Saturday, November 21, 2020

Sarah Josepha Hale and Thanksgiving

In 2013, I wrote a post about Sarah Josepha Hale, a major contributor to the American Thanksgiving celebration. I have re-posted it before, and I think it's appropriate to post it again this year. 

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 very 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.

12 comments:

Iris Flavia said...

Now I´m not only sad we don´t have anything like this (in small villages they might "celebrate" a little Erntedankfest/Harvest festival), but now I´m hungry and miss my family.
And one time I´d really like to try stuffed turkey!

Reckon this year it will be a rather small one for you? Hope you can enjoy anyways. Or... because.

Beth F said...

Just a small dinner for us this year ...

Aiste said...

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tina said...

That's quite a bit of food, sounds very good. It would be nice to have the big gatherings of old, laughing and eating and seeing relatives we hadn't for a long time. Besides the virus taking care of that, large gatherings, most of our family is gone. I miss that.

Very appropriate to repost that and I enjoyed it.

My name is Erika. said...

I'm curious about her and need to go look her up. I wonder if she had ancestors on the Mayflower. Yes, her meal does sound very much like our Thanksgiving. Living in New England wee always heard about the first Thanksgiving but not how it came to be today. Happy weekend.

My name is Erika. said...

I just looked her up and this was really interesting. I love the NH/New England connection and the story over the Mary Had a Little Lamb poem. I grew up near Sterling, MA where there are all kinds of claims about this poem. And now I see they may not be true. Thanks for the mornings new info. It is fascinating.

Pam said...

Right on, Mae! We are certainly indebted to Sarah Josepha Hale! My ancestors came over on the Mayflower, Peregrine White, and we have many books about it with the Hale family included which I imagine she is connected to. This is the best description ever of Thanksgiving dinner. Off to her bio and writings. Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed reading this post!

Martha said...

That is quite impressive! I feel like Thanksgivings as a kid were more like that then these days. My mom always served a turkey, ham, and roast beef along with all the delicious sides. She was very much into the fancy, formal kind of dining on holidays as well. I miss those days of having 20 or 30 people gathered around the table. Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Divers and Sundry said...

What a detailed description! I can picture that room and the meal in my mind :)

Lavender and Lime (http://tandysinclair.com) said...

Wow, that is a lot of food. I'm interested to read the pumpkin pie was already part of the tradition from the beginning.

Laurie C said...

The New England Thanksgiving traditions are what I grew up with, but I didn't have any extended family beyond one pair of grandparents, growing up, so we had the big dinner with the big roast turkey and all the trimmings, but not a lot of family!
I remember one year my grandmother had seen or heard the idea in a magazine or on TV to add chopped green pepper to the plain boiled carrots, so that became a new tradition for us.

A Day in the Life on the Farm said...

Holy Cow....That is quite the feast!!