Dressed in Colonial best, historian explains early Thanksgiving 18th-century menu wins few audience converts

November 17, 1993|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Staff Writer

Seasonal Colonial foods weren't a big hit, but the sweet-scented tussy-mussy was.

That was the wisdom of the approximately 45 children attending Monday night's free Colonial Thanksgiving program at the North County branch library in Harundale.

"Do you know what winter vegetables are?" Oscar "Skip" Booth asked the youngsters gathered around him, during his discussion of Colonial fare.

His recitation of a list that included cabbage and turnips was interrupted by a shout from the crowd: "I hate that stuff," followed by a chorus in agreement.

Mr. Booth -- a history buff who works as a librarian doing on-line computer searches at the Crofton branch -- had the children singing, clapping and playing along with traditional tales and music. They mooed, cackled, giggled and flapped their arms before they fled for tables where each would make a tussy-mussy.

"A long time ago, they didn't have Right Guard. And on hot nights like this, they just plain smelled," he said to laughter.

And so, people took to carrying little pouches of potpourri, sachets they sometimes pinned on a dress, waved around or tucked in their clothes.

That's a tussy-mussy.

Aly Cook, 7, of Glen Burnie, rapidly developed expertise in the craft project, dumping a heaping spoonful of potpourri on a square of printed cloth.

"And then you wrap it up," she explained, twisting the top, "and then you tie it up," she said, securing the top with string. She made two.

"To me, the past has to be something you can touch and feel," said Mr. Booth, who with his wife, fellow Linthicum librarian Susan Kurz, devised the program.

Between songs and stories, Mr. Booth, dressed in Colonial-style garb except for his eyeglasses, shared bits of information about early Thanksgivings.

Among them: figgie pudding was not made of figs, Thanksgiving dinners were more likely to include fresh pork than turkey, the banjo is derived from an African instrument made from a gourd, and the Thanksgiving dinner table piled high with food was called a "groaning board" because of sounds overeaters made as they leaned back after the meal.

Christopher Chadwell, 5, of Glen Burnie, pronounced the program "wonderful."

He swung his tussy-mussy around before plopping it down his shirt.

Mr. Booth, who does early American programs at county libraries and at festivals, is this year's recipient of the library system's Elmer Jackson award for achievement.

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