Thursday, November 26, 2009
This was a day for slow cooking and consideration.
I followed Miss Leslie's directions in her 1845 cookbook. Stuffed the craw of our heritage Bourbon Red turkey with a forcemeat dressing seasoned with lemon peel, pepper, sweet marjoram and nutmeg. Dusted it with flour and then began basting with butter and drippings as it roasted. Parsnips and carrots pan roasted, too. The mushroom sauce -- no turkey should be eaten without it -- was simply made. A long, slow simmer is the key to bringing out the rich earthy flavors from the few ingredients.
Did Mary Lincoln cook the 8 pound turkey she purchased in January 1859 following these instructions, too? She might not have been able to get mushrooms in January in Springfield, but parsnips and carrots would have been there. All I can say is that we all agreed it was the best Thanksgiving dinner ever. Everything seasonal, local and fresh. This is the way food would have tasted in the 19th century.
Abraham Lincoln concluded his 1863 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation with the hopes that the nation would soon be restored to the "full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union." His words continue to speak to us today.
1845 Mushroom Sauce
16 ounces fresh white button mushrooms
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup light cream
1/2 cup skim milk
1/2 teaspoon black pepper -- or to taste.
2 tablespoons soft butter
2 tablespoons flour
The night before you make the sauce, slice about 1/4 of the mushrooms and sprinkle with salt to draw out their juices. The next day, cut off the stems of the remaining mushrooms and slice into quarters. If there are small ones, you may keep them whole. Combine the mushrooms with the cream and milk in a 2-quart saucepan. Stir in the salted mushrooms and the accumulated juices. Cook over very low heat until the mushrooms are tender and the sauce is a light beige color. Mash the butter with a fork and work the flour into it until if forms a paste. Stir this by bits into the mushroom mixture. Continue stirring as the sauce thickens. If sauce is too thick, add a bit more milk. Store leftover sauce in the refrigerator for two or three days. Good with other meats and vegetables.
Cooks of Crocus Hill in St. Paul, Minnesota, offers crop shares of vegetables, fruits and meats from local family farms. When I saw the 19th century Bourbon Red heritage turkey would be available for Thanksgiving, I was delighted. There could be no better way to celebrate Lincoln in the 200th anniversary year of his birth. For while communities had celebrated fall Thanksgivings during much of the 19th century, his 1863 proclamation made it a true national holiday. Lincoln called upon his “ fellow citizens in every part of the United States and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands to set aside the fourth Thursday in November as a day of Thanksgiving.”
I picked up our 8-pound Bourbon Red Tuesday afternoon. I had picked up my 1845 copy of Miss Leslies’s Directions for Cookery in its Various Branches much earlier. For while the staff at Cooks of Crocus Hill suggest brining these lean birds, I decided to use the cookbook Mary Lincoln owned to come as close as I can to the preparation of her era.
Bird safely stowed in the truck, I stopped at Kowalski’s market to pick up the rest of the fixings: cranberries, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, mushrooms, light cream and a few herbs and seasonings. The bread for the forcemeat stuffing was rising and should be ready to bake when I walked in the door.
Thanksgiving morning has dawned. We’re aiming for a mid-afternoon dinner. Cranberry sauce and forcemeat are ready and vegetables have been peeled and cut. Soon the real cooking will start and I have to admit, I’m a bit nervous. I’ve cooked more turkeys than I care to count. Usually the preparation is close to foolproof. This year there are a lot of different ingredients and techniques to put me to the test.
At least I know the cranberry sauce is good. Check Twitter updates -- http://twitter.com/RaeKatherine.
1845 Cranberry Sauce
1 12- to 16-ounce package fresh cranberries
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup brown sugar
Wash and sort cranberries. Combine with water in a heavy sauce pan. Cover and cook over low to medium heat until berries pop and the mixture becomes jam-like. Be sure to lift cover and stir from time to time so the sauce does not stick and burn. Add brown sugar and stir until sugar melts into the jam. Remove from heat and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Copyright 2009 Rae Katherine Eighmey. All rights reserved.