December 6, 2021

Talking Turkey—How the Quintessential American Feast Evolved

What is better than people sharing a good meal?  Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash.

Editor’s Note: We are delighted to take the opportunity today to republish a topical article about the evolution of that most quintessential of American meals—the Thanksgiving feast—which our former colleague at the ‘Main Street News,’ Linda Ahnert of Old Lyme, wrote for us originally all the way back in 2007. She has kindly updated it this year with a new opening paragraph. Enjoy!

This is a special year for the celebration of our autumnal feast because it is the 400th anniversary of the very first Thanksgiving!

And since this article was first published, Plimoth Plantation has changed its name to Plimoth Patuxet Museums.  Its mission is to tell the story of the English colonists in Plymouth, Mass. and the native peoples who lived there.  So in 2020 the new name was adopted because it better reflects the multicultural history that is the essence of the museum’s mission.

After all, wasn’t this what we first learned about Thanksgiving in grade school? It was the story of the Pilgrims and Indians breaking bread together.  And what is better than people sharing a good meal?

Read on to find out what was really on the menu that first Thanksgiving in 1621 and to learn how this fall feast evolved into a national holiday.

Who Doesn’t Love Thanksgiving?

Giving thanks_bookA few years ago, a book entitled “Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving Recipes and History, from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie” was published.  The co-authors are Kathleen Curtin, food historian at the Plimoth Plantation, Mass., and Sandra L. Oliver, food historian and publisher of the newsletter “Food History News.”

The book is a fascinating look at how an autumnal feast evolved into a “quintessential American holiday.”

Most Americans, introduced to the story of the Pilgrims and Indians during childhood, assume there is a direct link between the traditional holiday menu and the first Thanksgiving.  But we learn from the book that many of those food items—such as mashed potatoes and apple pie—were simply impossible in Plymouth, Mass., in 1621.  Potatoes were not introduced to New England until much later and those first settlers did not yet have ovens to bake pies.

What we do know about the bill of fare at the first celebration in 1621 comes from a letter written by colonist Edward Winslow to a friend in England:  “Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors.”

Later 90 Indians joined the party with “their great king Massasoit whom for three days we entertained and feasted.”  Then the Indians “went out and killed five deer which they brought to the plantation.”

So venison was a principal food on the menu.  It also seems safe to assume that mussels, clams, and lobsters (all in plentiful supply) were served as well.  According to other journals of the colonists, the “fowl” that Winslow described were probably ducks and geese.  But wild turkeys were also bountiful in 1621, and so it is very likely that they were on the Pilgrims’ table.  Thank goodness for that.

Throughout the New England colonies, it became common to proclaim a day of thanksgiving sometime in the autumn.  In period diaries, there are many descriptions of food preparation—such as butchering and pie baking—followed by the notation that “today was the general thanksgiving.”

By the 19th century, Americans were taking the idea of a “thanksgiving” to a whole new level.  The religious connotations were dropping away in favor of a holiday celebrating family and food.  Roast turkey had become the centerpiece of these fall celebrations.

Turkeys, of course, were native to North America.  (Benjamin Franklin, in a letter, had even proposed the turkey as the official U.S. bird!)

And turkey was considered to be a fashionable food back in the Mother Country.  Just think of the significance of turkey in Charles’ Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”  When Scrooge wakes up in a joyful mood on Christmas morning, he calls to a boy in the street to deliver the prize turkey in the poulterer’s shop to the Cratchit family.  (Earlier in the story, the poor Cratchits were dining on goose.)

It is thanks to a New England woman that Thanksgiving became an American holiday.  Sarah Hale was a native of New Hampshire and the editor of “Godey’s Lady’s  Book,”  a popular women’s magazine.  She lobbied for years for a national observance of Thanksgiving.  She wrote editorials and sent letters to the president, all state governors, and members of Congress.

Finally, in 1863, she convinced Abraham Lincoln that a national Thanksgiving Day might help to unite the Civil War-stricken country.   The fourth Thursday in November was now officially on the American calendar.

“… that endless variety of vegetables …”

Connecticut’s own Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote this description of a New England Thanksgiving in one of her novels—“But who shall . . .describe the turkey, and chickens, and chicken pies, with all that endless variety of vegetables which the American soil and climate have contributed to the table . . . After the meat came the plum-puddings, and then the endless array of pies. . .”

The autumnal feast became a national holiday, but each region of the country put its own spin on the menu.   Not to mention that immigrants have also added diversity.  The result is a true “melting pot” of America.  The second half of “Giving Thanks” contains recipes that reflect what Americans eat for Thanksgiving in the 21st century.

In the South, for instance, the turkey might be stuffed with cornbread and there would be pecan and sweet potato pies on the table.  In New Mexico, chiles and Southwestern flavors may be added to the stuffing.

There’s the “time-honored traditional bread stuffing” recipe.  There’s also one for a Chinese American rice dressing and directions for a Cuban turkey stuffed with black beans and rice.  Desserts run the gamut from an (authentic) Indian pudding to an (exotic) coconut rice pudding.  Old-fashioned pumpkin pie is included as well as the newfangled pumpkin cheesecake.

But no matter what food items grace our Thanksgiving tables, it seems that we all end up stuffing ourselves silly.

Perhaps overeating started at that very first harvest celebration in 1621.  In Edward Winslow’s letter describing the feast with the Indians, he noted that food was not always this plentiful. But he wrote his friend in England “ … yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”

Saturday’s Centennial Celebrations at Lyme Art Association Include Traditional ‘Tea Day’ … But What’s Its History?

