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Research Recommendations: Happy Thanksgiving, by Michael J. Leclerc of NEHGS

The holidays are upon us. Each year seems to fly by faster and faster, even though I know that 525,600 minutes have passed since last Thanksgiving, the same amount of time as it was between the 2007 and 2008 holidays.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to have dinner at Plimoth Plantation, a meal similar to the original Thanksgiving banquet. The dinner was served as it would have been in 1627. These meals are offered regularly each fall by the Plantation, and are always sell-outs. It does give one pause, however, when one is in the middle of the experience.

Greens were plentiful, as were root vegetables and squash. Meat was rare, although a variety was served. In addition to the expected turkey, there was pork and fish. This year’s meal menu was:

Bill of Fare


Cheate Bread and Butter

First Course

A Sallet

Mussels Seeth’d with Parsley and Beer

A Dish of Turkey, Sauc’d

A Pottage of Cabbage, Leeks & Onions

A Sweet Pudding of Native Corn

Second Course

Stewed Pompion

A Chine of Pork, Roast’d

Fricassee of Fish

Cheesecake made with spice and dried fruit

A Charger of Holland Cheese & Fruit

When it comes to seasoning, pepper was never put on the table. It was used in the preparation of the food. Sweets were part of the meal, not saved until the end. And far less sugar was available then, so “sweet” is a relative term.

One uses the table manners of the time as well. Food is brought in large, communal bowls and serving platters, and everyone around the table helps themselves. And did I mention that forks were not used at the dinner table until the end of the seventeenth-century? Spoons, knives, and fingers are the eating utensils of the day.

And imagine the stress of those preparing the meal for the original Thanksgiving banquet. Picture them running around saying “What time did you ask the Indians to come?” and “How many friends are they bringing?” and “Do we have enough chairs for all of them?”

As you gather with family and friends this Thanksgiving, don’t forget to listen to the family stories. We recently gave introduction to genealogy talks to about 100 Boston University students getting started in genealogy. One of the things I told them to do was to ask questions about the family to their parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, “then step back and watch them argue about where or when someone was born and other details.”

Thanksgiving is crazy and hectic, but it is a great time to get more information about the family. Just turn on your digital voice recorder, toss out a question, and leave the room to go mash the potatoes.

Happy Thanksgiving!

P.S. You can find out more information about those Thanksgiving dinners at Plimoth Plantation by visiting www.plimoth.org/dining.

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