Sunday, November 23, 2014

Cranberry Conserve by Rufus Estes: A Recipe from 1911

Did you know that in 1864 General Grant ordered that cranberry sauce be served to the troops during the Civil War? Or, that in 1912 Ocean Spray began canning cranberry sauce?

The cranberry is certainly a beloved American berry that sits prominently at the Thanksgiving table. Here is a recipe for a Cranberry Conserve that is tasty enough to be served at any time of the year. 

The Cranberry Conserve recipe I chose was published in 1911 in Good Things To Eat, As Suggested By Rufus; A Collection Of Practical Recipes For Preparing Meats, Game, Fowl, Fish, Puddings, Pastries, Etc. by Rufus Estes. The cookbook writer is a really interesting person so I am going to tell you a bit about him before we move on to the recipe.

Rufus Estes was born a slave in Tennessee in 1857. After the civil war was over, while still quite young, he worked at various jobs to help support his family. He milked cows, carried dinners out to laborers in the fields, was employed in a restaurant, and then, in 1883, he began work as a private car attendant for the Pullman Company. He was assigned the task of taking care for special parties which brought him into contact with many prominent people such as Presidents Cleveland and Harrison. In addition, Estes also worked for private individuals serving them in their own personal train cars. As result of this job and from his experience as a chef, Rufus learned a lot about good food and his cookbook is a testament to his experiences.

Here is Estes's recipe - Enjoy!

Cranberry Conserve
To three and a half pounds of cranberries add three pounds of sugar, one pound of seeded raisins and four oranges cut in small pieces after peeling. Cook gently about twenty minutes, add one pound walnut meats, and cool.

Modern Recipe Adaptation
Yield: 2 Quarts + about 1/2 pint

2 12-ounce Bags of Fresh Cranberries
3 1/2 Cups Granulated Sugar
1 10-ounce Box of Zante Currants
2 Medium Oranges, Peeled and Chopped 
Juice from 1 Orange
1/2 Pound Chopped Walnuts

1. In a large saucepan, mix together the cranberries, sugar, raisins, chopped oranges, and orange juice. Stir well and set over medium heat.

Cranberry Conserve Ingredients

2. Cover and cook over medium for about 10-12 minutes. Stir frequently. Then, remove the cover and increase the temperature to medium-high.  Stir frequently for about 5-10 more minutes, until the cranberries soften and begin to pop. Remove from the heat.

Cooking the cranberry conserves
until the berries pop.

3. Add the walnuts to the hot cranberry mixture.

Remember these old nut choppers?

Add the walnuts to the berry mixture.

Cranberry Conserve-All Finished!

4. This conserve can be cooled and eaten right away, or you may freeze it or can it using the hot-water bath method for future use.

 5. Serve as a condiment for poultry or wild game, or use it to top a baked brie/camembert or to smother a block of cold cream cheese and serve with crackers. You could probably use this as a pie filling, too (maybe with the addition of some chopped apples)--I will have to try that!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Ricotta Cavatelli: Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge 13, Ethnic Foodways

Challenge 13:  Ethnic Foodways
November 16 - November 29
Foodways and cuisine are at the heart of every ethnic group around the world and throughout time. Choose one ethnic group, research their traditional dishes or food, and prepare one as it is traditionally made.

The Recipe:
Grandma Vincenza's Ricotta Cavatelli

I chose a recipe from an ethnic tradition I know very well--Italian. All of my grandparents came to America from Italy and brought with them a culinary tradition that combined both the best of their homeland with the best of their new country. My grandmother, Vincenza Picciano Gianguzzi, was the grandparent I knew the best; she even lived with my family for the last four years of her life. I was a teenager then so was usually preoccupied with my life and friends, but I did help her to cook on many occasions. Vincenza grew up in a small town called Campochiaro in Abruzzi (now in Molise), Italy. She was a great story-teller and loved to reminisce about her life in that town. She also loved to cook, and because we shared that love, I spent lots of time listening to her spin tales from her youth as we made pepper cookies, meatballs, marinara sauce, gravy (tomato sauce cooked with meat), and pasta.

One of the macaroni recipes we made together was for Ricotta Cavatelli. The name for this type of pasta comes from the Italian verb cavare which means "to carve or hollow out." Cavatelli are shaped like hollowed out shells so the name is quite appropriate.  

