“On the banks of the historic James River in Virginia stands a stately Georgian house known as Berkeley,” begins an article appearing in the November 1971 issue of Family Circle magazine. The manor house itself was built in 1726, but the first English colonists to settle this area arrived nearly 100 years prior to the establishment of this plantation. In 1619, a little ship named Margaret anchored near Jamestown colony, first settled a dozen years previously.
The thirty-nine people aboard, including one Richard Berkeley, carried a charter from the Virginia Company of London which stipulated, among other ordinances, that the day of their landing “at the assigned place for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually keept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”
On that cold day in early December, the ship’s captain carried Bibles and the English Book of Common Prayer as he stepped ashore. Passengers unloaded muskets, tools, nails, and barrels of gunpowder, as well as food supplies such as grain, hogs, seeds for spring planting. To the musical quacks and honks of wild ducks and geese calling over the river, they knelt under the pine trees and held a brief ceremony, completely religious, unlike the later New England Pilgrims’ event based on old English harvest festivals.
Every year at Berkeley, according to the magazine article, costumed actors recreate the landing of those first settlers from a replica of the Margaret moored near a clump of trees. The manor house is fully restored and furnished with 18th-century antiques. As late autumn afternoon sun glows through mullioned windows, candles are lit in silver candelabrum. Hot spiced cider in a silver bowl float small oranges studded with cloves. Blue and white Cantonware platters are carried into the dining room.
For the November 1971 magazine story, the editorial staff created what would have been a typical Southern colonial menu of turkey at one end of the table, a Smithfield ham at the other. Between the meat platters stood bowls of York River green beans with bacon, Tidewater sweet potato bake, and creamed onions. At least three desserts waited on the sideboard: fig pudding, fruit cake containing pickled watermelon, and pecan pie without which no Southern holiday dinner is complete.
THE RECIPES as adapted for the modern cook
Tidewater Sweet Potato Bake
2 cans (about 16 oz each) sweet potatoes or yams 1/4 teaspoon salt (optional) 1/4 teaspoon pepper 1/2 cup butter, melted 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg 2 medium cooking apples, pared, cored, thinly sliced
Mash sweet potatoes in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper and 4 tablespoons of the melted butter.
Combine remaining butter with brown sugar and nutmeg in the bottom of an 8-cup baking dish. Spoon apple slices into dish. top with sweet-potato mixture.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Yield: 8 servings
2 pounds small white onions OR 1 bag (20 oz) frozen small white onions 4 tablespoons butter 1/4 cup all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves [I substitute nutmeg; Hubby doesn't like cloves] 2 cups light cream [I use canned evaporated milk] 1/4 cup chopped parsley
Cover onions with boiling water for several minutes, then drain. Peel onions. Cook in boiling salted water 20 minutes, or just until tender. Drain and keep warm. Or cook frozen onions, following package directions.
Melt butter in a small saucepan. Stir in flour, salt, and cloves or nutmeg. Cook, stirring constantly, just until bubbly. Stir in cream; continue until sauce thickens and bubbles 3 minutes.
Spoon cooked onions into heated vegetable dish; pour sauce over onions and sprinkle with chopping parsley. Yield: 8 servings
Virginia Pecan Pie
1 9-inch pie crust shell [I make an English puff pastry. See below.] 4 eggs 1 cup sugar 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 1/2 cups dark corn syrup 1 teaspoon vanilla 1/4 to 1/3 cup all-purpose flour 1 cup pecan halves
Prepare pie dough: 1/2 cup flour, 6 oz butter; 4-5 tablespoons water. Mix together and turn onto a floured bread or dough board. Roll into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Dust with flour and roll into an oblong twice the length of the width. Fold 1/3 over, then the remaining 1/3 over that. Roll into another oblong, and repeat process, dusting with flour with each fold-over. Allow pastry to rest for 10 minutes between each fold and roll—three in all. This extra prep work creates a light, flaky crust.
Roll pie dough into a 12-inch round and fit into a 9-inch pie plate. With fingers, roll edges over and shape into a fluted pattern.
Beat eggs slightly in a medium-size bowl. Blend in sugar, salt, corn syrup, and vanilla. Stir in flour.
Pour into the prepared pie shell. Arrange pecan halves in a pattern on top of mixture.
Bake at 350 for 45 minutes, or until center is almost set but still soft. Cool completely on rack on the kitchen counter or table. Best made a day ahead so that the pie can set up. Because of its richness, serve small portions of this pecan pie.
VARIATIONS ON A THEME
What are some of the rituals in your own Thanksgiving menus and preparations? Do you make pumpkin or apple pie? Or sweet potato pie? What kind of dressing or stuffing for your turkey? Or do you eschew turkey altogether? What wines do you serve? I’d love to hear from y’all! Reply to this post at http://www.invitationtothegarden.wordpress.com
Blessings to you wherever you are!