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WILLIAMSBURG, Va., November 4, 2011 – Long before microwaves, electric stoves and refrigerators, food was prepared in clay pots and iron kettles over hot coals and preserved by smoking, salt curing and pickling.  

This Thanksgiving holiday, explore foodways of 17th- and 18th-century Virginia during “Foods & Feasts of Colonial Virginia,” November 24-26, at Jamestown Settlement and the Yorktown Victory Center, two state-operated living-history museums that tell the story of our nation’s beginnings.

The three-day event features cuisine of Powhatan Indians and America’s first permanent English colonists along with the rations of Revolutionary War soldiers and the produce of 18th-century farmers. Visitors can observe preparation of Powhatan corncakes and English pork dishes, puddings and pies as well as food preservation techniques and recipes for indigestion.
At Jamestown Settlement, a museum of 17th-century Virginia, discover how food was gathered, preserved and prepared on land and at sea by Virginia’s English colonists and Powhatan Indians. In the re-created Powhatan Indian village, visitors can see venison, turkey and other game roast over an open fire, while stews of corn, beans and squash cook in clay pots. A daily program at 10 a.m. will show the importance of corn to the Powhatan Indians and the variety of dishes in which it was used, including corncakes and corn dumplings. At 12 noon and 4 p.m. each day, historical interpreters will demonstrate the use of a bow and arrow for hunting game. At 1 p.m. each day, visitors can explore the influences of Powhatan, English and African cultures in preparing a variety of food derived from the river, including fish, shellfish and waterfowl. Throughout the day, visitors also can learn how Powhatan Indians made stone and bone tools used to obtain and prepare food.

At 10:30 a.m. each day at the ships’ pier, visitors will be invited to haul cargo out of a replica of one of the three ships that brought America’s first permanent English colonists to Virginia in 1607, to learn how the colony was provisioned, as well as explore typical sailors’ fare of salted fish, biscuit and dried foods. Throughout the day, visitors can try making the most common fare – a ship’s biscuit.

Within the re-created 1610-14 fort, food preparation will reflect the culinary skills English colonists brought to Virginia. Historical interpreters will bake bread at 1:30 p.m. on all three days and throughout the event will demonstrate open-hearth cooking of pudding, pies and pottage, based on recipes published by Elinore Fettiplace in 1604 and Robert May in 1660.

On Thursday and Friday in the museum’s riverfront discovery area, an entire pig will be processed into hams and bacon, followed by salting for preservation, including a special program on pork preparation at 11 a.m. on both days.

Museum visitors also can experience several military demonstrations, including moving the re-created Susan Constant’s falcon guns in position for defense at 12:30 p.m., firing of a swivel gun at the ships’ pier at 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., and European military tactics and drills near the fort at 3:30 p.m.

At the Yorktown Victory Center, visitors to the re-created Continental Army encampment can learn how soldiers turned meager rations of dried beans, salted meat and hard bread into nourishing soups and stews. Daily artillery drills at 11:05 a.m. and 3:05 p.m. will show visitors how soldiers earned their rations. Plundering and theft sometimes occurred when rations were scarce, and a special program at 10:45 a.m. and 1:05 p.m. will illustrate the consequences.

At the re-created 1780s farm, visitors can witness the bounty of field and garden transformed into stews, pies and breads. A variety of dishes, including pork roast and sausage, will be prepared at 2:05 p.m. daily in the farm kitchen using 18th-century open-hearth cooking techniques and recipes. On Thursday and Friday, special programs at 11:45 a.m. allow visitors to see how farmers salted and cured different cuts of meat and, at 3:35 p.m., how they preserved the fruit and vegetable harvest for the winter ahead. At 4:35 p.m. each day of the event, visitors can learn about 18th-century remedies for indigestion.

Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Victory Center are open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily year-round, except for Christmas and New Year’s days. A combination ticket to both museums is $20 for adults and $10 for ages 6-12, a 20 percent savings on individual museum admission. Admission to Jamestown Settlement is $15.50 for adults and $7.25 for ages 6-12, and to the Yorktown Victory Center, $9.50 for adults and $5.25 for ages 6-12. Children under 6 are free.  Parking is free at both museums.

A “History is Fun for the Holidays” combination ticket – available online only – offers seven days of unlimited admission to both museums at $20 for adults and $10 for ages 6 through 12. The History is Fun for the Holidays vacation package, which includes coupon booklets for Williamsburg Premium Outlets and Yorktown shops, starts at $199 for two nights’ lodging in the Williamsburg area and three days of unlimited admission for two adults to Jamestown Settlement and the Yorktown Victory Center. Several other multi-attraction holiday ticket and package options are available at https://jyfmuseums.org/Vacation-Packages.htm.

In time for holiday shopping, Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Victory Center museum shops offer a selection of books, prints, museum reproductions, educational toys, games and souvenirs relating to the 17th and 18th centuries. Admission is not required to visit the museum gift shops, open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. 

Food preparation in the museums’ interpretive areas during “Foods & Feasts of Colonial Virginia” is for demonstration purposes only. Visitors can purchase food and beverages at the Jamestown Settlement Café, open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The Jamestown Settlement Café will offer a traditional Thanksgiving dinner from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 24. The menu includes roast turkey, homemade stuffing, sweet potato casserole, red bliss mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, cranberry relish, assorted rolls and butter, a selection of pies, and a choice of fountain beverage, coffee or hot tea. The cost is $12.95 for adults and $6.95 for children ages 12 and under, plus tax. Seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, contact the Jamestown Settlement Cafe at (757) 253-2571.

“Foods & Feasts of Colonial Virginia” is funded in part by a leadership grant from Dominion Resources with additional support from the York County Arts Commission.

Jamestown Settlement is located on State Route 31 southwest of Williamsburg, adjacent to Historic Jamestowne.  The Yorktown Victory Center is located on Route 1020 in Yorktown, near historic Yorktown and Yorktown Battlefield. For information, call (888) 593-4682 toll-free or (757) 253-4838.