The recipe itself is very easy because all that is needed is fresh ricotta and flour (Grandma preferred to buy the ricotta from a local Italian deli rather than make it herself which made making this even easier).  Instructions are included below for making your own ricotta, but you can use store-bought without any guilt! 

Step 1:  Make the Ricotta
3 Cups Whole Milk 
1 Cup Heavy Cream
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
4 1/2 Teaspoon White Wine Vinegar

1. In a stockpot with a thick bottom (enameled cast ironware is best), mix together the milk and the cream.  Bring to a simmer registering 200º F and keep it at that temperature for about one minute. Then remove from the heat.

Simmering the milk and cream. 

2. Add the salt and the vinegar to the pot and stir.  It will separate into cheese curds and whey (milky water).

3.  Let the mixture sit off heat for 15 minutes.  While waiting, line a sieve with a cotton kitchen towel and place over a bowl.

Sieve over bowl

Line the sieve with a cloth.

4. Strain the curds and whey by pouring the entire mixture into the cloth-lined sieve.  Let strain for 15-20 minutes.  You can also squeeze the whey out of the curds by squeezing the cloth.  This recipe should yield a little over a cup of ricotta.

Pour into Sieve

Curds and Whey Beginning
to Separate

Finished Ricotta

Step 2:  Make the Pasta Dough
1. Measure the ricotta in a cup and note the amount, and then dump the ricotta into a mixing bowl.  Wash and dry the measuring cup.  

2. Using the same measuring cup, measure out the exact amount of flour, making it equal to the volume of ricotta that you previously measured in that cup. Add the flour to the ricotta and mix together until it forms a ball of dough that is soft. Add enough additional flour so that the dough is no longer sticky and can be rolled out into logs.

Ricotta Cavatelli Pasta Dough

Step 3:  Roll Out the Cavatelli

The only stumbling block with this recipe is the amount of time it takes to roll out all of the cavatelli pasta. 

1.  On a floured board, roll out long logs of dough.  Cut the logs into small (half inch) pieces.  
Dough, Log of Rolled Dough, Gnocchi Board

2.  Using a floured gnocchi board, place each piece of pasta dough on the board.  Press it into the board with your index finger.  Then, gently drag the dough toward you with your finger.  It should curl up around your finger and become ridged on the side that you dragged against the board.  Don't have a gnocchi board?  You can press each piece of dough on your floured board with the tines of a floured fork instead of your finger. Voila!

Roll each piece on the gnocchi
board toward you.

Notice the ridges or rigate.

3.  Lay each piece of finished pasta on a floured cookie sheet and freeze.  Then, you can bag them up and return to the freezer for future use. You should have about one pound of pasta if using the homemade ricotta recipe listed here.

Step 4:  Cook and Serve the Cavatelli

1.  Cook the cavatelli in salted boiling water just like any other pasta. It only takes a few minutes for them to cook. They are cooked when they rise to the surface of the boiling cooking water.

2.  Drain the cavatelli and cover with your favorite tomato sauce.

Note:  Gluten Free Version
Follow the instructions as written but use a good gluten free flour that has xanthan gum. 

Date/Year and Region
Late 19th to Early 20th Century; Campochiaro, Abruzzi/Molise, Italy and New York, NY

How Did You Make It
See above.

Time to Complete

This recipe can take hours of rolling and shaping the pasta.  Make sure your day is free before you start! 

Total Cost
About $5 for the dairy products.  I had the flour.

How Successful Was It?
This is a big hit!

How Accurate Is It?
It is accurate to the history of my Italian/Italian-American family!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Cranberry Pie: A Tasty and Historic Addition to the Thanksgiving Table or Anytime!

Mini Cranberry Pies

Here is a recipe from one of my favorite American historic cookbooks, The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Marie Child, published in 1832.  The floral scent of the cranberries is enhanced by the addition of cinnamon.  This cranberry pie is perfect for Thanksgiving Day or anytime of the year.  Enjoy!

Cranberry Pie
From, The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Child, 1832.

Cranberry pies need very little spice.  A little nutmeg, or cinnamon, improves them.  They need a great deal of sweetening.  It is well to stew the sweetening with them; at least a part of it.  It is easy to add, if you find them too sour for your taste.  When cranberries are strained, and added to about their own weight in sugar, they make very delicious tarts.  No upper crust.

