Food has always had the unique, universal power of drawing people together both across time and between cultures. Sharing the abundance of the harvest with others is essential to the survival of the human race and the nurturing of relationships that sustain us over generations. Both were essential reasons behind the original gatherings in early America.

What we see, appreciate, and relate to about Thanksgiving has changed over time. Fortunately, Great American Treasures sites provide safe places to explore the nuanced backstory of the Thanksgiving feast and the role food plays in the making of America.

A number of Great American Treasures routinely offer a “taste of the past” that, no matter the season, are relevant. They include:

Historic Travellers Rest:

Historic Travellers Rest, the 1799 home of Judge John Overton in Nashville, Tennessee hosts many field trips for thousands of students each year. One of their main seasonal programs hinges on historic foodways. Their fall “Hearth & Harvest” program explores the “heart” of many early 19th century homes: the kitchen fireplace. Children learn about the importance of harvest time and the science behind everyday food preparation and long-term winter preservation. These lessons are learned by “doing” but also in the telling, as tale and traditions were and continued to be passed down from one generation to the next, by the warm comfort of an open fire. 

George Mason’s Gunston Hall:

Hearth cooking workshop participants get their hands dirty at Gunston Hall. Courtesy Board of Regents of Gunston Hall.


George Mason’s Gunston Hall, the 1759 home of human rights activist, George Mason has cooked up a way for adult visitors to feed their interests in their fall and spring “Adult Hearth Cooking” workshop. Participants gather in a reproduction, detached kitchen for the ultimate experience in slow food as they learn to employ 18th-century cooking techniques and receipts to create period dishes. (Can’t wait or are you too far away? Consider signing up for their at-home series: “History in the Kitchen”!)

Or perhaps you wish to opt outside this Black Friday? Visit their hiking trails and view the local flora and fauna familiar to the original inhabitants, the Moyumpse tribe. In addition, come this spring you’ll be able to see and experience the riverside garden, a remarkable space restored to its original appearance and function as a pleasure and kitchen garden. Their heirloom flowers and vegetables are not only pretty but frequently supply the hearth cooking experiences offered throughout the year. (And local food banks.)

The Cultural Diplomat

Food is a powerful way to draw people together and gain perspectives on life before microwaves and supermarkets. The more we experiment with old flavors, processes, and ceremonies, the quicker we recognize that we’re not so far removed from the past. Food remains a constant cultural diplomat.