THE FOLLOWING is a re- creation of the train of thought of a pilgrim housewife during the three-day feast of Thanksgiving in 1621. The mind set is re-created by Troy Creane of Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Mass., who spends her days at the historic site dramatizing the past for visitors.
Originally, the big feast took place somewhere between September 21 -- the day the pilgrims recorded coming back from exploring Massachusetts Bay -- and November 9 -- the day the ship Fortune arrived with new settlers.
MY NAME IS Elizabeth Hopkins and I were born just outside of London I think in the year fifteen seven and ninty. (She neither reads nor writes.) I am married to Master Stephen Hopkins and came here upon the Mayflower late in the year sixteen and twenty and gave birth to a child upon the voyage. We named him Oceanus Hopkins. Lamentably he is in God's hands now.
I were one of four housewives who prepared what you call the first Thanksgiving but which for us was just a celebration of our first harvest. There were only four of us housewives left alive. Those who helped us were our children and servants and we seemed to be cooking for a very long time. It was three days of feasting. Being that I am an English housewife I cook the way my mother taught and she mother afore she. But since I've been here I have had to cook such things as I have never cooked before -- the wild fowl, the geese, the swans, the eagles and of course the turkeys. I have had to learn to cook with Indian corn that which we call turkey wheat, turkey because don't all strange manner of things come from turkey? We had to cook as well five deer, which were brought by the Indians. To us at this time it seems a great abundance for we know we will survive the winter. (Little does Elizabeth know that a ship will soon come without provisions and everyone will have to go on half-rations for the winter and spring.)
I am cooking squashes (an Indian word) pompions (pumpkins), fruit and berries are in great abundance in this new world. Would that I had the sugar with which to make a conserve. We have little butter but that which we have brought from England (three heifers and a bull came in 1624). I pray that a ship might come soon bringing such like as butter, oil, sugar and spices. As this is a celebration of the harvest I am not serving the likes of lobsters or clams for though plentiful as they may be here 'tis not appropriate fare for feasting.
We are cooking our meals these days of cod, seabass, meats and wild fowl, venison. I am going to roast them and boil them and cook some of the fish upon a gridiron. I cook some of the bread upon a skillet and bake some in the oven and prepare some tarts with the abundance of plums found by the beach that I find to this new world (beach and wild plums). There's a plentitude of wild plums which I have dried for to make a prune tart. And I served as well furmenty (cracked wheat berry boiled with goats milk, sugar, spices, and eggs).
My board is set simply. I serve my food upon platters and trenchers and we eat off of trenchers. We have few chairs which be for the more important men. The others sit on benches. We four wives with the help of the children and servants prepare the meal. We say grace and a prayer afore we eat. We eat with knives of steel, a few spoons, wooden bowls and we eat with our fingers. We have large linen napkins that are perhaps three feet square. (Queen Elizabeth used to go through a dozen pairs of gloves as she ate, discarding after they were sullied.) There seem to be a good seven score people there (140), many more Indians than English all men (90 Indians and 50 Englishmen). We do not eat all together but divide into companies to feast.
Thinking back upon my homeland, England, though I miss so much of it I am o'erwhelmed with the riches of this new world -- with the fish, of the venison, with the corn. I cannot help but think that in the years to come we will not only survive but flourish.
FURMENTY was a traditional dish served in Plymouth in the 1620s. This is Troy Creane's modern version.
1 cup cracked wheat
1 quart water
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
! teaspoon ground mace
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 egg yolks
Additional brown sugar
In a large pot bring the water to a boil and add the wheat. Turn the heat down to simmer, and continue to cook the mixture for half an hour covered or until soft. Drain off all the water and add the milk, cream, salt, mace, cinnamon and sugar. Continue to simmer, covered, stirring occasionally until most of the liquid is absorbed -- 20 to 30 minutes. Beat the egg yolks, and slowly stir 1/2 cup of wheat mixture into yolks. Then stir the yolk mixture into the pot, and continue cooking, covered, another 5 minutes.