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Foods & Feasts of Colonial Virginia

November 26-28, 2015
Explore Centuries-Old Cooking and Preservation Techniques at Jamestown Settlement & Yorktown Victory Center

Preparing 17th-century dishes at Jamestown Settlement 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,” a three-day event beginning on Thanksgiving Day.

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Jamestown Settlement

Discover how food was gathered, preserved and prepared on land and at sea by Virginia’s English colonists and Powhatan Indians.

Powhatan Indian village stew at Jamestown SettlementIn 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 2 p.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. Throughout the day, visitors also can learn how Powhatan Indians made stone and bone tools used to obtain and prepare food and take in a program on Powhatan hunting techniques  at 10 a.m. each day.

Within the re-created 1610-14 fort, food preparation will reflect the culinary skills English colonists brought to Virginia. Historical interpreters will bake bread on all three days and throughout the event will demonstrate open-hearth cooking of pudding, pies and pottage, based on historical recipes of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. On Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., an entire pig will be processed into hams and bacon, followed by salting for preservation. At 4 p.m. each day, museum visitors also can experience European military tactics and drills near the fort.

Baking in Jamestown Settlement's fortAt the ships’ pier, a special program at 3 p.m. allows visitors to haul cargo from 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. Throughout the day, visitors can explore typical sailors’ fare of salted fish, biscuit and dried foods and try making the most common food – a ship biscuit. A program at 12 noon on celestial navigation will explore how 17th-century sailors steered by the stars.

On Friday, November 27, visitors can experience a lecture and musical program by author, historian and performer Simon Spalding. In “Food at Sea in the Early 17th Century,” Spalding presents a culinary sea voyage through time, illustrated with poetry and song while playing fiddle. Author of Food at Sea – Shipboard Cuisine from Ancient to Modern Times, Spalding has performed around the world since the 1970s and has served as a crew member aboard a variety of sailing vessels, learning firsthand about sailors’ fare. The program begins at 1 p.m. in the Robins Foundation Theater.

Yorktown Victory Center

Yorktown Victory Center camp rationsVisitors 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 a.m. and 3 p.m. will show visitors how soldiers earned their rations. Plundering and theft sometimes occurred when rations were scarce, and a special program at 2 p.m. will illustrate the consequences.

At the re-created Revolution-period farm, visitors can witness the bounty of field and garden transformed into stews, pies and breads. A variety of dishes will be prepared daily in the farm kitchen using 18th-century open-hearth cooking techniques and recipes.  On Thursday and Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., historical interpreters will show the processing of an entire pig into hams and bacon and salting for preservation and, at 1 p.m., methods of preserving food for the winter ahead. In addition, visitors can learn about 18th-century herbal remedies for indigestion at 4 p.m.

Food preparation in the museums’ outdoor living-history areas is for demonstration purposes only.

Holiday Tickets, Tours & Packages

Yorktown Victory Center farm roast chickenHistory is Fun for the Holidays combination ticket – available online only – offers seven days of unlimited admission to both museums at $21.00 for adults and $10.50 for ages 6 through 12 and includes coupon vouchers for Williamsburg Premium Outlets and the Historic Yorktown Rewards Card. Additional multi-attraction holiday ticket and package options are available.

A combination ticket for one visit to both museums is $21.00 for adults and $10.50 for ages 6-12, a 20 percent savings on individual museum admission. Admission to Jamestown Settlement is $16.75 for adults and $7.75 for ages 6-12, and to the Yorktown Victory Center, $9.75 for adults and $5.50 for ages 6-12. Children under 6 are free.

Holiday Shopping in Museum Stores

In time for holiday shopping, 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. Shop online.

“Foods & Feasts of Colonial Virginia” is funded in part by a grant from James City County.