Learn About 1830’s History of Thanksgiving in New England

Thanksgiving 1830s-style at Old Sturbridge Village
Hearth Cooking, Native American Foods, Weddings, Shooting Match, and History!
November 22nd through 25th, 2012

A modern American Thanksgiving features pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce alongside the traditional turkey.  An 1830’s Thanksgiving was, however, a bit different!  Early New Englanders cooked their turkeys in reflector ovens (a new innovation, contributing to even roasting – no basting involved!) and held rifle shooting matches instead of watching football.  Early Thanksgiving meals were even accompanied by wedding cake, as many couples used their post-harvest freedom as a time to get married!  Native Americans, on the other hand, traditionally celebrated numerous Thanksgiving-type occasions throughout the year.

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At Sturbridge Village’s Thanksgiving Days (held November 22nd-25th from 9:30am-4pm), families can learn part of the cultural and historic roots of the holiday we celebrated today.  Costumed historians will demonstrate 19th century cooking techniques over an open hearth, while others share stories, songs, and traditional crafts throughout the village.

Native American historian Marge Bruchac will share information about traditional Algonquin foods and celebrations, too!

The event will provide families with a new way of framing the holiday, and pairs well with beginning studies of early American history and culture.  For more information, call 800-733-1830 or visit www.osv.org.


Did you know?

  • In early New England, Thanksgiving was the biggest holiday of the year, far surpassing Christmas, which wasn’t celebrated in the tradition of the Puritans who settled the region.
  • Turkeys in the early 19th century were much smaller than today’s “butterballs,” and turkey wasn’t always on the Thanksgiving menu, because they were a lot of work to prepare for not much meat.
  • In the early 1800s, turkey “drovers” herded and marched turkeys on foot from central and western Massachusetts to the huge Brighton market just outside of Boston, MA to sell the birds to wealthy city dwellers.
  • Many vegetables weren’t peeled for everyday cooking, but they were for holidays like Thanksgiving to show the elevated status of the day.
  • Pies were baked weeks ahead of time and stored in unheated attics and bedrooms where they would freeze and keep for months. Pies not consumed at Thanksgiving would sometimes last until April.
  • The cranberry is one of three fruits native to North America, and was used by Native Americans to make pemmican – a survival food made of mashed cranberries mixed with deer meat. They also used cranberries in poultices to draw poison from wounds.

(Source: Old Sturbridge Village)

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