Almost a Ph.D. in Baking? Prospect Native Goes Authentic For Colonial Thanksgiving Dinner at Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum

Colonial style bread

When former Prospect, Connecticut, resident Tani Mauriello was asked to provide plenty of colonial-style bread, based on centuries-old recipes, for the Webb-Deane-Stevens (WDS) Museum’s authentic Colonial Thanksgiving Dinner (Sunday, November 15, 2015), Mauriello said she could easily rise to the occasion.

tani stand smile 300Mauriello, who attended schools in Propect and Monroe before heading to Vassar College, had parlayed her long-standing love of history into a degree in Victorian studies, and followed that with masters and doctoral degrees in 19th-century food from Oxford University. In the midst of all that studying she baked—both professionally and casually—and she had spent a few years on the board of the Prospect Historical Society. These days, Mauriello is a celebrated master baker and runs the historic Plimoth Bread Company at Plimoth Plantation, in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Mauriello will hand craft loaves of “thirded” and molasses pumpernickel bread for WDS’s Colonial Thanksgiving Dinner, and bake the rustic loaves in a 17th-century style, wood-fired oven at Plimoth Plantation. Remarkably, that same bread will then be transported to the museum by Priscilla Alden, who was a prominent guest at the first Thanksgiving in 1621. Alden will be portrayed by Kathy Rudder, a colonial-foodways artisan, and manager of historical crafts, trades, and domestic skills at Plimoth Plantation. Similar to Mauriello, Rudder’s expertise encompasses the intersection of food in culture, traditions, and history.

BakerRudder, portraying Priscilla Alden, will introduce each of the authentic dishes as they are brought out to the rustic, family-style tables, explaining what guests are dining and why, including the bread created by Mauriello. As the Colonial Thanksgiving Dinner guests enjoy dessert, Rudder will share her wit, wisdom, and vast knowledge of the Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving feast in 1621, which she describes as a “three-day blow-out” that likely included dancing, singing, military exercises and games. She’ll bring some fascinating extras to WDS too, including “real” corn bread, made at Plim0th Plantation from an age-old recipe using the sort of dried, colorful Indian corn now considered strictly ornamental. This same corn bread was a staple of the Plymouth Pilgrim diet. Mauriello notes that she doesn’t make the Indian corn bread, and wouldn’t recommend it with dinner. “It’s like hard tack,” she says. “It’s basically a hard disc of ground, dried corn that early settlers put in the bottom of a dish to sop up any juices.”

Much of Mauriello’s personal and professional life has been spent in the kitchen, making her transition to the 17th-century bakery relatively easy. While at Oxford, she supported herself by making celebration cakes for a local bakery. Returning to the U.S. in 2008, she worked in a Connecticut bakery for a year before teaching a special-education program incorporating kitchen-related life skills and job training. Having tried to enter the museum field since her days at Oxford, Mauriello was thrilled to be selected for the prestigious, brand-new bakery position at Plimoth Plantation in 2014. “It’s really nice to get to do everything, from research, to writing, to hands-on creation, instead of having to choose one or the other,” she says. “That is the beauty of putting your research into practice.”

File_007 300 dpiCharles Lyle, WDS executive director and the Colonial Thanksgiving Dinner’s main coordinator and menu planner, had several loaves of Mauriello’s bread shipped to the museum several weeks ago for sampling during a meeting. “It’s absolutely delicious, everyone raved about it,” he says. “We’re really excited about adding another really authentic element to the menu of an already classic colonial Thanksgiving feast.”

The foundational menu for the WDS Colonial Thanksgiving Dinner was designed by a food historian, and based on centuries-old New England recipes. The 2015 bill of fare will include many of the classics the annual WDS feast is famous for, and a few new additions: roast goose and turkey, roast chine of pork, venison pie, a pottage of cabbage, leek and onion, succotash, butternut squash, unquestionably scrumptious creamed onions, and cucumber salad. Ale from a Connecticut brewer has been added for both the reception and dinner, as have French and Spanish wines, which is what would have been largely available in the New World in the 1600s. The noon reception will be in a heated tent adjacent to the historic Webb Barn. As in years past, Mr. and Mrs. Silas Deane will attend the historical event dressed in period clothing.

Tickets for the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum Colonial Thanksgiving Dinner are $100 per person, and include the reception, dinner, and an optional tour of the museum’s three historic homes following dinner. To purchase tickets visit: http://webb-deane-stevens.org/thanksgiving-tickets or call (860) 529-0612.