History has always been a fascination of mine. Our family history is populated with hard working middle-class farmers, tailors, teamsters, truck drivers, teachers . . . well, you get the picture. It is much like many other American families and thanks to an interest in genealogy, can be traced back to the borderlands of Scotland. In the 1600s we were a reiver (raider) family that farmed by summer and rustled cattle and sheep during the winter months.

I have an ancestor who was one of the cowboys on the famous C-Y ranch in Wyoming and was a participant in the Johnson County War. After shooting down a couple of alleged rustlers (who may have simply been innocent home- steaders), this uncle and about 20 of his cowboy companions were arrested and charged with murder. Johnson County, at the time, did not have enough money in the county treasury to conduct trials for 20-odd defendants, and ended up turning them all loose. Of course, it might have helped that the owner of the C-Y ranch they rode for was U.S. Senator J.M. Carey, one of the wealthiest and most prominent men in the area.

Stories like this one are fuel for the imagination. Which finally brings me to thoughts of Thanksgiving, especially Thanksgiving dinner. When I was a kid, Thanksgiving dinners were big family occasions with all my aunts, uncles and cousins in attendance at my grandparents’ home.

One of my great-uncles was a duck hunter and one Thanksgiving he brought a wild goose he had shot, and his wife had roasted to serve alongside the traditional turkey. It was good. So, I eagerly accepted when I was invited to a Thanksgiving dinner a few years later with an “original” menu featuring waterfowl.

In 1621 on the east coast, there were no supermarkets. Meals consisted of whatever could be grown or gathered. Many of the foods we enjoy today simply did not exist at that time or place. Cooking methods were also much different. My hosts, also history buffs sought to create as realistic meal as possible.

The Plymouth Plantation settlers ate a lot of meat – wild game.

Tasting an “original” Thanksgiving meal While no one is certain, the original meal in the fall of 1621 probably consisted of duck, goose, venison, eel, turnips, corn bread and a corn porridge with beer or water to drink. Pota- toes were unknown and wheat flour was unavailable so there was no white bread, cakes or pies.

There also were no electric or gas ovens, electric skillets, oil fryers, crock pots or micro- waves. It was all open fire cooking with little to no seasonings.

Our hostess was beaming with accomplishment as we all sat down to her table loaded down with boiled goose, boiled venison, boiled eel, duck roasted (read as charred) over a spit, mashed turnips and corn porridge.

One of the best ways to ruin meat of almost any kind is to boil it. Especially without salt or seasonings. The boiled goose and venison were, in a word, awful.

I had never tasted eel. An eel is either a snake that thinks it should be a fish, or a fish that thinks it should be a snake. Just the thought of eel is enough to make a person want to gag. I was assured it was good with a flavor a little like a blend of chicken and lobster but might be a little chewy. Rubber is chewy. This was beyond rubber.

Mashed turnips without benefit of salt, butter, pepper, and more salt are practically inedible. Corn porridge is sort of like a soup made of cornbread and milk. I am not sure my dog would eat it.

The only things I found even halfway palatable were the spit-roasted duck and the beer. The duck was charred black on the outside and very pink next to the bone. At least it was edible when washed down with enough beer. Lots of beer.

Mustering all the limited acting skills I have, I assured my hosts how interesting I thought the meal was, thanked them for their hospitality and dashed to my car. I was pretty sure I had a Snickers bar stashed in it somewhere.

Every year since, as I sit down to the traditional Butterball stuffed with bread dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, scalloped corn and pumpkin pie, I give thanks. I thank God that I live in this time, with this food and these cooking methods.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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