WHEN we roast a Thanksgiving turkey and cook sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie, we might assume this feast is similar to the dinner the Indians and Pilgrims had at Plimoth Plantation. But according to historians, some qualifications must be made. Wild turkeys were abundant back then, but there's no evidence that they were part of that meal. And cranberries were not referred to in early accounts, although other berries are mentioned.
Succotash was more of a stew than the simple corn/lima-bean mixture we know today. Pumpkin was probably served as a vegetable.
The sweet potato was not yet cultivated in the English colonies, but tuckah, a root vegetable somewhat similar to the potato, may have been on the menu. Walnuts were abundant, as were plums, cherries, and sassafras.
Many winter herbs were discovered by the early settlers - herbs such as sorrel, yarrow, liverwort, and watercress - plus great stores of leeks and onions, so it can be assumed that at least some of those items were eaten that day.
Herbs were prepared along with one or more of the following: venison, duck, goose, seafood, eels, white bread, and corn bread. For dessert there was ``frumenty,'' or ``furmenty,'' an English pudding made of hulled wheat boiled in milk and flavored with sugar and spices.
With these modern recipes using some of the food the Pilgrims ate, you can re-create a repast similar to the Plimoth Plantation feast.
No doubt you'll want to add some of your family's favorites, such as breads, relishes, cranberry sauce, salad, or Jello mold, and another dessert or two. These recipes will serve 6 to 8 people. Watercress Soup 2 tablespoons butter 1/3 cup chopped shallots or onions 2 bunches watercress, stems trimmed 2 tablespoons flour 5 cups heated chicken stock or 3 cups canned chicken broth and 2 cups water 1/4 cup heavy cream
Heat butter in large heavy saucepan. Add shallots; cook over low heat till soft. Add watercress. Cook, covered, over low heat until wilted, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour; cook 3 minutes. Add heated stock, stirring. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove solids from soup and pur'ee them in blender or food processor. Return pur'ee to soup. Stir in cream and heat through without boiling. Stuffed Roast Duck 2 4- to 5-pound ducks Salt 8 cups coarse bread crumbs 1/2 cup minced onion 2 apples, diced 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 2 cups dried apricots, diced 11/2 teaspoons poultry seasoning 1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted
Rub ducks with 1 teaspoon salt. Prepare stuffing by combining crumbs, onion, apple, lemon juice, apricots, poultry seasoning, and 1-3/4 teaspoons salt. Add butter. Mix lightly but thoroughly. Spoon stuffing into ducks. Skewer to truss them. Place ducks on rack in shallow roasting pan. Bake at 325 degrees F. for 2 hours and 30 minutes, draining off fat every 30 minutes. Baste ducks several times during the roasting period with some of the melted fat. Ducks are done when skin is well browned and breast meat feels soft. Serves 8. Escalloped Oysters 1 quart fresh oysters, drained (reserve liquid) 1 teaspoon salt Pepper to taste 4 cups cracker crumbs 1 cup light cream or milk 1 tablespoon butter or margarine
Place layer of oysters in bottom of a buttered 8-inch casserole. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover with layer of cracker crumbs. Continue layers until all oysters are used. Measure oyster liquid. Add enough water to make 1 cup. Add liquid to cream. Pour over oyster and cracker layers. Top with butter. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 45 minutes. Serves 8 generously. Leeks in Cream 3 pounds leeks 4 tablespoons butter or margarine Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste Freshly grated nutmeg to taste 1 cup heavy cream 1/2 cup water
Trim off ends of leeks and cut them crosswise into 11/2-inch lengths. Rinse and drain thoroughly. Heat butter in a heavy saucepan and add the leeks.
Cook briefly, stirring. Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add cream and stir. Add the water and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Cook 15 minutes. Serves 8. Indian Pudding 4 tablespoons, plus 1 teaspoon yellow cornmeal 1/3 cup molasses 31/4 cups hot milk 3/4 cup cold milk 1/3 cup, plus 1 tablespoon sugar 1/4 cup light brown sugar 2 eggs, beaten 2 tablespoons butter or margarine 2/3 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon ginger 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon allspice
Mix cornmeal and molasses. Add hot milk. Cook over medium heat until mixture is like thin gruel. Keep stirring constantly. Pour cornmeal mixture into large bowl. Add all other ingredients except cold milk. Mix well. Pour into greased baking dish.
Bake at 300 degrees F. for 40 minutes. After 20 minutes, stir mixture. After 40 minutes, add cold milk and mix well. Bake for about 2 hours longer at 300 degrees F.
Watch carefully toward end of cooking time to make sure pudding does not dry out unduly. Serves 8. Apple Tart 1 cup flour 1/2 cup cornmeal 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup shortening 1/4 cup water Apple Filling 1/2 to 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided 5 to 8 apples, cored, peeled, and cut in quarters or sixths 6 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine, cut in tiny pieces Nutmeg or cinnamon (optional)
In medium bowl combine flour, cornmeal, and salt. Cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle with water. Stir with a fork. Pat in ball. Wrap in waxed paper. Refrigerate until ready to use.
In heavy iron or aluminum 8- or 9-inch ovenproof skillet, over medium heat melt 1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar (depending on how sour the apples are) until it turns a delicate brown. Remove pan from heat.
Arrange apples on melted sugar and mound slightly in middle. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Dot with butter. Sprinkle very lightly with nutmeg.
Carefully roll out chilled pastry to fit inside skillet. Lay pastry over apples, tucking it down inside skillet. With skewer or sharp knife make about 3 holes in top.
Bake in preheated 350-degree F. oven 1 to 11/2 hours or until crust is brown and firm to the touch and apples bubble up a bit around edges. Remove from oven. Let stand 2 minutes. Run sharp knife around edge of tart. Invert tart into plate larger than skillet. (Work quickly so apples don't fall off. If they shift position, push back into place with spatula.)
Cut in wedges. Serve warm. Serves 6 to 8.