‘Tea Day 1930’ by Edward Volkerts paints a beautiful picture of the teas held on the lawn in front of the Lyme Art Association in yesteryear. A ‘Tea Day’ forms part of the LAA’s Centennial celebrations this Saturday. Image published courtesy of the Volkerts family.

OLD LYME — On Saturday, Aug. 7, the Lyme Art Association (LAA) is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the opening of its gallery.  Several special events are planned, one of which is a tea party on the LAA lawn.  

Though the gallery itself opened in August of 1921, the history of the LAA goes even further back and is interwoven with our town library and the Florence Griswold Museum. 

To start at the very beginning—in 1899, Henry Ward Ranger, already an established painter, arrived in Old Lyme and bunked down at the boardinghouse of Florence Griswold. So smitten was Ranger with the beauty of the area and the quality of the light that he began to envision the village as an American art colony.

He wrote to his agent in New York that Lyme was a landscape waiting to be painted and told Miss Florence he would be back the next summer and bring more painters with him.  And so the artists came. 

The Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library was the original home of the Lyme Art Colony’s summer exhibition from 1902 through 1920 before the Lyme Art Association had a building of its own.

And in 1902, the artists began a summertime tradition when they held an exhibition in the Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library.  An article in the Hartford Courant explained that “the library and the artists have formed a sort of close corporation.” The library (which opened in 1898, the year before Ranger arrived) needed funds to buy books; the artists needed an exhibition space.

“One scheme after another was tried until it occurred to someone to ask the artists who spend their summers in town to exhibit some of their paintings” the Courant reporter wrote. Admission to the show was 50 cents and proceeds were for the benefit of the library.  Additionally, the library received a percentage of all paintings sold.  

It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship and the shows were a success from the start.  As the fame of the Lyme Art Colony grew, the artists started making plans to build their own gallery. Many of them settled permanently in town and, in 1914, incorporated as the Lyme Art Association. But the shows continued at the library until 1920.

It took years both to raise money and decide on the best location for the new building.  One of the options was a parcel of Miss Florence’s property which fronted on Lyme Street.  World War I also intervened — not to mention what American Art News described as a “merry war” among the artists about the design of the gallery.  

Finally, on Aug. 6, 1921, the LAA gallery was ready for its close-up and opened its doors at 90 Lyme Street next door to Miss Florence’s boardinghouse.  In its review of the opening, the New York Times praised the gallery “as an embodiment of art in harmony with its natural surroundings.” 

Miss Florence became the first gallery manager and remained so until her death in 1937.

Tea on the lawn of the LAA.

During the years of the early exhibitions at the library, the Ladies’ Library Association served tea on the lawn.  And the artists continued this tea time tradition at the new gallery.  Tea was served en plein air at the LAA on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons.  The Edward Volkert painting above, which is on the poster for the centennial show, depicts one such “Tea Day.” 

A 1928 article in American Motorist also gives a vivid description—“For every July when Lyme Art Association opens the doors to its annual exhibition, the whole village and surrounding countryside awakes to a regular orgy of art and delightful social festivities.  The yellow pennants streaming from tall flagpoles at either end of the terrace, dainty tea tables gay with attractive china and lovely flowers, to say nothing of the pretty girls who serve tea and punch to visitors on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons . . . ” 

Several women, who as teenagers helped serve tea at LAA, were interviewed for an article published in The Pictorial Gazette in 1988.  They remembered the lace tablecloths and that the ladies wore “long, filmy dresses that were every pastel color imaginable.” They also recalled big, floppy hats; white gloves; and ginger and cream cheese sandwiches.

All was not perfect in this pastel paradise, however.  One of the women noted that as a 12-year-old, she was shocked at her first sight of a lady smoking which was “unheard of in this town.” 

And this coming Saturday afternoon, on the 100th anniversary of the gallery opening, the LAA will once again host a tea party.  There will be refreshments and family-friendly activities on the front lawn from 1 to 4 p.m.

Inside the gallery, the current exhibition is “A Century of Inspiration,” for which today’s artists have created works painted at many of the sites that the Old Lyme “old masters” immortalized a century ago.  And throughout the day, you can observe LAA artists up close and personal as they paint in various locations along Lyme Street.  

So much has changed in the world in the last century and we no longer live in a genteel era of outdoor tea parties. Right now, we are even living in the midst of a global pandemic. 

But some things have not changed. 

Old Lyme is still the beautiful village that Ranger first saw in 1899.  Each May and June, the mountain laurel still blooms. And 100 years after the LAA first opened, painters continue to find inspiration in the natural beauty of our town and to exhibit fine art in the gallery.

Editor’s Note: Visit this link for full details of all the events planned for the LAA’s Centennial Day.

Guest Column: Pandemic Surprise—Drive-Ins are Making a Comeback

Editor’s Note: We are delighted to welcome back Linda Ahnert as a guest columnist today. A resident of Old Lyme, she is the former Arts Editor at the popular but now-shuttered weekly, print newspaper, the ‘Main Street News.’ She is also a long-time docent at the Florence Griswold Museum and has volunteered for numerous local art organizations.

One of the unpredictable responses to the COVID-19 pandemic is that the drive-in movie theaters of yesteryear are making a come-back. Photo by Charlie Deets on Unsplash.