Modern Recipe Adaptation
1 Prepared Unbaked Pie Shell (bottom only)
1 12-Ounce Package Whole Cranberries
1 Cup Water
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Ground Ceylon Cinnamon
½ Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Line a pie plate with the pie crust. Keep in refrigerator until needed.
  2. Wash cranberries. In a medium-size saucepan, add the water and the sugar. Boil until all of the sugar is dissolved in the water.  
  3. Add the cranberries and cook on medium heat until they soften and start to burst, about 8-10 minutes.  
  4. Add the spices. (You can add other ingredients here if you like, such as raisins, apples, pears, etc).
  5. Pour the cranberry mixture into the prepared pie crust. Bake for 40 minutes or until the cranberry mixture is set and the pie crust is golden. 
  6. Cool completely before serving. Serve as is or with whipped cream.
Note:  To make individual pies/tarts, follow these directions:
  • Line 32 mini muffin molds with pie crust dough (bottoms only).
  • Bake mini-tarts for 22 minutes.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Everything's Better with Butter -- Making Butter at Home Using 21st Century Equipment

Crock Butter Churn

One of the first historic cooking skills I learned was how to make butter in a crock churn.  Until I made butter myself, I never understood the steps that are necessary to make sure the butter is the best it can be.

Don't have a proper butter churn?  No problem. Follow the simple steps below to make butter in your 21st century home kitchen using modern equipment and heavy cream.

Heavy Cream
I have read many food historians claim that you cannot make butter from ultra-pasteurized heavy cream. Pasteurization is the process by which products are heated to kill disease-causing microorganisms. Ultra-pasteurization is when products are heated to a higher degree than for regular pasteurization. Some claim that the high temperature used for ultra-pasteurization makes it too hard for the butter to be able to form. Through experience, I can say with definitive proof that butter can be made from ultra-pastuerized cream with great success. 

Here is What You Will Need . . .

  • 1 Quart Heavy Cream (any brand or type) - This will yield almost 1 Pound of Finished Butter
  • Electric Stand-Up Mixer
  • Thin Sack-Cloth Cotton Kitchen Towel
  • Sieve
  • Bowl
  • Cold Water

Here is How to Make the Butter . . .

1. I prefer to use cream that has been left out at room temperature for a few hours or even overnight.  You do not need to do this, but it does make the butter form more quickly than used straight from the cold refrigerator. Place the heavy cream in the bowl of the stand-up mixer. Insert the whisk attachment. Turn on the lowest setting. If you use a higher setting the cream will splatter everywhere!

2.  As the cream gets thicker, the risk of splattering decreases.  Therefore, you can start to increase the speed setting until you reach the highest speed. Turn off the machine a few times to scrape down the sides.

The cream thickens as it is whisked.

3.  As the cream thickens, keep it set at the highest speed. It will turn to a really thick whipped cream just before the butter forms. At this stage you will need to stand near the mixer because the cream is going to turn to butter very suddenly. You will know it is butter because the butter (the fat) will be pulled out of the buttermilk (water/milk mixture).  The buttermilk will start to splatter so you need to turn it off quickly or your kitchen will be covered in it (and so will you).

The butter fat has pulled out of the buttermilk.
Notice the butter is sitting in pools of buttermilk. 

4.  Washing the Butter:  To get the purest butter possible you will need to wash all of the buttermilk out of it. You also need to do this to make the butter last longer. If there is milk in the butter, it will turn rancid more quickly. Skill at washing butter properly is an important criteria for being considered a good (or bad) butter maker! Follow these steps to wash your butter:

  • Place the sieve on top of the bowl. Lay the sack-cloth kitchen towel over the sieve. Pour the butter and buttermilk into the cloth-lined sieves. 
Place a Sieve on a Bowl.

Cover the Sieve with a cotton cloth.
  • Bring all corners of the towel together and twist together to squeeze out as much of the buttermilk from the butter as possible.  
Drain all of the butter and buttermilk
into the cloth-lined sieve.

