Monday, November 21, 2016

Recreating a Thanksgiving Feast in 1660s Virginia

"Our rural ancestors, with little blest,
Patient of labour when the end was rest,
Indulged the day that housed their annual grain,
With feasts, and off'rings, and a thankful strain."
                          Alexander Pope (1668-1744)

John White A lande crab. 1585 (Drawn while exploring the Atlantic coast of America)

From the Virginia Gazette By Bob Ruegsegger Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Jamestown Dinner, 1600s style

"Local folks have flocked to Foods & Feasts of Colonial Virginia at Jamestown Settlement for nearly three decades to experience an authentic glimpse of Virginia’s diverse 17th century history at Jamestown Settlement and its 18th century foodways at the Yorktown Victory Center.

"On the river front at Jamestown Settlement, historical interpreters explore the importance of seafood in the diet of early colonists and the various methods by which it was secured, prepared, and preserved.

"When we look at the original accounts, universally they tell us that seafood was abundant and much bigger than it is today,” noted Jay Temp-lin, a river front interpreter. "Four hundred years ago, a typical James River oyster was about 13 inches long with meat as big as your hand.”  Gabriel Archer reported in 1607 that colonists were catching blue crabs big enough to feed four men. In 1610, William Strachey mentioned that the shad being pulled out of the James River were 36 inches long. John Smith described catching a 14-foot-long sturgeon that weighed a thousand pounds.

"Visitors often ask, if fish were so abundant, why did the colonists starve? Templin explains that most of the fish live in the bay and ocean and come up river to spawn. These andromous fish were not in the river during the Starving Time of the winter of 1609-10, other than oysters, there wasn’t much to eat out in the James River.

"Templin and his associates on the waterfront will demonstrate how fish were preserved by smoking and salting methods. They’ll also demonstrate the Powhatan clay baking method of cooking fish.

"To clay bake a fish, the Powhatans rolled out a thin half inch thick sheet of clay, placed the gutted fish on top of the clay, and folded the clay over the fish to form a clay-shaped calzone. Then the fish-shaped clay was placed into the coals until the moist clay became hard and started to crack. The fish would be removed from the fire, the clay cracked open and the skin and scales removed.

"All you have left is the meat. It’s incredibly moist because the fish has been sealed inside the clay,” Templin explained. "You can get a similar effect doing it in aluminum foil on the grill at home,” he noted.

"Another traditional fish dish called kenan will be prepared to show the African influence on cuisine in Virginia. The recipe came from the west coast of Africa near Angola where the first Africans to come to Virginia originated.

"It shows the world influence on cuisine even 400 years ago,” Templin said. The dish’s main ingredients, aside from fish, are chili peppers, a New World product, and ginger which, came from the Far East.

"On Colonial farms in 17th and 18th century Virginia, hogs were raised and provided the primary source of meat. Visitors learn to appreciate how crucial hogs were for supplying a tasty, dependable food source that could be consumed and preserved in a wide variety of ways.

"Hogs used for butchering demonstrations have been supplied to the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation by William Harwood, a farmer in Gloucester County. He raises the pigs, kills and guts them, then sells the carcass to the foundation.

"I pick them up early on Thanksgiving morning and on the Friday after Thanksgiving,” noted Homer Lanier, interpretive site manager.

"Interpreters demonstrate different methods used for preserving the freshly cut meat: smoking, salting, or pickling. Visitors are offered an opportunity to help process the meat, learning how every bit of the hog is used, even rendering the lard.

"We teach them how to cut the bacon, tenderloins, hams, and shoulders out of the pig,” Lanier said. "Most folks’ idea of butchering pigs is going to the supermarket and picking up a package of bacon.”