The following article, by Mariette Bowles, was printed in the November 1941 issue of American Cookery Magazine.
|Each year at Thanksgiving time everyone quite properly honors the memories of the Pilgrim Fathers who gave the original idea, and of Abraham Lincoln, who made it a national affair. But another and equally important influence seldom receives sufficient recognition--Sarah Josepha Hale, remembered as the editor of Godey's Lady's Book, but infrequently recalled as the woman who put Thanksgiving Day into every American home.|
Mrs. Hale's earliest ambition, she said was twofold: "to promote the reputation of my own sex and to do something for my country." These purposes are evident in all the accomplishments of her extraordinarily busy life. An enthusiastic advocate of higher education for girls, a hearty supporter of legislation to protect women's rights, she used her position as editor of one of America's most influential magazines in a way that benefitted "her own sex and her own country" throughout her long and crowded career.
Thanksgiving Day was, therefore, a singularly appropriate holiday for her to sponsor. More than the Fourth of July itself, it is truly our national festival, honoring the sense of prosperity and general well-being that is--our country at its best. Then, too, Thanksgiving has done more even than Mother's Day "to promote the reputation of the American woman." Nowhere do her skill and ability show to better advantage that at the annual dinners that she prepares for her children and grandchildren to remember all their lives. Had Sarah Josepha Hale done nothing more than institute such a national holiday, she would have gone a long way toward realizing the two ambitions she had as a little girl.
Of course, Mrs. Hale did not invent Thanksgiving Day. The Pilgrims did that. She did not even have the original idea of having it proclaimed nationally. That was George Washington. But after him came a long interval during which the day was celebrated in a haphazard fashion, on different days in the different parts of the United States; in some religions, not at all.
It was always an important occasion in Mrs. Hale's native New England. Her first book, Northwood, contains a description of such a dinner as she must often have attended in Newport, New Hampshire, where she spent her girlhood and young womanhood. Most of the characters in the novel are people who might have been her neighbors, though a couple of Englishmen wander through the pages, very cleverly helping the author fulfill her purpose. Descriptions and explanations of American life and customs are plausible, even necessary, to make everything clear to strangers from across the sea.
New Hampshire Thanksgiving
The Thanksgiving dinner which one of them attended must have impressed him as much as it does a modern reader. Perhaps you think you have eaten noteworthy meals yourself. But by Northwood standards almost any contemporary fare seems scant indeed. There was, as you would expect, roast turkey with savory dressing. There were the customary "innumerable bowls of gravy and vegetables." But this was only the beginning. Besides them on the table sat a "surloin" of beef, a leg of pork, a joint of mutton, a goose and a pair of duckling.
Yankee Pies of Every Name
Pickles, preserves and butter are barely noted in passing, as are "plumb" pudding and custard. There were pies of every name and description ever known in Yankeeland, yet the pumpkin pie occupied the most important niche. All this was accompanied by cider, ginger beer (of which Squire Romelee's wife was especially proud.) and currant wine. The meal was concluded with an assortment of rich cake, sweetmeats and fruit.
It was in 1827 that Northwood was published, nearly forty years before its author persuaded Abraham Lincoln to issue the first Thanksgiving Proclamation, a custom that succeeding presidents have followed faithfully.
She began writing to governors of the separate states, urging them to issue their own proclamations. This she did for several years, until finally she convinced Abraham Lincoln of the value of such a holiday to the nation as a whole. Om 1864 he proclaimed the last Thursday in November a day of national Thanksgiving. One of the "lady's editors" dearest ambitions had been realized.
America's Own Dish
Louise here:) The final excerpt for today's post from the "Thanksgiving Lady" story speaks to today's "national" day; Indian Pudding Day.
In The Story of Corn, author Betty Fussell uncovers the mysterious appearance of Indian Pudding for the first time in writing on March 26, 1722.
back to the story...
|As a woman of familiar with "the best receipts of all the nations in the world," she devotes a great deal of her attention to dishes which are peculiarly American. Indian cakes, maize pudding (both the boiled and the baked), pumpkin, squash, and carrot pies are among the foods she lists as being native American--and delicious. "Plain Baked Indian Pudding" is one of her favorites. This seems to her to satisfy perfectly the three standards that she sets for good food; that it meets the standards of economy, health and taste.|
Pies of course, as one can see from the Northwood dinner, stand very high in her estimation. But they must be good. "A poor pie," she warns ambitious cooks, "is a sad thing indeed." Even Miss Acton, whose English cookbook she edited, did not meet Mrs. Hale's rigid requirements for a satisfactory pumpkin pie. (An indispensable part of a good and true Yankee Thanksgiving, you remember...)
I will continue on with the story of the "Thanksgiving Lady" and The Honored Pumpkin Pie on Wednesday. In the mean time, I harvested this recipe for Indian Pudding and a Thanksgiving menu from The American Heritage Cookbook compiled by the editors of American Heritage Magazine.
For those of you who would like to try your hand at preparing Indian Pudding for each of your guests, here is a bit of a commentary once again from Betty Fussell in I Hear America Cooking.
Happy Indian Pudding Day!
1. Northwood (online @ google books)
2. The Good Housekeeper: or, The Way to Live Well and to be Well While We Live ... By Sarah Josepha Buell Hale (Google books)
3. Mrs. Hale's Receipts for the Million (available online)
4. Godey's Arm Chair: Thanksgiving as a National Holiday
5. The Story of Corn (google books limited viewing)
1. Crockpot Indian Pudding
2. Hasty Pudding - Indian Pudding