Linda Ahnert

When I was young, one of the pleasures of summertime was going to a drive-in movie.  The school year ended in June and a fun-filled expanse of summer vacation stretched before us. 

Those were the days, my friends, when we spent hours at the beach or pool.  In the late afternoon, the Good Humor man jangled his bells and all the kids in the neighborhood came running.  In the evenings, we collected lightning bugs in jars and then released them all at once.  And on weekend nights, families would pile into their Chevrolets and head to the drive-in for a double feature.  

Over the years, these outdoor theaters had been going the way of the dinosaur and practically vanishing from the scene. But with the onset of the pandemic in 2020 when people were searching for safe entertainment, drive-ins are becoming popular once again. 

If you were a kid or a parent in the 1950s and 60s, you certainly remember the “good old days” of drive-in movies.  A neighbor of mine, who grew up in Old Lyme, recalls going to the Waterford Drive-In.  Several women “of a certain age,” who grew up in the Hartford burbs but still spend each summer at the Connecticut shore, remembered the Clinton Drive-In as well as the Blue Hills (in Bloomfield) and a few that were on the Berlin Turnpike in Newington. 

Whether you watched outdoor movies parked in a car along the Boston Post Rd. or on the Berlin Turnpike, it was still the same experience.  After supper, Dad would drive his nuclear family to the drive-in.  (I remember that in families with very young children, the kids were often in their PJ’s, the easier to put them to bed after the show.) 

Dad pulled alongside a pole with an attached speaker and then hooked the speaker over the car window.  Voilà, you had a sound system.  Then everyone waited in anticipation as dusk settled and, yes, there were always a few impatient jokesters who started to honk their horns to get the show going.  Finally, it would be dark enough, the screen would light up … and it was magic time.  

Growing up in Fairfield and Hartford Counties, I have fond memories of the Candlelight Drive-In in Bridgeport where we saw “The King and I” and the Farmington Drive-In where our family watched “Gigi.” A number of people I talked to also recalled specific movies that they saw. 

One woman remembered other recreational activities at the drive-in.  By the time she was dating, drive-ins had become known as “passion pits” where teenagers indulged in their own steamy love scenes.  So when she and her boyfriend went to the local drive-in, they would lie to her mother about where they were going.   

An important part of the drive-in experience was intermission.  After the first feature ended, “It’s Intermission Time, Folks!” or “Time Out for a Delicious Snack in our Sparkling Refreshment Building” would flash before our eyes.  Then, as we walked through the rows of cars to the flat-topped concession stand, images of talking hot dogs and tasty beverages flitted across the screen.  Who could resist those silly ads? 

There was also a ticking clock on the screen counting down the number of minutes before the next movie began.  Ten minutes till showtime!  

Drive-ins were at their peak during the 1950s and 60s because it was the perfect time and the perfect place.  In post-World War II America, the drive-in theater brought together a few of our favorite things—cars and movies.  What better way to be entertained than sitting in the comfort of the family car?  There was also the practical consideration that, in those baby boom years, parents didn’t have to worry about a sitter.  The drive-in was a family entertainment center.

By the 1950s, of course, small black and white screens in living rooms were also becoming the rage.  Before you knew it, there was color TV, then cable TV, premium movie channels, VCRs, and DVDs.  Today many homes are equipped with wide-screen televisions and the 21st century family doesn’t even have to leave the living room to watch a movie.  

 Yes, movie technology has come a long way and today’s kids have grown up with digitally-sharp images and stereo surround-sound. Now living in the age of the coronavirus, a new generation can experience that old-fashioned thrill of watching a flick on a starry summer night.  Drive-ins offer an evening’s entertainment (and getting out of the house) while remaining socially distant. 

Here in Connecticut, there are three al fresco cinemas dating from the 1950s era that are still open—the Mansfield Drive-In, the Southington Drive-In, and the Pleasant Valley Drive-In located in Barkhamsted. And it was recently announced that a brand-new drive-in, which will operate year-round, will open in Wethersfield this September.    

Most drive-ins today have converted to FM radio to broadcast the audio. But some of us will never forget that memorable message on the screen at the end of a Saturday night at the movies—“Please remember to replace the speaker on the post when you leave the theater.” 

Editor’s Note:

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Remembering St. Paddy’s Day in the City

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all our readers and may the Luck of the Irish be with you!

Editor’s Note: Linda Ahnert lives in Old Lyme now, but for more than 30 years she lived and worked on Manhattan. In this time of COVID, we are especially pleased to republish her personal recollections of this memorable day in New York City. It not only reminds us of the joys of that day pre-COVID, but also hopefully of their return in years to come.

This article was first published on LymeLine.com on March 17, 2008.

green_shamrockI was a New Yorker for 30 years and, although I love living in a quiet Connecticut town today, there are still aspects of city life that I miss.  There are the small things like being able to walk everywhere – to the supermarket, to the dry cleaner, to the movies.  And then there are the big things…

One of those is a grand old New York tradition – the celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day.  I’ll bet there are not many ex-New Yorkers (and there are a number of us in the area) who don’t get a little farklempt when calling to mind March 17ths spent in the city.  After all, is there any better place to toast the Emerald Isle than on the island of Manhattan?

In the lyrics of the Irish-American showman, George M. Cohan, “every heart beats true for the red, white, and blue.”  But in New York, on Saint Paddy’s Day, the city goes all out for the wearing of the green, starting with the green stripe painted on Fifth Avenue.

