A Feaste at Plimoth
There is plenty to celebrate and much to be grateful for here at Plimoth Plantation this autumn of 1627. The little village of between 250 and 300 Pilgrims is beginning to prosper. Trade goes well between the Pilgrims, the Indians, and England. Oak hewn from adjacent virgin forests and beaver pelts traded from the Indians for metal tools, mirrors, combs, and bits of English clothing are on the way to the Old World. The beaver will be sent to London's finest milliners, soon to warm the fashionable heads of London. In return for skins and lumber, the English supply-ship Marmaduke will set sail for the New Land in early spring with a bounty of furniture, bolts of cloth, tools, cooking pots, sugar, olive oil, beeswax candles, dried fruits, butter, and seeds. The governor has especially asked for some goats.
The cattle herd - started in 1624 when three heifers and a bull were sent over - has grown to 26. Cheese is being made from the low-fat milk, and a few young bulls not needed as oxen have been slaughtered for the coming harvest feasts.
Venison, so protected by wealthy landowners and coveted by the common folk in England, abounds and is readily had by trading with friendly Wampanoag Indians.
Stephen and Elizabeth Hopkins, two of the 102 who came seven years ago aboard the Mayflower, are settling in for the winter.
During these darkening days of autumn, Mr. Hopkins is in the field, scything and binding rye as young Caleb follows behind with a basket, gleaning.
Back at the simple two-room house, the Hopkins children are spreading a thick , fragrant carpet of rushes to soften the stone-hard dirt floor while Elizabeth is planning a harvest meal. (It will not be until 1777 that Thanksgiving will be declared a national holiday by the Continental Congress.)
Mistress Hopkins is sitting beside the fire under a double row of dried herbs , reading the ''received rules of cookery'' from Thomas Dawson's ''The Good Huswifes Jewell,'' published in London around 1585, and has found a receipt for a choice beef fillet in Robert May's version of ''The Accomplisht Cook.''
''Take a fillet ... and lieth in the inner part of the surloyn, cut it as big as you can, broach it on a broach not too big ... roast it leisurely,'' it reads.
This harvest meal will be a special one. There will be venison, both roasted and in pasties, fruit tarts, wild turkey and perhaps roast eagle, boiled eel, and ''sallet,'' a fresh vegetable dish. Pickles will be served, too, as well as a caper sauce for the fish. Some dried blueberries will be plumped up and served with cream.
Lobster, though abundant, is considered ''poverty fare'' and will certainly not be found on this special occasion.
Edward Winslow, one of the assistant governors, wrote a friend back in England: ''And God be praised, we had a good increase.... Our harvest being gotten in ....'' and closed with, ''These things I thought good to let you understand ... that you might on our behalf give God thanks who hath dealt so favourably with us.''
A few surprises await 20th-century visitors to the ''living museum'' at Plimoth Plantation.
The staff here, I was reminded, ''know nothing beyond 1627.'' They are ''citizens of another culture,'' and work, dress, cook, and toil exactly as in the early days. The only difference is that these ''Pilgrims'' punch in at 8 and out at 5.
The first recipe given here is printed as it appears in ''A New Booke of Cookerie'' by J. Murrel, dated 1615. It was used to cook either duck or coney (rabbit). A modern version follows. To smoore an old Coney, Ducke, or Mallard, on the French fashion
Parboyle any of these, and halfe roast it, launch them downe the breast with your knife, and stiche them with two or three Cloues. Then put them into a Pipkin with halfe a pound of sweet Butter, a little white Wine Vergi, a piece of whole Mace, a little beaten Ginger, and Pepper. Then mince two Onyons very small , with a piece of an Apple, so let them boyle leisurely, close couered, the space of two howers, turning them now and then. Serue them in upon Sippets. Duck or Rabbit Pottage 1 rabbit or duck cut into serving pieces 1/4 cup butter 1/4 cup white wine vinegar 1/8 teaspoon mace 1/4 inch slice fresh ginger or 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper 2 medium onions, minced 1 large cooking apple, peeled, cored, and cut into wedges
Parboil rabbit or duck for one-half hour. Remove all but two cups of broth. Add remaining ingredients. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until meat is tender - about 1 hour.
Serves 6. Roast Fillet of Beef 1 3 1/2- to 5-pound fillet of beef (tenderloin) 3/4 cup butter, melted 1/2 cup chopped parsley 1/2 cup chopped chives or scallions 2 tablespoons fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper 1 1/2 teeaspoons salt 1 tablespoon grated orange peel 1 large onion, minced 1 cup beef broth 1/3 cup wine vinegar Pan juices 3 egg yolks, beaten
Preheat oven to 475 degrees F. Prepare roast by tucking thin end of tenderloin under and trussing roast with string. Place in roasting pan and baste with 1/2 the butter.
Roast 5 minutes then lower heat to 350 degrees F.
Roast 30 to 50 minutes, depending on size, basting frequently with butter.
Place remaining ingredients except pan juices and egg yolks in a saucepan and cook over medium heat 20 minutes. Remove roast from oven and add pan juice to sauce.
In a small bowl, add 1/4 cup of sauce to egg yolks, beating until well blended.
Stir this mixture into the sauce. Remove from heat. Remove trussing from roast, place on platter, and slice into 1/2-inch pieces. Pour sauce over meat and serve immediately.
Serves about 12.