After the annual Thanksgiving Day football game between Westerly and Stonington in 1986, which the Bears won 13-0 against the Bulldogs, it was the meal served to some 35 people at the home of Susan and Edward Hart on Taugwonk Road in Stonington :
Spiced hot cider and eggnog; antipasto platter with raw vegetables, dips, crackers and cheeses; a 31-pound turkey from Franklin Brown Farm; sausage and sage stuffing; Giblet Gravy; Oyster gratin; pork and sauerkraut; mashed potatoes, mashed turnip, cream of onions and peas and mushrooms; butternut squash confit with sausage and walnuts; banana bread and cranberry nut bread; cream cheese; cranberry sauce; Marinated beets; ground meat pie, apple pie, pumpkin pie, rhubarb pie, raisin and cranberry pie, and sweet potato pie; maple swirl cheesecake and maple pecan pie; fruit cake; chocolate mousse cake; fruit and nut bowls; coffee, tea and milk.
And cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
These round tables brought together with a floral centerpiece, white linens, blue onion skin dinnerware, and red cranberry juice in crystal tumblers were the family, relatives (and friends) of a clan that included the Grills, Rolls, Harts, Crouches, Wheelers, Manfredis, Scorzas and Madejs as well as an exchange student from Brazil.
Precisely 60 years earlier, at a Thanksgiving feast at a nearby house, a more modest assemblage of guests was served:
Roasted turkey, sage stuffing and base sauce; mashed potatoes and mashed turnips; buttered onions; Oyster gratin; cranberry sauce and celery sticks; ground meat pie, raisin and cranberry pie, apple pie, pumpkin pie and fruitcake; coffee and milk; fruit bowl, bowl of nuts and dried fruit and a large box of chocolates.
It was served in the kitchen between the black iron stove and the black iron sink, on a table extended by four or five extensions and covered with white linen, porcelain and silver.
Remarkably, four of the guests at the 1926 holiday dinner were there for the 1986 one, including Phyllis Wheeler Grills, whose precise memories of those two meals as well as myriad others are contained in her two-part “promenade”. most entertaining volumes. back in time with many of the original Stonington, Connecticut families, a story of Bible foods, Indians, Pilgrims, our ancestors, and ourselves, all told in recipes, pictures, prose, poetry and genealogies “entitled “Kith, Kin and Cooks.”
The 700-plus-page collection, published in 1989, is as much a must-read as “The Joy of Cooking” for those of us who are more drawn to the culinary whimsy at this time of year than the execution. real of any recipe calling for more attention than putting it in the oven or a utensil, a few spices and ingredients no more exotic than choice cuts and herbs.
Phyllis Wheeler Grills, who died aged 78 in 2001, compiled the compendium of spirit, wisdom and esotericism, along with many photos and stories of family lore, mostly as a legacy to her children and family, but her appeal is universal.
I’ve dived there before for the fodder, but every time I come back I find something new or applicable or seemingly inedible, like the venison and squirrel heart soup and the vinegar pie and the locust soup.
I unearthed a gem browsing the pages for Thanksgiving delights, though it does suggest, alas, that we were skipping a holiday feast early in the days of madrigals and Morris dancers and longing for “A Celebration of Twelfth Night” from the Westerly Chorus.
It would be “Stuffed Boar’s Head”.
“Actually, I don’t go into too much detail on the preparation of the head,” she begins. “After cooking the whole head, you then carefully remove the skin – all in one piece – not an easy task! Any meat on the head is removed and cut into small pieces and chilled for stuffing.
From there, the stuffing evolves from pork butt roast, pork sausage, brown rice, and the usual add-ins – butter, onion, salt, celery, poultry season, walnuts or chestnuts, and commercial stuffing mix.
Then comes this: “Without going into details, I will simply say stuff the skin that you have carefully preserved, filling it in all the right places. … Shield ears and muzzle with foil and carefully cover all skin with foil. Bake for about two hours or until the skin is brown and crispy.
Finally, the kitchen stunt: “Place a small flag to wave from the top of the head as it is carried to the table with lots of fanfare and chanting.”
She also shares that the Grills family here dates back to Rosario Grillo, who left Tusa, Sicily around 1896, settled in Westerly, returned to pick up his family, and eventually bought a house in Pawcatuck. On the way to Ellis Island, Grillo became Grills and stayed that way.
There’s a wholesome chapter on Grills’ family recipes, including what she says is a Sicilian street food called Arancini (“little oranges”) and “Fred’s Sopprasota (Soupy)”, adding “This recipe is Calabresia” and “Hot!”
Back, way, way back, to Thanksgiving, and what she calls “Yokeag” or (“No Cake. A survival food”).
“The Indians ate Yokeag with water, maple sap, or snow while traveling or on the warpath,” she wrote, “but it is delicious served over ice cream as a substitute. of sundaes. It’s also good as a cereal. Be careful! Three spoonfuls makes a meal.
“Parch a pound of whole yellow field corn in hot ashes until golden brown. (Corn can be dried in a frying pan on the stove.)
“Pound a small amount of parched corn in a mortar until it is fine as powder. The Indian mortar was made of wood or stone and the pestle of stone, but a herb or a doctor’s mortar will suffice a blender might be even better.
Especially when traveling or on the warpath.
Steven Slosberg lives in Stonington. He can be contacted at [email protected]