As nice as it is to wake up in a New England village on March 17, it could just as easily be February 17 or April 17.  In New York, as soon as you walk out the door on St. Patrick’s Day, there is absolutely no mistaking which day of the year it is.

There’s always electricity in the city air, but on March 17, there is a festival mood along Manhattan’s avenues and streets.  There are vendors selling green and white carnations, businessmen on their way to work sporting green ties, and teenagers with shamrocks painted on their cheeks or with shocks of hair dyed green for the day.  In short, it’s easy being green.

And the great thing about New York is that whether you’re full-blooded Irish, a little bit Irish, or nowhere near being Irish … it makes absolutely no difference.

Everyone loves a parade.  And as you get close to Fifth Avenue, you see families on their way to the parade and you start seeing parade participants.Oh, those kilts and tartans and tam-o’-shanters!

It might be a long way to Tipperary but on the streets of New York, I learned the names of many of Ireland’s counties.  These names are emblazoned on banners carried at the head of each county society.  Counties Cork, Clare, and Kilkenny were already familiar to me.  But I soon discovered that there are other counties with the names like Armagh, Donegal, Mayo, and Sligo.

New York City Holds Annual St. Patrick's Day ParadeUnlike New York’s other great processional, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, there are no floats and balloons, no vehicles or commercial aspects to the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade.  It is truly a “people parade” with about 150,000 participants marching up Fifth Avenue.

The parade steps off at 11 a.m. from Fifth Avenue and 44th Street and, generally, the last of the groups pass by Rockefeller Center and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral around 5 p.m.  The marchers include military units, top high school bands, drum and bugle corps, members of Eire-based societies, New York’s finest and New York’s bravest … and, of course, any politician who is running for office in the tri-state area.

A fun thing to do is to walk along the side streets off Fifth Avenue where the various groups are whiling away time as they wait their turns to fall into the parade route.  Many of them are practicing and drilling and it’s like attending a giant muster on the city sidewalks.

Pipers_St_Patricks_Day_Fun_in_NYC_3-8-13

And, when those units step out on Fifth Avenue and begin the march uptown, there is nothing like the sound that they make.  The skirling of the bagpipes and the percussion of the drums echoing off the buildings thrills and stirs the soul.  Spectators give appreciative cheers as a band plays a rousing version of “McNamara’s Band” or break into spontaneous song when they hear “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.”

There were years when I spent hours at the parade and other years when I could only spend a few minutes, but it was always a special time.

If many New Yorkers are tucking into dinners of corned beef and cabbage or lamb stew on Saint Patrick’s night, I’ll always associate the holiday with another Irish specialty.  In my early years in the city, a woman I worked with always brought Irish soda bread to the office on Saint Paddy’s Day.

Kay was from an Irish family in Brooklyn and when she served the bread, she always put out a crock of butter with it.  I can still remember my first taste of that bread.  And today, even though I bake a mean loaf of Irish soda bread myself, nothing can ever quite compare with Kay’s.

StPattysDayBeerThe Irish pubs and saloons in the city are, of course, packed to the gills on the holiday.  And that is another great thing about New York – each neighborhood has its own Irish watering hole.  On my block of East 34th Street, the pub was Brew’s and it was where we ate at least twice a week.  It was the kind of place where you didn’t have to order your drinks because the wait staff already knew what you drank and automatically brought a round to the table when you came in the door.  Richie Brew, the pub’s owner, was warm-hearted and gregarious and called most of his customers by their first names.

We spent many memorable Saint Patrick’s nights at Brew’s.  One time, as we were arriving, a contingent of bagpipers, who had marched in the parade, were getting into formation and tuning up on the sidewalk.  Then, kilts swirling and bagpipes wailing, they marched themselves into Brew’s to the cheers of all the patrons.

The coda to the day’s festivities was watching “The Quiet Man” on TV.  One of the local New York stations (Channel 9 or 11) always screened this movie on Saint Patrick’s night.  (It was akin to airing “It’s a Wonderful Life” at Christmas.)

The movie, which stars John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara and Barry Fitzgerald, is a valentine to Ireland.  With its stunning scenery and depiction of life in the village of Inisfree, the movie always had me longing to jump on the next Aer Lingus flight back to the old countryThis Saint Patrick’s Day, I won’t be in New York.But I’ll still bake Irish soda bread and put on a CD of “The Irish Tenors.”  I’ll listen to songs about sweet Molly Malone, Dublin in the rare old times, and the last rose of summer.

And I’ll drink a toast to the green isle of Erin … and to the great island of Manhattan.

Giving Thanks During a Pandemic

Come ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of harvest home . . .

Well, maybe not this year.

It’s 2020 and starting back in March, our lives changed as the pandemic started spreading across the land. We sheltered in place, incessantly spritzed with hand sanitizers, and began wearing masks every time we dared to venture out in public.

Now it seems that 2020 will be a demarcation date on our timelines. Do you remember what it was like PC (Pre-COVID) when you could hug your friends and meet them for dinner at a favorite restaurant?

More importantly, who could have imagined that nine months later the COVID crisis would have worsened with a death toll of more than a quarter of a million Americans and still spiking? And now it’s Thanksgiving—a time to gather round the table with family and chow down on favorite foods. But many of us will not be celebrating the traditional way in this “annus horribilis” — as Queen Elizabeth would say.

Yet I have plenty to be thankful for (a song by Irving Berlin, by the way.)

