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When Thanksgiving didn’t come in a can

Article Published: Nov. 23, 2011 | Modified: Nov. 23, 2011
When Thanksgiving didn’t come in a can

A Hickory Ridge Homestead demonstrator stews apple butter as part of this year’s Boone Heritage Festival.

Photo by Frank Ruggiero

Thanksgiving today often means the whiz of a can opener and a last minute run to the grocery store. That wasn’t so for our High Country ancestors, Hickory Ridge Homestead historian Dave Davis said.

“It would have probably been fairly lean in our day’s standards, but for them, probably a feast,” he said.

Davis, who spends his days studying and re-creating the past at the grounds of Horn in the West, said Thanksgiving didn’t used to come from a store.

“They would have probably had turkey, wild turkey, and maybe some rabbits,” he said. “They would have probably roasted that, and then they would have probably had a stew with venison.”

Vegetables likely consisted of corn and “leather britches.”

“They would dry green beans, and that’s called ‘leather britches,’” Davis said.

Thanksgiving didn’t have the same meaning then as it does today.

“Even though it was a holiday, work didn’t stop,” Davis said. “They still had just as many things to do, even though it was a holiday.”

Mountain isolation impacted feast attendance.

“They just gave thanks for what they had got through the summer,” he said.

But that was only if they knew it was Thanksgiving.

“Not everyone had calendars,” he said.

Last weekend, a group of Appalachian State University students experienced that bygone era first hand, stewing rabbits and elk meat over an open fire at Hickory Ridge Homestead.

“At the end of the day, we made it our Thanksgiving dinner,” Davis said.

The Hickory Ridge Homestead is currently closed for winter, but that doesn’t mean there’s not plenty of work to do. The museum is currently preparing its Tate collection, artifacts from the original Tate family, previously in the defunct Appalachian Cultural Museum. Officials hope to have the exhibition ready some time in 2012.

Hickory Ridge Homestead was created in 1980 by the Southern Appalachian Historical Association to further a “Horn in the West” audience member’s imagination and understanding of the story.

Located on the Horn in the West grounds at Horn in the West Drive, Hickory Ridge Homestead is an 18th-century living history museum showcasing the lives of early High Country settlers.
For more information on the homestead, visit

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