Every Bird Will Have His Day | Reminiscing this Thanksgiving

The real question this holiday season is: will grandma cook opossum for Thanksgiving this year? While Opossum may not be on many Montana menus this Thanksgiving season, a century ago serving opossum seems to indicate the height of class.

Happy Thanksgiving

While browsing Chronicling America’s database of Montana newspapers, I came across a page from the Thursday, November 24, 1892 edition of the Helena Daily Independent.

The page began: “This is the one day in every 365 when the turkey overtops the bird of freedom and becomes, for twenty-four hours at least, the national bird.”

The paper then goes on to detail all of the things to do and places to eat on Thanksgiving. Chief among the offerings was the Hotel Helena, offering a meal not “excelled anywhere.” The gourmet menu included, among some fifty other dishes: Green Sea Turtle Soup, Cromesquix aux Truffles (battered meat balls with truffles), Lobster Mayonaise, Charlotte of Apples au Cognac Toast, Young Stuffed Turkey and Civet of Opossum, a la Pomeroy. I have no idea how Civet of Opossum a la Pomeroy might be prepared, as the only references to “civet” I can find point to a cat-like mammal in East Asia. But there it is, on the menu alongside truffles and sea turtle soup.

Lest you think this might be an anomaly, another entry began “Do You Like ‘Possum?” and invited readers to the Independent Block, where the A.M.E. church hosted a “toothsome dinner” complete with “possum and sweet potatoes and great big fat turkeys done to a turn.” Every bird may have his day, but in 1892 in Helena, the poor turkey risked edging out by North America’s only marsupial. I guess I can’t object to the consumption of possum, even prepared “a la Pomeroy” (whatever that may mean) but I have to wonder, where did the cooks procure the meat?

Although they received top billing, these weren’t the only meals in town (they are however, the only ones offering opossum). The Chamber of Commerce, the California Wine House and the Bon Ton restaurant (“Jack Sparrow, proprietor”) all promised “toothsome” meals. The Murphy Gospel temperance union also provided a Thanksgiving dinner for only a quarter a plate, unless, of course, that seemed too steep, in which case “those who cannot afford to pay will be perfectly welcome.” Several organizations threw Thanksgiving parties, including the Helena wheelmen, a group appearing to consist of bicycling enthusiasts. Oh, and if you couldn’t stomach the taste of turkey, fear not. John Wick of the Paragon, listed among the “gentlemen who dispense liquid refreshments” bought and roasted every pig on the market, for a meal which promised to rival the finest turkeys in the state.

Even on Thanksgiving, commerce must continue. For those of you who couldn’t care less about possum cutlets, but keep a careful eye on the market, bananas were selling for twenty five cents a dozen. Also, Fred Camers (“All the New Novelties in High-Class Rubber Footwear”) was offering a selection of winter shoes for between seventy five cents and two dollars. So there it is, Thanksgiving 1892, complete with possum, pigs and “all the dainties and substantials to be had on the market.”

The newspaper article came from The Helena independent., November 24, 1892

Tags: Thanksgiving, holidays, food