I am grateful for my health and that of my family, that I have a roof over my head, and that I go to sleep with a full tummy at night. Especially now when I know so many are suffering, grieving for loved ones, or wondering how to put food on the table.

And I am thankful for all those working on the front lines—from health care workers to those stocking grocery shelves—who have helped us to keep the home fires burning. The heart I placed on my kitchen door last spring is still hanging there and there are many heart signs still in place around our town.

The thoughtfulness of family and friends have also been blessings in my life this year.

Sure, there are days when I’ve been depressed and it was difficult to keep my sunny side up. But how heartwarming it has been to have neighbors text, “Do you need anything at the store?” To receive phone calls from old friends asking, “How are you doing?” Or to have my niece stop by with a “care package” from Sift Bake Shop (my favorite chocolate croissants!)

Since I am a senior citizen and have feasted at many turkey dinners, I will add “Thanks For The Memories” of Thanksgivings Past.

In days of yore, my family would receive a package of pecans from Louisiana at the beginning of each November. They were from the trees in my aunt’s yard and it was a sign that it was time to start baking pies. As I child, I remember rising early with my mom to start cutting up the celery and onion for the stuffing and the periodic basting of the bird. And, oh, that tantalizing aroma of a turkey roasting for hours!

Though I am sad that I can’t be with my family for Thanksgiving 2020, I am counting my blessings and thinking of the song lyrics:

Someday soon, we all will be together
If the fates allow
Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow . . .

Editor’s Note: Linda Ahnert is a resident of Old Lyme and former Arts Editor at the now-departed ‘Main Street News.’

She is a long-time docent at the Florence Griswold Museum and has volunteered for numerous local art organizations.

A Christmas Essay: Food For Thought At Christmas

When it comes to food, we all have different Christmas traditions some of which have evolved over the years and some which have never changed for generations. Photo by Dilyara Garifullina on Unsplash.

Editor’s Note: We are delighted to re-publish this wonderful timely piece by our friend, the acclaimed writer, Linda Ahnert, of Old Lyme. She wrote it way back in 2005 but it remains just as topical today … perhaps, even more so with the impending release tomorrow of director Greta Gerwig’s new version of “Little Women”!

Yes, Virginia, there can be too much of a good thing. That’s especially true during the Yuletide.

All that over-spending, all the over-eating, and all those over-decorated houses. That is why, last year at this time, I went back to several books I first read in childhood to look for Christmases just like the ones I used to know. Yes, I found tidings of comfort and joy. I also realized the importance of food in these stories and in our own Christmas memories.

One of the books, “Little Women,” is the classic about the four March sisters growing up in New England. As the story opens, it is a Christmas during the Civil War and the March family is living in straightened circumstances. But when the girls hear of a needy family in the neighborhood, they gladly give up their Christmas breakfast to feed the hungry children. Even self-centered Amy sacrifices her favorite things—“the cream and the muffins.”

Jo March laments that “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.” And for most of us, Christmas wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t have some particular food in the house during the season.

For instance, one of my early food memories of Christmas is tangerines and walnuts. My paternal grandparents came to this country from Germany. On Christmas Eve, everyone would gather at their home. I remember my grandfather playing the mandolin and singing “Stille Nacht” and other German carols. My grandmother decorated the buffet in the dining room with evergreen boughs. Interspersed in the greens were tangerines and all varieties of nuts in the shell. Before we left, my grandmother would stuff our mittens with the fruit and nuts.
Another family that I spent many hours with as a child were the Ingalls in the “Little House” books. How I loved reading about the adventures of Laura, Mary, Carrie, Ma and Pa as they crossed the prairie. The author, Laura Ingalls Wilder, describes the delight of the children one Christmas morning. The girls have reached into their stockings to find shiny tin cups and each has a “long, long stick” of peppermint candy, striped red and white.

But their stockings weren’t empty yet. The girls pull out small packages and unwrap them to discover heart-shaped cakes. “Over their delicate brown tops was sprinkled white sugar. The sparkling grains lay like tiny drifts of snow.” It might be a simple Christmas on the frontier but the girls can’t imagine being any happier.

Across the pond in merrie old England, Charles Dickens included numerous descriptions of food in “A Christmas Carol.” You may not look forward to your weekly trips to the A & P but, trust me, your mouth will water reading Dickens’ descriptions of the produce in the London grocery shops at Christmas.

And who could forget the account of the Cratchit Christmas dinner? (“There never was such a goose.”) To complement this “feathered phenomenon,” Mrs. Cratchit “made the gravy (ready beforehand in a little saucepan) hissing hot, Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigor, Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple sauce …”

Bob Cratchit rolled up his threadbare sleeves and “compounded some hot mixture in a jug with gin and lemons, and stirred it round and round, and put it on the hob to simmer.” In 21st century parlance … I’ll have what they’re having.

Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” is an autobiographical story set in rural Alabama in the 1930s. It opens on a November morning when the elderly cousin who is raising seven-year-old Buddy announces that “It’s fruitcake weather!” For Buddy this means the official start of the Christmas season. They begin the yearly ritual of gathering pecans in an old buggy and scrimping together their meager funds to buy the ingredients to bake 30 fruitcakes. For days “eggbeaters whirl, spoons spin round in bowls of butter and sugar, vanilla sweetens the air, ginger spices it; melting, nose-tingling odors saturate the kitchen, suffuse the house, drift out to the world on puffs of chimney smoke.” When the work is done, the “cakes, dampened with whiskey, bask on window sills and shelves.”

