Roasting a Turkey over the Fire – 1840s Recipe


Roasted turkey appears to be as popular for Thanksgiving dinner in the 1840s as it is today, though hard-working cooks prepared their meat a bit differently back then.

butter-1449453_960_720Hale suggested making the stuffing using two cups of bread crumbs and one cup of butter. (Minced suet—the hard white fat found on kidneys and loins of sheep or cattle—could be substituted for the butter. Modern cooks will likely choose butter.) Beat three egg yolks well and then add about a teaspoon of finely chopped parsley, a fourth of a grated nutmeg, and one teaspoon of powdered lemon peel. Add teaspoon of allspice and salt. This mixture is then added to the bread and butter until thoroughly combined.

eggs-1278166_960_720She gave an alternate suggestion for stuffing: beat two egg yolks then combine with cup of sausage and a cup of bread crumbs.

Use either of these bread mixtures to stuff the turkey.

Dredge the turkey all over with flour then lay it in front of the fire with the stuffing side closest to the flame. The recipe does not mention a roasting pan though it seems likely they used something to protect the meat from scorching, possibly a cold gridiron as is used for broiling chicken in another recipe.

Hale mentioned that placing a strip of paper over the breast bone prevents scorching.

Until the turkey begins to produce drippings, baste with either butter or water with salt. Then use turkey drippings to baste the meat.

backdrop-22024_960_720When the meat is almost done, dredge it with flour once more and then baste it with butter.

Hale advises that large turkeys require three hours of roasting, though no mention was made of actual number of pounds.

Roasted turkey was often consumed with ham or tongue. Stewed cranberries were served as a side dish then as now.

-Sandra Merville Hart


Hale, Sarah Josepha. Early American Cookery, Dover Publications, 1996.