  • Run the cloth with the butter in it under the cold water tap of your sink. Make sure the water is cold; it will melt if it is too warm! Keep squeezing and twisting under the cold water until all of the buttermilk is removed from the butter.
Run cold water over butter.
Squeeze out all of the water and buttermilk

  • You've just made butter! You can add salt to taste or keep it unsalted. In the days before refrigeration, butter and other dairy products were kept in a subterranean room that would naturally stay quite cool. In addition, butter was preserved with layers of salt, saline solutions, salt petre, and sugar. To use butter preserved in this way, cooks would have to wash the butter all over again to remove it!


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Chicken Curry in the 19th Century Chesapeake

Chicken Curry, C. 1824 Recipe, with Rice

The Recipe:
To Make a Dish of Curry After the East Indian Manner
The Virginia Housewife by Mary Randolph, 1824

Cut two chickens as for fricassee, wash them clean, and put them in a stew pan with as much water as will cover them, sprinkle them with a large spoonful of salt, and let them boil till tender, covered close all the time, and skim them well; when boiled enough, take up the chickens, and put the liquor of them into a pan, then put half a pound of fresh butter in the pan, and brown a little; put into it two cloves of garlick and a large onion, sliced, and let thee all fry till brown, often shaking the pan; then put in the chickens, and sprinkle over them two or three spoonful of curry powder; then cover the pan close and the chickens do till brown, often shaking the pan; then put in the liquor the chickens were boiled in, and let all stew till tender; if acid is agreeable, squeeze the juice of a lemon or orange in it.

What's a Curry?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a curry is "a preparation of meat, fish, fruit, or vegetables, cooked with a quantity of bruised spices and turmeric, and used as a relish or flavouring, esp. for dishes composed of or served with rice. Hence, a curry = a dish or stew (of rice, meat, etc.) flavoured with this preparation (or with curry-powder)."  Therefore, a curry is basically a spiced sauce that can be served with meats, fish seafood, and/or vegetables.

The spices used to flavor curry dishes can be very varied.  In India, spice mixtures are called masalas, and they are usually made as needed from whole roasted spices. In India, there are lots of masala spice blends that could be used to flavor curry dishes.

Therefore, it is important to note that curry powder is an anglicized version of the masala (blend of spices) most favored by the English during the British Raj in India. So curry powder is really just a standardized Western interpretation of a blend of Indian spices almost always used to flavor curry dishes in the West.  

Modern Recipe Adaptation: Chicken Curry


  • 1 Five to Six Pound Chicken, Cut in Pieces
  • 2 Teaspoons Salt
  • 4 Ounces Butter (1 Stick)
  • 1 Medium Onion, Sliced in Half Moons
  • 2 Cloves Garlic
  • 3 Tablespoons Curry Powder, Mild or Hot (or to taste)
  • Juice of 1 Lemon or Orange (optional)

  1. Place the cut-up chicken in a large stockpot or stew-pan, sprinkle with the salt, and cover with cold water.
  2. Bring the chicken to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to medium-low.  Boil for 20 minutes. Periodically, lift the lid to check for the scum to appear on the top of the water.  Using a slatted spoon, skim it off as it appears (this prevents the broth from becoming bitter).
  3. Remove from the heat and remove the chicken from the water.  Set the pot with the water aside--Do Not Discard.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350º F.
  5. In a large Dutch Oven with a lid, melt the butter over medium heat.  Increase the heat to allow the butter to brown, but be careful not to burn it.  As soon as it starts to turn brown remove it from the heat. Reduce the heat of the burner to medium low.
  6. Add the onions to the butter in the pan and place on the burner that is now set to medium-low. Sauté them for 5 minutes. Then add the garlic and cook until the onions and garlic start to brown, about 5 more minutes. Stir frequently.
  7. Brown the chicken pieces in small batches in the pan with the onions, being careful not to let the chicken stick or burn.
  8. Place all of the browned chicken back into the Dutch oven with the onions. Strain the left-over cooking liquid from step #3 and add it to the chicken and onion/garlic mixture in the pan. Add the curry powder and stir. Cover the Dutch oven and bring to a boil.
  9. Remove from the stovetop and place in the oven to stew for 60 minutes.
  10. Skim off the excess fat that will collect on top of the broth.
  11. Add the juice of the lemon or orange, if desired.
  12. Serve with rice.
Chicken Stock with the Scum
Rising to the Top

Skimming off the
Chicken Stock Scum

Finished Chicken Curry 

Notes on the Recipe

  • I listed the directions in the Modern Recipe Adaptation which basically followed Randolph's directions exactly except that I halved the amount of butter.  Half a pound of butter was too much for my tastes. 
  • I also decided not to add the optional lemon/orange juice at the end.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Ribband Jelly (Ribbon Gelatin): An 18th Century Recipe Uses Natural Colors to Give a Beautiful Look!