In our family, too, the holiday season begins on a November day. A week or two before Thanksgiving, we receive a package of pecans from Louisiana. They are from the trees in my aunt’s yard and she sends them each year in time to bake our holiday desserts. My mother was born and raised in Louisiana and it wouldn’t be Christmas in our house without cornbread and pecan pies.

And so, gentle readers, whether your Christmas traditions include roasting chestnuts on an open fire or whipping up a batch of wassail, may God bless us, everyone.

It’s Thanksgiving … So Let’s Talk Turkey

As you busy yourself making plans for Thursday’s feast, we are delighted to take the opportunity to republish a topical article about the evolution of this quintessential American meal that our dear friend — and wonderful writer — Linda Ahnert of Old Lyme wrote for us all the way back in 2007.  Enjoy!

Who Doesn’t Love Thanksgiving?

Giving thanks_bookA few years ago, a book entitled “Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving Recipes and History, from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie” was published.  The co-authors are Kathleen Curtin, food historian at the Plimoth Plantation, Mass., and Sandra L. Oliver, food historian and publisher of the newsletter “Food History News.”

The book is a fascinating look at how an autumnal feast evolved into a “quintessential American holiday.”

Most Americans, introduced to the story of the Pilgrims and Indians during childhood, assume there is a direct link between the traditional holiday menu and the first Thanksgiving.  But we learn from the book that many of those food items—such as mashed potatoes and apple pie—were simply impossible in Plymouth, Mass., in 1621.  Potatoes were not introduced to New England until much later and those first settlers did not yet have ovens to bake pies.

What we do know about the bill of fare at the first celebration in 1621 comes from a letter written by colonist Edward Winslow to a friend in England:  “Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors.”

Later 90 Indians joined the party with “their great king Massasoit whom for three days we entertained and feasted.”  Then the Indians “went out and killed five deer which they brought to the plantation.”

So venison was a principal food on the menu.  It also seems safe to assume that mussels, clams, and lobsters (all in plentiful supply) were served as well.   According to other journals of the colonists, the “fowl” that Winslow described were probably ducks and geese.  But wild turkeys were also bountiful in 1621, and so it is very likely that they were on the Pilgrims’ table.  Thank goodness for that.

Throughout the New England colonies, it became common to proclaim a day of thanksgiving sometime in the autumn.  In period diaries, there are many descriptions of food preparation—such as butchering and pie baking—followed by the notation that “today was the general thanksgiving.”

By the 19th century, Americans were taking the idea of a “thanksgiving” to a whole new level.  The religious connotations were dropping away in favor of a holiday celebrating family and food.  Roast turkey had become the centerpiece of these fall celebrations.

Turkeys, of course, were native to North America.  (Benjamin Franklin, in a letter, had even proposed the turkey as the official U.S. bird!)  And turkey was considered to be a fashionable food back in the mother country.  Just think of the significance of turkey in Charles’ Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”  When Scrooge wakes up in a joyful mood on Christmas morning, he calls to a boy in the street to deliver the prize turkey in the poulterer’s shop to the Cratchit family.  (Earlier in the story, the poor Cratchits were dining on goose.)

It is thanks to a New England woman that Thanksgiving became an American holiday.  Sarah Hale was a native of New Hampshire and the editor of “Godey’s Lady’s  Book,”  a popular women’s magazine.  She lobbied for years for a national observance of Thanksgiving.  She wrote editorials and sent letters to the president, all state governors, and members of Congress.

Finally, in 1863, she convinced Abraham Lincoln that a national Thanksgiving Day might help to unite the Civil War-stricken country.   The fourth Thursday in November was now officially on the American calendar.

“… that endless variety of vegetables …”

Connecticut’s own Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote this description of a New England Thanksgiving in one of her novels—“But who shall . . .describe the turkey, and chickens, and chicken pies, with all that endless variety of vegetables which the American soil and climate have contributed to the table . . . After the meat came the plum-puddings, and then the endless array of pies. . .”

The autumnal feast became a national holiday, but each region of the country put its own spin on the menu.   Not to mention that immigrants have also added diversity.  The result is a true “melting pot” of America.  The second half of “Giving Thanks” contains recipes that reflect what Americans eat for Thanksgiving in the 21st century.

In the South, for instance, the turkey might be stuffed with cornbread and there would be pecan and sweet potato pies on the table.  In New Mexico, chiles and Southwestern flavors may be added to the stuffing.

There’s the “time-honored traditional bread stuffing” recipe.  There’s also one for a Chinese American rice dressing and directions for a Cuban turkey stuffed with black beans and rice.  Desserts run the gamut from an (authentic) Indian pudding to an (exotic) coconut rice pudding.  Old-fashioned pumpkin pie is included as well as the newfangled pumpkin cheesecake.

But no matter what food items grace our Thanksgiving tables, it seems that we all end up stuffing ourselves silly.  Perhaps overeating started at that very first harvest celebration in 1621.  In Edward Winslow’s letter describing the feast with the Indians, he noted that food was not always this plentiful. But he wrote his friend in England “ … yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”

Hooray for Halloween! Almost Against All Odds, It Did Happen on Lyme Street Last Night …

It wasn’t only the children having fun on Lyme Street last night – Julie O’Brien (left) and Martha Quaratella were fully invested in the spirit of the evening!

