Boiled turkey? Behold the odd menu options of 1785

A diagram depicting “the manner of trussing a Fowl for boiling” from The New British Jewel or Complete Housewife’s Best Companion. (Credit: Yale)

A cookbook (and more) from 1785 offers ways to transport your friends and family back in time for a memorable Thanksgiving feast.

Consider turning back the clock to simpler times when dining occurred over candlelight, ovens were wood fired, and it was a safe bet that nobody around the table had recently bathed.

Take your inspiration from The New British Jewel or Complete Housewife’s Best Companion, a slender volume from Yale University’s Beinecke Library that offers “a choice variety of useful family receipts [recipes],” plus gardening tips, home remedies, and, helpfully, “a method of restoring to life people drowned, or in any other manner suffocated.”

The British Jewel contains a turkey recipe unlikely to appear in the pages of Food & Wine or Bon Appétit—one that involves stuffing the bird with shredded sweetbreads (aka: pancreas) of veal and boiling it in milk and water.

Not into boiled turkey or sweetbreads? Shift gears and choose one of the British Jewel’s enticing recipes for roasted or stewed partridge, pigeon, or hare.

The old cookbook offers a recipe for seafood-based appetizers that will make shrimp cocktail seem dull. Tempt your guests with a tray of pickled eels or a “ragoo of oysters” topped with a relish of breadcrumbs, parsley, chives, and oyster liquor—the briny liquid inside the shell.

Put a nutty twist on Thanksgiving condiments by swapping tired cranberry sauce for a vibrant “walnut catchup,” made via a complex recipe that begins with mashing green walnuts into a paste and mixing them with vinegar at a ratio of two quarts per every 100 nuts.

Rich and savory gravy is key to a successful turkey (or hare) dinner, so don’t miss the recipe for a “sauce for chickens” that could grace The New York Times‘ food section. A spoonful of “oyster pickle” lends the gravy a salty pop.

Stoke holiday cheer and induce caustic political arguments with an eclectic selection of homemade libations, including gooseberry, birch, and turnip wines. (Turnip wine requires three months, “a good many turnips,” and enough brandy to inebriate a hippo.)

No holiday dinner is complete without dessert, and the British Jewel offers a lavish array of confections sure to enchant your party’s sweetest sweet tooth, including cheesecake, jellies, custards, and “a quaking pudding with almonds.”

Should you or your guests suffer post-feast indigestion, consult the book’s medicinal recipes for “a never-failing cure for the hic-cough” and a “simple bitter infusion for a cold weak stomach.” (“Cures” for asthma, “the itch,” and the “bite of a mad dog” are also provided.)

Cautionary note: The instructions for reviving a drowned/suffocated person primarily involve laying the distressed individual by the fire and nursing them with wines and spirits. If one of your guests happens to choke on a pickled eel, it’s best to instead apply the Heimlich maneuver and, if need be, call an ambulance.

Three options for your Thanksgiving menu

1. to boil a turkey with stuffing

When your turkey is dressed and drawn, truss it, cut off the feet, and cut down the breast bone with a knife; then take the sweetbread of veal, boil it, shred it fine with a little beef suet, a handful of breadcrumbs, a little lemon peel, part of the liver, a spoonful or two of cream, with nutmeg, pepper, salt, and two eggs; mix all together, and stuff the turkey with part of the stuffing, the rest may be boiled or fried to lay round it, then sew up the skin again, dredge it with a little flour, tie it up in a cloth, and boil it with milk and water. If it be a young turkey, an hour will boil it.

2. to make walnut catchup

Take green walnuts and pound them to a paste, then put to every 100 two quarts of vinegar, with a handful of salt, put it together in an earthen pan, keeping it stirring for eight days, then squeeze the liquor through a coarse cloth, and put it into a well-tinn’d saucepan; when it begins to boil scum it as long as any scum rises, and add to it some cloves, mace, sliced ginger, sliced nutmeg, Jamaica pepper-corns, slice horse raddish, with a few shallots; let this have on boil up, pour it into an earthen pan, and after it is cold, bottle it up, dividing the ingredients equally into each bottle.

3. a ragoo of oysters

When you open your oysters drain them in a sieve, put a dish under to receive the liquor, melt some fresh butter in a stew-pan, put in it a dust of flour, keep it stirring ’till it is brown, moisten it with a little gravy, and put in some small crusts of bread, the bigness of the top of your finger, and next your drained oysters, toss it up, season it with parsley, c[h]ives, pepper, and some oyster liquor. Your ragoo being well relished, serve it up for a dainty dish. This ragoo is to be done quickly, because the oysters must boil.

Source: Yale University