When you're on the look out for a Thanksgiving side dish, your choices often seem limited. Stuffing, yams and that red jelly from the can are about all that many people ever fix with their turkey, or ham. Surprisingly, the clear majority of these dishes aren't even historically accurate. It's likely that of all the typical Thanksgiving dishes served, the only one that the pilgrims themselves may have eaten is the Turkey.
The indian corn the pilgrims harvested was nothing like we enjoy today and was small, hard and really only good for corn meal. They probably had access to cranberries but not to any sugar to make a palatable cranberry sauce. Pumpkin pie was right out but there is a relatively good chance they may have had a pumpkin pudding or soup. Yams had barely been introduced to Europe, let alone New England in the fall of 1621 and the first Jet-Puffed marshmallow factory was still a good three hundred years off.
What to make for your Thanksgiving feast then? If you are the creative type you want to introduce something other than the ordinary, but you don't want to stray too far from the theme of the meal. It's times like this when I'm glad to come across a dish that, while strictly speaking, probably wasn't a featured dish at the famed peace feast, it could have been with a few small substitutions. This dish is just that, right on the lines of possible and clear into the field of practical and delicious. It works equally well as a side dish and as an entree.
Contemporary colonial rice
- Preheat oven to 350 F
- In a large sauce pan, combine the wild rice, four cups of stock and salt to taste. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat, cover and simmer till tender. Between 40 and 60 minutes.
- Drain excess broth if any remains and transfer to a large mixing bowl.
- In a skillet, brown sausage with 1 tablespoon of butter.
- Drain excess fat if desired and transfer sausage to mixing bowl and combine with rice.
- In the same pan, add two tablespoons of butter and saute onions until golden. Add the thyme and saute for two more minutes.
- Remove onions and thyme to mixing bowl and combine with rice and sausage.
- Add remaining butter to the same pan and saute the mushrooms until lightly browned and wilted
- Add the cooked mushrooms to the rice mixture.
- Add parsley and remaining stock to rice mixture and stir till combined.
- Season to taste with salt and black pepper.
- Transfer mixture to a 9 x 13 inch casserole dish, cover with aluminum foil and bake for about 30 minutes.
- Yield: 6-8 servings and pleasant smiles.
Potential historical colonial rice
- 1 healthy ladle of rice from the marsh
- 3-4 ladles of poultry stock
- 1 generous handful of lard
- Two handfuls of chopped meat, less than a fort night old, or dry cured.
- 1 onion chopped
- 1 handful of mushrooms from the barn
- 1 pinch each of chopped sorrel, yarrow and other edible green leaved herbs as available and pleases the man of the house.
- Cook the rice in the stock till done.
- Remove the excess stock for future use.
- move rice to a dutch oven.
- In a warmed skillet, cook the meat in a third portion of the lard.
- Place meat in dutch oven with rice.
- Cook the onion in a third portion of the lard. Add the green herbs at the last.
- Remove onions and herbs to Dutch oven with rice and meat.
- Cook the mushrooms in the last of the lard, after having washed the filth of animals from them and removed the stems.
- Add mushrooms to dutch oven and mix contents thoroughly.
- Place the dutch oven to the back of the fire, cover with coals, and let cook for several hours.
- It is done when the men return for dinner and can wait no longer.
- A satisfying meal for one family of ten, or a pleasing accompaniment for the whole village.