OLD LYME — Despite the weather, a cancelled parade, a fallen tree, and power outages galore, Halloween happened anyway in Old Lyme! 

We’re delighted to share a few photos from the notorious night when trick or treating ghosts and ghouls; witches and wizards; and swashbucklers and superheroes take over Lyme Street in search of candy … along with a reflection on Halloween by our journalist friend Linda Ahnert.

The Halloween Party at LYSB drew lions, Little Red Riding Hoods, Dorothy’s and everything in between! We’re pretty sure that’s Max Garvin inside the lion costume on the left! Photo by Missy Colburn Garvin.

Hooray for Halloween!
By Linda Ahnert

For those of us who grew up in the 1950s, Halloween was a big blast. We decked the school halls with jack-o’-lanterns and black cats. We sang holiday hymns about creepy moonlit nights, sleeping shadows, and ghostly shapes without heads. But most of all, we dreamed about what we were going “to be” for Halloween. What kid doesn’t like to play “make believe” and become a queen for a night or perhaps the bride of Dracula?

Lyme Academy of Fine Arts opened its doors to display a sea of pumpkins decorated by students from Lyme-Old Lyme Schools. Photo by Suzanne Thompson.

Then there was the trick or treating itself. After donning the nifty costumes our moms had made for us, we headed out to ring doorbells and collect candy. Furtive little groups of us would pass each other in the night as we crisscrossed our Ozzie and Harriet neighborhood. And we would pass along snippets of information—when we learned that the new family on our street was handing out candy apples, we would make a beeline there.

Also attending the LYSB Halloween Party were this Superhero and friend. Photo by Missy Colburn Garvin.

But not too many years after we baby boomers had retired from ringing doorbells, the holiday itself entered a twilight zone. Those were the days when you heard true horror stories of kids finding razor blades in their candy. Real life had become a lot scarier and parents would accompany children as they went from house to house. And certainly no one would dare to knock on the door of a stranger.

Student-decorated pumpkins were also on display outside Lyme Academy. Photo by Suzanne Thompson.

Which is why it’s great to see that in recent years Halloween has once again become big-time fun. People are festooning their houses with orange lights and decorating their lawns with goblins and other gruesome creatures. Pages in mail order catalogs are devoted to all the latest trends in Halloween décor and costuming. Turn on the TV at this time of year and you will see ads for “Halloween Headquarters” at Kmart or “Spooky Central” at Wal-Mart.

Millie Cameron — dressed as a jelly fish, who is the daughter of Lyme-Old Lyme High School varsity boys’ soccer coach Ally Gleason — was out on the town with Mom (right) last night. Photo by Martha Quaratella.

Today you can purchase all kinds of items to get in touch with your inner ghoul. Everything from Hitchcockian crows to cauldrons equipped with foggers to create a bubbling witch’s brew. And, if you’re hosting a “monster” Halloween party, don’t forget the ice cubes that glow bright orange. Or the CD’s of haunted house music to create an eerie ambience.

Sorry, but we just couldn’t resist publishing another photo of little Millie Cameron — the absolutely cutest jellyfish in town! Photo by Martha Quaratella.

Yes, there’s no doubt that Halloween has gone to a whole new level. So why should kids have all the fun? Nowadays, adults are also donning costumes and getting in on the act. One year I had a dental appointment on Oct. 31. I arrived at the dentist’s office to find the women employees all decked out in costumes. My favorite was the 30-something receptionist outfitted as a teenager from the 1950s complete with poodle skirt and pony tail.

Plenty of fun for the adults too at the LYSB Halloween Party! Photo by Missy Colburn Garvin.

In our neck of the woods, we don’t have to go far to get into the spirit of the season. Take a stroll through the Pumpkin Patch at Scotts Yankee Farmer in East Lyme.  Or drive to Mystic Seaport for “Nautical Nightmares” and listen to maritime ghost stories as you walk through the darkened village. Not to mention that our own village of Old Lyme is transformed into a magical place on Allhallows Eve. Children trick or treat their way along Lyme Street in costumes that range from the scary to the sublime.

It’s Halloween—just like the ones I used to know.

Happy Thanksgiving! Let’s Count Our Blessings


Editor’s Note: 
We are delighted to republish a column by our friend and talented writer, Linda Ahnert, of Old Lyme, which celebrates the upcoming day of thankfulness.

If you said the name “Wilbur Cross” to Connecticut residents, they would most likely think of the parkway that bears his name.  But our older readers will remember that he was governor of our state for eight years—from 1931 to 1939, to be exact.

On Nov. 12, 1936, Wilbur Cross issued an eloquent Thanksgiving Proclamation, which has gone down in the annals of Connecticut history.  Many generations of school children either were read the Proclamation in class or required to memorize it … or both!

For the benefit of our younger readers, we reprint it here:

Time out of mind at this turn of the seasons when the hardy oak leaves rustle in the wind and the frost gives a tang to the air and the dusk falls early and the friendly evenings lengthen under the heel of Orion, it has seemed good to our people to join together in praising the Creator and Preserver, who has brought us by a way that we did not know to the end of another year.  In observance of this custom, I appoint Thursday, the twenty-sixth of November, as a day of Public Thanksgiving for the blessings that have been our common lot and have placed our beloved State with the favored regions of earth—for all the creature comforts: the yield of the soil that has fed us and the richer yield from labor of every kind that has sustained our lives—and for all those things, as dear as breath to the body, that quicken man’s faith in his manhood, that nourish and strengthen his spirit to do the great work still before him: for the brotherly word and act; for honor held above price; for steadfast courage and zeal in the long, long search after truth; for liberty and for justice freely granted by each to his fellow and so as freely enjoyed; and for the crowning glory and mercy of peace upon our land;—that we may humbly take heart of these blessings as we gather once again with solemn and festive rites to keep our Harvest Home. 