Ribband Jellies (Ribbon Gelatin)

Ribband Jellies (Ribbon Gelatins) were made by layering gelatin in a variety of different colored bands.  They were served in beautiful glasses to show off the layers of colors. I have always been fascinated with the natural coloring agents available in the 18th century.  Therefore, I have recreated an 18th century recipe for Ribband Jelly using many of the natural food dyes available at that time. 

I will admit that I used modern Knox gelatin instead of isinglass or calves feet since I am really more interested in the colors than the process of making the gelatin from scratch. I also did buy pre-made syrup of violets as I do not have access to culinary grade violets.  I also substituted sanders (ground red sandalwood) for the cochineal to make the red. Sanders were very popular in the Medieval days as a red food coloring but seems to have been supplanted by New World cochineal by the 18th century.  Making this substitution definitely seemed like something that could have been done in the 18th century. I did stick to saffron for the yellow color and spinach for the green color. Finally, I flavored the gelatins according to the original recipe's instructions with sugar, nutmeg, mace, white wine, orange flower water, and lemon.
Here is the Original Recipe:

The Art of Cookery Made Plain & Easy by Hannah Glasse.   London, 1747
(reprint by Prospect Books, 1995)

Modern Recipe Adaptation
1 1-Ounce Box Knox Gelatin
1 Cups Cold Water
2 Cups Water
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup White Wine
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg (or 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg if you do not have mace)
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Mace 
1/2 Teaspoon Lemon Extract
1 Teaspoon Saffron
1 Teaspoon Sanders (ground red sandalwood)
1 Teaspoon Orange-Flower Water (you can substitute any other flavoring)
1 Tablespoon Spinach Juice (you will need about 1/4-1/3 Cup Fresh Spinach Leaves)

  1. Have dessert glasses ready to be filled.  I used 6-ounce tapered wine glasses from Colonial Williamsburg.  This recipe makes enough to fill 6 6-ounce glasses.
  2. In a large bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water.  Let stand at least 1 minute.
  3. Heat the additional 2 cups of water, wine, and sugar until the sugar is melted.  Add the spices.  
  4. Drain the hot mixture through a cloth to remove the residue from the spices.  Add this directly to the gelatin in the cold water.
  5. Divide the gelatin liquid between four small bowls into four equal portions.
  6. To Make Yellow Gelatin:  Add 1 teaspoon of Lemon extract and 1 teaspoon of saffron to the first bowl.  Let the saffron sit for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Strain the saffron out of the gelatin.  
  7. Evenly  distribute the gelatin among the dessert glasses.
  8. Place the filled dessert glasses in the refrigerator for as long as it takes for them to set enough for another layer to be poured on top.  This will depend on the the thickness of your layers and the style of the glasses used.
  9. To Make the Green Gelatin:  Add the orange flower water to the gelatin.  In a food processor, blend the spinach leaves with 1 tablespoon water.  Strain the pureed spinach through a cloth.  Measure out 1 tablespoon of this juice and add it to the fourth bowl of gelatin.
  10. To Make the Purple Gelatin:  Add 3 Tablespoons Syrup of Violets to the second bowl. Stir.  This one took longer to set than the other colors; maybe the syrup of violets affected the set time?
  11. To Make the Red Gelatin: Add the sanders.  Stir.  Immediately strain this batch through a cloth to remove the residue from the sanders.
  12. While waiting for the first layer of yellow to set.  Keep the three other gelatin colors in an oven set on the lowest warm setting.
  13. Follow direction #7 & #8 for each color.
  14. You're finally done!
  15. Remember:  You can leave a layer free of color.  You can use whipped cream in place of a color, as well!  You can also experiment with how thick you make each band of color.
Natural Food Colorings:
Spinach, Saffron, Sanders, and Violets

How do the Natural Colors Look and Taste:
All the gelatin colors have a strong taste of the white  wine and the nutmeg and mace spices.  Other than that, there is very little difference between them.

