Beginning on Thanksgiving Day, the Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Victory Center in Virginia will demonstrate food preparation in colonial times, from everyday fare to a Thanksgiving feast. Foods & Feasts of Colonial Virginia is a three-day museum program, Nov. 27-29, 2014, designed to show what the early colonists had to do to get a meal on the table. The Jamestown Settlement commemorates the first permanent English colony established in 1607. The colonists brought their own recipes on the voyage across the Atlantic as well as learned about foods unfamiliar to them from the Powhatan Indians, whose leader was Pocahontas’ father.
This event also includes typical food eaten while at sea as well as how it was stored aboard ship. Visitors can participate in hauling provisions off one of the replicated 17th-century ships, Godspeed, Susan Constant and Discovery, and try their hand at making hardtack, also known as ship biscuits. This cracker is made of flour, water and salt and was baked to be hard so it would keep on long voyages.
A visit to the Powhatan Indian Village will show how they roasted game over an open fire and made tools out of stone and bone. The museum educators tell about the history of the Powhatan culture and how they helped the colonists. The village was re-created based on writings by the colonists and archaeological findings in the area.
Museum staff and volunteers will be baking bread throughout the three-day event. Instead of modern ovens, stove tops and microwaves, they will be using fireplaces and heated coals. Open hearth cooking demonstrations will use recipes published in the 1600s, including pudding and pies, and will be cooked in clay pots and large iron kettles instead of stainless steel pots and non-stick pans. Food preservation before the convenience of refrigeration included salt curing, pickling and smokehouses.
While the Jamestown Settlement focuses on 17th-century cooking, the Yorktown Victory Center will be demonstrating 18th-century food preparation from army rations in colonial times to Thanksgiving feasts. Yorktown has re-creations of a Continental Army camp and a 1780 farm. Typical rations were salted meat, dried beans and hard bread yet were made into soups and stews. Visitors will see how soldiers earned rations as well as the consequences of when items were stolen during shortages.
The working 18th-century farm will show how garden crops and meat were preserved and stored for the winter months. Cooking demonstrations will use recipes of the time period. Game hunting not only provided meat, but colonists used either bear oil or pork fat for many dishes much the way vegetable oil or shortening is used in modern times. For those who lived near the waterfront, fish and other seafood were part of the colonial diet.
The Jamestown Settlement and the Yorktown Victory Center are living history museums. Together with Colonial Williamsburg, they make up Virginia’s “Historic Triangle.” The Jamestown location includes the Powhatan Indian Village, the James Fort, and historic replicas of the three ships that departed England in December 1606. It is near the original Jamestown site. The Yorktown location, near the Yorktown Battlefield, has the Continental Army Encampment and the 1780s’ Farm. As Americans prepare a modern Thanksgiving dinner, the Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Victory Center will be demonstrating how meals were prepared during colonial times ranging from simple fare to Thanksgiving feasts. More information about Foods & Feasts of Colonial Virginia is available below.
By Cynthia Collins
Photo credit: All photos courtesy of Jamestown Settlement & Yorktown Victory Center