It’s no wonder that Wilbur Cross knew how to use words.  In 1889, he earned a Ph.D. in English literature from Yale.  Before he became governor, he taught English at Yale, was a well-known literary critic, and wrote several books.

By 1941, just five years after Cross wrote about the “mercy of peace upon our land,” the United Sates would be fighting in World War II.

In 1976, another Connecticut governor—Ella Grasso—reissued the proclamation from 40 years earlier and called it a “masterpiece of eloquence.” 

Today, Wilbur Cross’s words still stir our spirits.  We are thankful that we live in this “favored region of earth” and for the freedoms that we enjoy.  And, yes, we are grateful for the glory of the English language. 

A Historical Perspective on ‘Giving Thanks’

We are pleased to celebrate this Thanksgiving season by republishing an article written for LymeLine.com by Linda Ahnert to honor Thanksgiving 2007.

Who doesn’t love Thanksgiving?

Giving thanks_bookA few years ago, a book entitled “Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving Recipes and History, from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie” was published.  The co-authors are Kathleen Curtin, food historian at the Plimoth Plantation, Mass., and Sandra L. Oliver, food historian and publisher of the newsletter “Food History News.”

The book is a fascinating look at how an autumnal feast evolved into a “quintessential American holiday.”

Most Americans, introduced to the story of the Pilgrims and Indians during childhood, assume there is a direct link between the traditional holiday menu and the first Thanksgiving.  But we learn from the book that many of those food items—such as mashed potatoes and apple pie—were simply impossible in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1621.  Potatoes were not introduced to New England until much later and those first settlers did not yet have ovens to bake pies.

What we do know about the bill of fare at the first celebration in 1621 comes from a letter written by colonist Edward Winslow to a friend in England:  “Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors.”

Later 90 Indians joined the party with “their great king Massasoit whom for three days we entertained and feasted.”  Then the Indians “went out and killed five deer which they brought to the plantation.”

So venison was a principal food on the menu.  It also seems safe to assume that mussels, clams, and lobsters (all in plentiful supply) were served as well.   According to other journals of the colonists, the “fowl” that Winslow described were probably ducks and geese.  But wild turkeys were also bountiful in 1621, and so it is very likely that they were on the Pilgrims’ table.  Thank goodness for that.

Throughout the New England colonies, it became common to proclaim a day of thanksgiving sometime in the autumn.  In period diaries, there are many descriptions of food preparation—such as butchering and pie baking—followed by the notation that “today was the general thanksgiving.”

By the 19th century, Americans were taking the idea of a “thanksgiving” to a whole new level.  The religious connotations were dropping away in favor of a holiday celebrating family and food.  Roast turkey had become the centerpiece of these fall celebrations.

Turkeys, of course, were native to North America.  (Benjamin Franklin, in a letter, had even proposed the turkey as the official U.S. bird!)  And turkey was considered to be a fashionable food back in the mother country.  Just think of the significance of turkey in Charles’ Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”  When Scrooge wakes up in a joyful mood on Christmas morning, he calls to a boy in the street to deliver the prize turkey in the poulterer’s shop to the Cratchit family.  (Earlier in the story, the poor Cratchits were dining on goose.)

It is thanks to a New England woman that Thanksgiving became an American holiday.  Sarah Hale was a native of New Hampshire and the editor of “Godey’s Lady’s  Book,”  a popular women’s magazine.  She lobbied for years for a national observance of Thanksgiving.  She wrote editorials and sent letters to the president, all state governors, and members of Congress.

Finally, in 1863, she convinced Abraham Lincoln that a national Thanksgiving Day might help to unite the Civil War-stricken country.   The fourth Thursday in November was now officially on the American calendar.

Connecticut’s own Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote this description of a New England Thanksgiving in one of her novels—“But who shall . . .describe the turkey, and chickens, and chicken pies, with all that endless variety of vegetables which the American soil and climate have contributed to the table . . . After the meat came the plum-puddings, and then the endless array of pies. . .”

The autumnal feast became a national holiday, but each region of the country put its own spin on the menu.   Not to mention that immigrants have also added diversity.  The result is a true “melting pot” of America.  The second half of “Giving Thanks” contains recipes that reflect what Americans eat for Thanksgiving in the 21st century.

In the South, for instance, the turkey might be stuffed with cornbread and there would be pecan and sweet potato pies on the table.  In New Mexico, chiles and Southwestern flavors may be added to the stuffing.

There’s the “time-honored traditional bread stuffing” recipe.  There’s also one for a Chinese American rice dressing and directions for a Cuban turkey stuffed with black beans and rice.  Desserts run the gamut from an (authentic) Indian pudding to an (exotic) coconut rice pudding.  Old-fashioned pumpkin pie is included as well as the newfangled pumpkin cheesecake.

But no matter what food items grace our Thanksgiving tables, it seems that we all end up stuffing ourselves silly.  Perhaps overeating started at that very first harvest celebration in 1621.  In Edward Winslow’s letter describing the feast with the Indians, he noted that food was not always this plentiful. But he wrote his friend in England “ … yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”