Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What do Thanksgiving and stitching have in common?

In anticipation of Thanksgiving Day, which is this Thursday in the US, the latest newsletter from Nordic Needle had a wonderful article written by Debi Feyh, Marketing Coordinator, on Thanksgiving. Debi describes a typical Thanksgiving dinner using a "cornucopia of stitches".

This special article was so brilliantly written that I asked Nordic Needle if I could publish it here. Debi responded "yes", so here it is...

Many countries and cultures have a celebration giving thanks for their harvest and good fortunes. Canada has already celebrated their Thanksgiving Day which occurs on the second Monday of October. This Thursday is Thanksgiving Day for Americans. Abraham Lincoln had proclaimed the last Thursday of November to be the official holiday. That was later changed by Franklin D. Roosevelt to the 4th Thursday of the November.

While doing research on Thanksgiving, I found that the original meal was quite different from today's "traditional" dinner. According to Kathleen Curtin, Food Historian at Plimouth Plantation, their menu may have looked like this:
Seafood: Cod, eel, clams and lobster
Wild fowl: Wild turkey, goose, duck, crane, swan, partridge, and eagles
Meat: venison, seal
Grain: wheat flour, Indian corn
Vegetables: pumpkins, peas, beans, onion, lettuce, radishes, carrots
Fruit: plums, grapes

Besides food, people often associate the cornucopia with this holiday. This word dates back to 1508 from Latin, cornu copiae meaning a "horn of plenty". We often see it used as a centerpiece overflowing with fruits, nuts, and vegetables.

Okay, I know you are beginning to wonder what this has to do with stitching....we thought it would be fun to see if we could provide you with a CORNUCOPIA of CANVASWORK reflecting the menu from the first Thanksgiving.....here goes!

Let's start with the cornucopia. We know there were baskets used to gather and serve foods. Most of them were probably woven so these stitches come to mind: basketweave stitch and the woven stitch .

For our meat, I would offer up these possibilities-the Turkey, Herring(bone), and Shell(fish) Stitches.

The turkey on their table was much different from the commercially grown turkey of today. It had a very colorful plumage which Columbus associated with the peacock. He referred to the bird as "tuka" which means peacock in India. Another source said that the name came from the Native American's word for the bird, "firkee". Yet another source said it came from the Hebrew word "Tukki" which means large or big bird. I find that funny because Big Bird's costume from Sesame Street is actually made from white turkey feathers dyed yellow....literally making him a Big Bird! Back to our subject...turkey(work) and herring(bone).

Shell (fish) of various types were part of the celebration. Let's add them (shell stitch) to our "menu".

Our cornucopia will have a variety of leafy vegetables and something the colonist called wild rice.

First let's explore our leaf stitches, which are very versatile.

Next we have the wild rice. However, according to the International Wild Rice Association "Wild Rice is (not really a rice, but) an aquatic cereal grain that grows 'wild' in isolated lake and river bed areas located primarily within the continent of North America. This evolutionarily ancient grain has been found in layers of the earth dating back some 12,000 years." Just like the rice recipes we have today, the rice stitch has many variations.

The Colonists had corn and wheat flour available to them for their baked goods. We use Indian corn today as decoration primarily because it is a very hard corn, taking a long time for preparation. The Indians at the First Thanksgiving were from the Wampanoag tribe.

The next two stitches are very similar in construction: the wheat stitch and the cornfield stitch.

Pumpkin pie would not have been on the first Thanksgiving menu. However, pumpkin soup was a staple on many tables throughout the year. A pumpkin is a member of the squash family, so does that make it a fruit or a vegetable? It is a fruit, which is defined as being a seed or containing seeds. Therefore, nuts, peas, tomatoes, and even beans are really fruits. Vegetables are plants that don't have seeds. They include leaves, such as cabbage or lettuce; roots, like carrots; bulbs, like onions; and tubers such as potatoes.

Not many sweets would have been present at that first meal. One reason is because sugar and flour were expensive and hard to come by. One possible dessert was a Betty which was a baked pudding where the fruit was layered with bread crumbs. A Cobbler was another probable offering where the fruit is put in a pot and biscuit dough was dropped on top then baked. Both of these desserts were baked probably in a Dutch oven. I was unable to find a "fruit" stitch so we will finish with the Double Dutch (stitch).

I hope you enjoyed our Thanksgiving Day twist. There is so much you can learn about that first Thanksgiving and about Canvaswork, with hundreds of stitches and variations.

Thank you to Debi and to Nordic Needle for allowing me to reprint this article in its entirety. If you don't get the Nordic Needle newsletter, you might want to sign up for it at their website.

Tom and I will have a quiet Thanksgiving celebration because our children will be with their in-laws this year, and we were in Florida with our own parents just a few weeks ago. We'll have our Thanksgiving dinner at our church. This is something that I started there quite a few years ago when I realized that there are many of us who do not have any family nearby. I "ran" the event for quite a few years, and then several years ago turned the reins over to someone else. However, Tom still makes the gravy.

It is quite an "ordeal" making such a large amount of gravy....more than a gallon. Everyone always carries on about over how delicious it is.

This reminds me of a funny story. Years ago, Becky, a young newlywed, asked Tom for his recipe. As I heard him giving it to her over the phone, I told Tom to ask Becky how many she was having for dinner. (I knew it was only three people, and that Tom's recipe unless pared down would serve a small "army" of Thanksgiving diners.)

As you gather with family and friends, take time to give thanks for all your blessings.


Bethany said...

What a wonderful way to start the Thanksgiving holiday. As we all prepare for this busy time, let us all give thanks for our families, friends and each other. May each and everyone enjoy the holiday season, it is a special time of year. May the New Year bring us all hope, peace and love.


Margaret said...

Thank you for the article. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Good luck with the gravy!

Nancy said...

Thanks for sharing this! Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day!