The saffron yellow is a beautiful color and it does taste like saffron.

The green was really easy to make, and I thought it came out the best.  The green is bright, clear, and deep.  There really is no spinach taste at all.

The violet is the sweetest because it contains the sweet syrup of violets; I did not think the color was as vibrant as it could have been.  I will try to make my own syrup of violets next time.

The red was also very easy to do.  I strained the sanders out of the gelatin, but I think I would have strained it a second time.  The sanders does not have a detectable taste.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Thanksgiving Cake, a Sweet Bread from a 19th Century Recipe

Mini Thanksgiving Cakes

This recipe comes from Mrs. E. Haskell's The Housekeeper's Assistant, published in New York in 1861.  It is one of the very few recipes I have come across from the middle of the 19th century that is marked specifically as a Thanksgiving recipe. As a matter of fact, not only is the reference to Thanksgiving in the recipe title, the recipe itself  also contains this line, "This is an old New England receipt."  This is particularly important to me because before Thanksgiving was made a national holiday in 1863, it was celebrated regionally in New England more than in any other part of the United States.

When you read the original recipe, you will notice that it is for a massive amount; fear not, I have a modern recipe adaptation following it for a single cake!

Thanksgiving Cake
The Houeskeeper’s Encyclopedia, E. Haskell, 1861

Six pounds of butter, and six pounds of sugar, worked together; twelve eggs well beaten, three quarts of sweet milk, twelve pounds of flour, mace, cinnamon, raisins, and one quart of hop yeast, good and fresh.  Let it rise once before putting in the pans; if the fruit settles, stir it up before pouring it in the pans.  This is an old New England receipt.

Modern Recipe Adaptation


  • ¼ Cup Water, Warm
  • 1 Package Active Dry Yeast
  • 4 ½ Cups of Flour
  • 1 Teaspoon Ground Ceylon Cinnamon
  • ½ Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
  • 1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
  • 1 Cup Raisins (optional)
  • ½ Pound Butter, Softened
  • 1 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 Cup Milk

  1. Grease a large tube pan.
  2. Mix together the warm water and the yeast and let sit for a few minutes, until bubbly.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, spices, and raisins.  Set aside.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar.  Add the egg and the milk.  Then add the yeast and the flour mixture. Stir until all of the ingredients are well incorporated.  Cover bowl and let rise in a warm spot for two hours (it will not rise much, but will be light and airy).
  5. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  6. Fill the prepared baking pan and let sit for 30 minutes.
  7. Bake for 60 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.  
  8. Serve warm or at room temperature plain or with butter.

Note:  You can also make 48 individual mini-muffin size cakes.  Follow these directions: 
  • Grease 48 mini-muffins cups.
  • Fill each cup with a heaping tablespoon of the dough.
  • Bake for 18-20 minutes, until the center springs back when pressed down.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Sobaheg Stew: A Wampanoag Inspired Thanksgiving Recipe

Wampanoag Sobaheg Stew

Mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie are all dishes that are fixtures on the Thanksgiving dinner table in American households.  However, the fact remains that these dishes would have been absent from the dinner table at the First Thanksgiving in 1621. Here is a little bit of history about the people who celebrated the First Thanksgiving and the foods they likely ate at that time.

Who Were the Pilgrims?
The first Thanksgiving was an English-based special celebration of thanks celebrated by Protestant Sectarians who called themselves Separatists, Saints, Calvinists, Planters, or Englishmen but never Pilgrims (that is a Victorian term applied to them).  Interestingly, of the 102 passengers plus about 30 crew who sailed on the Mayflower, only about 37 were Separatists.  These people were separating themselves from the Church of England to create their own pure form of the Protestant religion based on the teachings of John Calvin in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  The Mayflower landed at Plymouth in the Fall of 1620 but the people remained on board ship throughout the winter.

Contact with the Local Wampanoags
The settlers did not come into direct contact with the local natives, the Wampanoags, until  March 16, 1621, when a Wampanoag Indian from Maine, Samoset, visited the village. He had learned some English from prior contact with English near his home in Maine. He returned with Tisquantum (aka Squanto) who knew English very well from his previous captivity in England. Together they taught the English about local berries, nuts, and fish and taught them how to farm Indian corn, beans, and squash. In that same month, the settlers and the Wampanoags, represented by their leader, Massasoit, entered into a treaty of mutual protection.

