As you're eating leftovers from Thanksgiving dinner, let’s reminisce about the holiday here in Douglaston with the Matinecocks.
Matinecock communities were located mainly along the bays and inlets on the north shore, usually with 20 to 30 family groups in each. The Indians, who had been planting maize (corn) for centuries and knew how to harvest the local shellfish, which were plentiful then in Little Neck Bay, helped the first settlers with farming and fishing.
When we moved to Douglaston 50 years ago, I was excited to be living in New York City, but with a nearby white church on a hilltop set in a historic cemetery. Then I learned of the split rock and tree in Zion Episcopal Church’s graveyard that, in Native American tradition, marked where the bones of the Matinecocks were relocated as Northern Boulevard was widened.
Fittingly, the Cub Scout pack that met at Zion would have a yearly meeting during which the scouts came dressed in Native American garb. Princess Heatherflower, a Little Neck neighbor with feathers tucked in her long black hair, strings of beads around her neck and wearing fringed white leather trousers with blouson and moccasins, would come and judge. She was absolutely wonderful, meticulously inspecting each and every detail of each scout’s attire and awarding the prize to the most authentic.
Shortly after we arrived in Douglaston, Heatherflower’s father, Chief Waters, who lived in the long house behind Scobee Grill, was to be 100 years old. The local paper announced the community was invited. I went with my son, Brian, age 6 at the time, who presented him with a bottle of wine.
When Chief Waters died, I had hoped that his house, where tribal meetings had been held would become a Native America museum. I envisioned each room dedicated to a different aspect of Native American culture: food, clothing, crafts, music/dance and rituals. Outside would be a garden, featuring herbs that were used by Native Americans for food and medicinal purposes.
Former state Sen. Frank Padavan was all for the idea of the museum. But Chief Water’s son, living in Great Neck, was vehemently opposed. It appears that there had been some friction between the Matinecocks and the city of New York.
In the early 1970s, I photographed Princess Heatherflower alongside her Thanksgiving dinner for a double page spread in the Sunday magazine section of the Daily News. It featured oysters from north shore waters and game birds - wild turkey and pheasant - from the surrounding area. Of course, there were root vegetables and pot herbs and corn.
The Matinecocks introduced the first settlers to wild cranberries that grew here. Princess Heatherflower gave me her recipe for cranberry bread, which she served at Thanksgiving. It was very moist and I really never developed the recipe to the stage of perfection. Moist is most likely what she really wanted.
I remember Craig having an overnight guest from college who brought banana nut bread as a hostess gift. At breakfast, I pondered, “Should I tell her that if the bread is removed from the pan and put on a rack to cool, it would be drier?” Fortunately, l didn’t because she confided as we were eating a second slice at breakfast, “Do you want to know the secret of the recipe? You cool it in the pan to keep it moist.”
If you’re not fashioning your Thanksgiving leftovers into a turkey Panini, it would be great to serve them with a loaf of homemade cranberry bread. Here is one from the “Thirteen Colonies Cookbook” by Donovan, Hatrak, Mills and Shull. The recipe - by Samuel Fraunces, of Manhattan’s Fraunces Tavern - is “extraordinarily moist and lovely,” just like Princess Heatherflower’s recipe.
Samuel Frances' Cranberry Bread
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg, well beaten
¾ cup fresh orange juice
3 tablespoons corn oil
2 cups cranberries, chopped
1 tablespoon grated orange rind
½ cup walnuts or pecans, chopped
Sift the first five ingredients. Combine liquid ingredients. Make a well in the sifted ingredients and pour in the liquids. Mix only to moisten. Fold in cranberries (which can be chopped in a blender), orange rind and nuts. Spoon into a 9x5x3 greased and floured loaf pan. Spread evenly. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 to an hour. Remove immediately and cool on a rack. Extraordinarily moist and lovely.