As any Virginian worth his or her salt can tell you, Thanksgiving started right here in the Old Dominion. In 1619, a full two years before the famous “first Thanksgiving” of the New England pilgrims, English settlers at Berkeley Hundred (what would later become Berkeley Plantation) held a “day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.” One can be sure a feast was a part of their festivities.
Owing to the Commonwealth’s long history of giving thanks and feasting, there are plenty of food history events in the coming days:
* Natural Bridge – A fall harvest feast will be prepared in the Monacan Indian Village each day from Tuesday, Nov. 20 through Sunday, Nov. 25. Costumed interpreters will prepare such native dishes as turkey, trout, corn, cornbread and berry dishes. Cooking techniques include open fire, in clay and metal pots and on hot stones, according to Monacan Indian customs of the 1700’s. Admission to Natural Bridge includes admission to the Monacan Indian Village.
* Jamestown/Yorktown – “Foods and Feasts of Colonial Virginia” presents a look at the colonial methods of preparing food, both for the English settlers and for the Powhatan Indians who called the area home. At the Jamestown Settlement, Native American cooking of venison, turkey, game and various stews over an open fire showcase the methods the Powhatan Indians used to prepare foods, while visitors can help unload a ship docked at the pier of such staples as salted fish and biscuit, and can try their hand at making a typical snack, a ship’s biscuit. Inside the fort, hearth cooking demonstrations according to recipes published in 1604 and 1660 will take place, as well as processing of a whole hog into hams and bacon, and salting for preservation. At the Yorktown Victory Center, visitors can learn how soldiers of the Revolutionary War ate, and can visit the re-created 1780’s farm for hearth cooking and food preservation demonstrations.
* Stratford Hall (Westmoreland County) – At the historic plantation home of Robert E. Lee, visitors can enjoy a traditional Virginia Thanksgiving feast on Thanksgiving Day. Crab bisque, roast turkey, Virginia baked ham, green beans with shallots, corn pudding, mashed potatoes, candied yams, macaroni and cheese, cranberry relish, cornbread, pumpkin pie and pecan pie are just a few of the Virginia specialties on the menu.
* Colonial Williamsburg – Colonial American fare is on the menu at each of the historic taverns and restaurants in Colonial Williamsburg. You can dine on traditional favorites like roast turkey, peanut soup, pumpkin pie, Eastern Shore sherried shrimp stew, mincemeat pie, beef roasts, butternut squash soup, caramel apple pie and many more.
In addition to the upcoming events, Louisa County has formed a hearth cooking guild to share historic 1800’s foodways and cooking methods using a hearth fire. Keep an eye on the Louisa County Parks and Recreation website for information on upcoming hearth cooking events.