Harvest Home

The First Thanksgiving was actually based on a British tradition called Harvest Home.  It was held when it was felt that God had bestowed his providence on the people in an extraordinary way.  It occurred at some point in the early fall of 1621, no exact date is known.  Harvest Home was only meant to be celebrated at special times, not annually. The second was held in 1623.  There are very few first-hand accounts of the first celebration and/or about food in the early days of Plymouth Plantation.   One account was written by Edward Winslow to a Friend in England and appears in Mourt’s Relations, 1621; another source about food comes from a letter written by William Hilton of Plimoth; and, finally, William Bradford's Of Plimoth Plantation, written in 1647, discusses some of the food available.

Here is What is Known About the First Thanksgiving:  
  • Four men were sent to hunt for wild fowl; turkeys may or may not have been hunted.
  • The celebration lasted three days. 
  • The men held shooting games. This may have alarmed the nearby Wampanoags who went to offer help thinking the settlers were under attack. 
  • 90 Wampanoags were this invited to join the celebration, and they secured five deer to add to the feast.

What Else Could They Have Eaten?
There were lots of food options available to the colonists to be had through farming, hunting, and gathering.  It is not known the extent to which the colonists embraced the local produce but this list represents some of what was possible to eat.
  • The Three Sisters:  Corn, Beans & Squash (pumpkins, gourds, etc)
  • Sunflowers:  Seeds and Oil
  • Sunchokes, Jerusalem Artichokes from the plant, Helianthus tuberosus, which is a relative of the sunflower family.
  • Fish & Seafood
  • Nuts (walnuts, chestnuts, acorns)
  • Berries and Fruit (raspberries, strawberries, cloudberries, blueberries, blackberries, gooseberries, ground cherries, beach plums)
  • Cattails
  • Maple Sugar
  • Sumac Berries
  • Important:  There is no evidence that cranberries were embraced by the colonists at this early date of settlement.
  • Other possibilities from Seeds Brought From England or Leftover from the Voyage:
    • Salad herbs such as onions, leeks, sorrel, yarrow, watercress, flax, lettuce, carrots, cabbage, and other leafy greens.
    • English Peas, a small amount since they harvested very few that first year
    • Wheat, (a small amount remained from the voyage) 
    • Beer, Small Beer, or Cider (possibly left from the voyage)

Here is a recipe for a type of Sobaheg, which is the Wampanoag word for stew, that could have been eaten at the First Thanksgiving in 1621  It contains beans, cornmeal, chestnuts, squash, black walnuts, sunflower seeds, and Jerusalem artichokes.  Jerusalem artichokes are also known as sunchokes, and they are the tubers of a sunflower that is native to the Eastern United States.  Here is a picture of them:

Jerusalem Artichokes/Sunchokes

Wampanoag Sobaheg (Stew):

Based on a recipe from Giving Thanks, by Kathleen Curtain, Sandra Oliver, and Plimoth Plantation


  • 1 Cup Dried Beans (Lima or Pinto)
  • ½ Cup Stone-Ground Grits/Cornmeal
  • ½ Cup Chestnuts, Roasted, Peeled and Chopped
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 8 Cups Water
  • 1 Cup Jerusalem Artichokes (Sunchokes), Cleaned and Chopped
  • 2 Cups Any Winter Squash or Pumpkin, peeled and Cut into Bite-Sized Pieces
  • ¼ Cup Black Walnuts, Shelled and Ground 
  • ¼ Cup Sunflower Seeds, Shelled and Ground


  1. Combine the dried beans, grits, chestnuts, salt, and 8 cups water in a large, heavy-bottomed pot.  Bring the mixture to a gentle boil over medium heat, stirring frequently.  Cover the pot, reduce the heat to very low and simmer.  A
  2. After about 30 minutes, add the Jerusalem artichokes. Cover and cook approximately 2 hours until the beans are tender, stirring often to prevent sticking.  Periodically skim off the froth that rises to the top.  
  3. Stir in the squash and simmer until tender, about 30 minutes.  Add the nut and seed flours, stirring until thoroughly blended, season to taste (if necessary), and serve.

Note:  Meats(venison and/or any wild game or fowl) and other local/seasonal vegetables can be added to this stew.