the forest.
"The following day we expected Mr. B. to dine with us. We accordingly dressed the bird, and congratulated ourselves with the idea of having our countryman to dine with us on a fine boiled turkey. Sunday morning arrived, and in due time our turkey was in the pot boiling for dinner. Mr. B. came; we told him how happy we were on account of the treat we were going to give him. He was surprised at our story, as those birds are difficult to obtain with a common fowling-piece, and desired to see the feet and head. But the moment he saw them, he exclaimed, 'it's a buzzard,' a bird, which we subsequently learnt, gormandizes any kind of filth or carrion, and consequently is not fit to be eaten.
We were sorely disappointed; our turkey was hoisted into the yard and we were obliged to be contented with a little bacon and a coarse Indian pudding . . . "
Give thanks on Thursday that we can choose what was good from the past and leave the buzzards behind.