Saturday, November 23, 2013

Northwood by Sarah Josepha Hale

Northwood, Title Page, Second Edition (Wiki Media)
In the novel Northwood by Sarah Josepha Hale, published in 1827, I was amazed to find a description of Thanksgiving dinner that is so close to what we have today. The major difference is the variety of meat dishes beyond just the turkey. Hale is famous for her advocacy of making Thanksgiving a national holiday. Her later non-fiction writings included lots of advice for how the holiday should be celebrated: in other words, we owe her!

But here are her original words:
“But now to my dinner … A long table, formed by placing two of the ordinary size together, was set forth in the parlor, which being the best room, and ornamented with the best furniture, was seldom used, except on important occasions. The finishing of the parlor was in a much better manner than that of any other apartment in the house; the wood work was painted cream color, and the plaster walls ornamented with paper hangings of gay tints and curious devices. …
 “The furniture of the parlor consisted of a mahogany sideboard and table, a dozen handsome rush-bottomed chairs, a large mirror, the gilt frame covered with green gauze to prevent injury from dust and flies, and on the floor was a substantial, home manufactured carpet, woven in a curious manner and blended with all the colors of the rainbow …
 “The table, covered with a damask cloth, vieing in whiteness, and nearly equalling in texture, the finest imported, though spun, woven and bleached by Mrs. Romelee’s own hand, was now intended for the whole household, every child having a seat on this occasion, and the more the better, it being considered an honor for a man to sit down to his Thanksgiving supper surrounded by a large family. The provision is always sufficient for a multitude, every farmer in the country being, at this season of the year, plentifully supplied, and every one proud of displaying his abundance and prosperity.
 “The roasted turkey took precedence on this occasion, being placed at the head of the table; and well did it become its lordly station, sending forth the rich odour of its savoury stuffing, and finely covered with the frost of the basting. At the foot of the board a surloin of beef, flanked on either side by a leg of pork and joint of mutton, seemed placed as a bastion to defend innumerable bowls of gravy and plates of vegetables disposed in that quarter. A goose and pair of ducklings occupied side stations on the table, the middle being graced, as it always is on such occasions by that rich burgomaster of the provisions, called a chicken pie. This pie, which is wholly formed of the choicest parts of fowls, enriched and seasoned with a profusion of butter and pepper, and covered with an excellent puff paste, is, like the celebrated pumpkin pie, an indispensable part of a good and true Yankee Thanksgiving; the size of the pie usually denoting the gratitude of the party who prepares the feast. … Plates of pickles, preserves, and butter, and all the necessaries for increasing the seasoning of the viands to the demand of each palate, filled the interstices on the table, leaving hardly sufficient room for the plates of the company, a wine glass and two tumblers for each, with a slice of wheat bread lying on one of the inverted tumblers. A side table was literally loaded with the preparations for the second course, placed there to obviate the necessity of leaving the apartment during the repast. Mr. Romelee keeping no domestic, the family were to wait on themselves, or on each other. There was a huge plumb pudding, custards, and pies of every name and description ever known in Yankee land; yet the pumpkin pie occupied the most distinguished niche. There were also several kinds of rich cake, and a variety of sweet meats and fruits. On the sideboard was ranged a goodly number of decanters and bottles; the former filled with currant wine and the latter with excellent cider and ginger beer, a beverage Mrs. Romelee prided herself on preparing in perfection. There were no foreign wines or ardent spirits, Squire Romelee being a consistent moralist.” -- Google Book Edition p. 114-117
This post © 2013 by mae sander for maefood dot blogspot dot com. If you read it elsewhere, it's been pirated.


~~louise~~ said...

Hi Mae!

We sure do owe Sarah Hale for her tireless promotion of Thanksgiving. I'm pretty sure many of the foods we enjoy to celebrate the day are a reflection of her many descriptions and letters.

Thank you so much for sharing...

Anonymous said...

Hi Mae,

I have been meaning to tell you how much I appreciate this blog entry. I am a tour guide at Laurel Hill Cemetery, where Sarah Josepha Hale is buried. I knew that she had published a novel called "Northwood," but it wasn't until I found this blog entry that I realized the novel's connection to her promotion of Thanksgiving as a national holiday. Since I found this entry, I've been reading this excerpt, or at least part of it, at Sarah's gravesite during my tours. Thanks for bringing this wonderful description to my attention!


Rich Wilhelm
P.S. I apologize in advance if I sent this comment twice. I feel like it didn't go through the first time, but I might be wrong about that.

Mae Travels said...

Dear Rich Wilhelm,
I'm delighted that you find this useful and interesting. Thanks for letting me know.


Iris Flavia said...

Large families... we do not have them anymore.
Nor the.. time? or wish? or...
My Brother once tried to repeat our late Mum´s goose for Christmas.
Too much work, he said.
Times have changed. Even when you have a whole day off, you have no energy for extensive cooking, you need to rest.

We don´t work for a living, we live to work these days.
(Me, not, at the moment, and people do not "like" it).