A Relaxing, ASMR Re-Creation of People Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner in the 1820s

Amer­i­cans today can acquire every ele­ment of their Thanks­giv­ing din­ner prac­ti­cal­ly ready to eat, in need of lit­tle more than some heat before being set on the table. This very Thurs­day, in fact, many Amer­i­cans will no doubt do just that. But it was­n’t an option two cen­turies ago, espe­cial­ly for those who lived on the wild fron­tier. To see how they’d have put their Thanks­giv­ing din­ner togeth­er, you’ll want to con­sult one Youtube chan­nel in par­tic­u­lar: Ear­ly Amer­i­can, pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture for its videos re-cre­at­ing var­i­ous meals as they would have been pre­pared cir­ca 1820.

The cre­ators of Ear­ly Amer­i­can, Jus­tine Dorn and Ron Ray­field, also hap­pen to be a mar­ried cou­ple in real life. In their videos they appear to play his­tor­i­cal ver­sions of them­selves, adher­ing to the domes­tic divi­sion of labor cus­tom would have dic­tat­ed in rur­al Amer­i­ca of the ear­ly nine­teenth cen­tu­ry.

When Ron steps in the door with the fruits of a boun­ti­ful hunt, two rab­bits and a duck, Jus­tine knows just how to put them at the cen­ter of a full-fledged Thanks­giv­ing din­ner. This involves not just cook­ing the meat, but prepar­ing a vari­ety of accom­pa­ni­ments like cran­ber­ries, corn, mush­room gravy, and sweet pota­to pie.

All this hap­pens at the hearth, which demands a set of skills (and a set of tools, includ­ing an hour­glass) not nor­mal­ly pos­sessed by home-cook­ing enthu­si­asts of the twen­ty-twen­ties. But the meal that results will sure­ly look appe­tiz­ing even to mod­ern view­ers. Though Abra­ham Lin­coln made Thanks­giv­ing a nation­al hol­i­day in 1863, George Wash­ing­ton first issued a procla­ma­tion for “a day of pub­lic thanks­giv­ing and prayer” in 1789. And by that time, many of Thanks­giv­ing’s dish­es had already become estab­lished tra­di­tion. (Turkey and cran­ber­ry were linked togeth­er in the first Amer­i­can cook­book in 1796, NPR notes.) As always, Jus­tine pro­vides the orig­i­nal recipes (scant in detail though they often are) at the end. Use them well, it seems, and you can have a grand Thanks­giv­ing feast even if you don’t bring home a turkey.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The First Amer­i­can Cook­book: Sam­ple Recipes from Amer­i­can Cook­ery (1796)

Read 800+ Thanks­giv­ing Books Free at the Inter­net Archive

Mar­i­lyn Monroe’s Hand­writ­ten Turkey-and-Stuff­ing Recipe

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 13 Tips for What to Do with Your Left­over Thanks­giv­ing Turkey

The Illus­trat­ed Ver­sion of “Alice’s Restau­rant”: Watch Arlo Guthrie’s Thanks­giv­ing Coun­ter­cul­ture Clas­sic

What Amer­i­cans Ate for Break­fast & Din­ner 200 Years Ago: Watch Re-Cre­ations of Orig­i­nal Recipes

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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