Television producer and writer Earl Hamner Jr. turned his experiences growing up in rural Virginia during the Great Depression into the hit 1970s television show. The Waltons. Life was hard during those times, but Hamner’s nostalgic stories emphasized the positive, as the family came together to overcome challenges and celebrate important moments together. That included Thanksgiving. In a 1993 interview conducted before the premiere of A Walton Thanksgiving GatheringHamner reflected on his family’s Thanksgiving traditions.
‘The Waltons’ creator Earl Hamner Jr. said Thanksgiving was a big holiday for his family.
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Hamner based the character of John-Boy Walton on himself, while many of the show’s other characters were modeled after his family members. So it’s no wonder that A Walton Thanksgiving Gathering it made him reflect on his own memories of Thanksgiving.
“I found myself thinking of other Thanksgivings we had as a family at Schuyler. [Virginia]”, Hamner told The Morning Call. “Overall, it was a happy and important holiday for us. Besides the 10 of us, our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins always joined us for the celebration.”
Hamner went on to share that the family’s small home would be so crowded that people “had to take turns eating.”
“[T]there was no way everyone could sit in our little kitchen at the same time,” he said. “The men ate first and then the women and children ate.”
Preparing the Thanksgiving meal took two days.
Earl Hamner’s sister, Marion Hamner Hawkes, was the inspiration for Judy Norton’s character Mary Ellen Walton. She also shared some of her memories of family Thanksgiving celebrations. She remembered how much effort she put into preparing the great meal.
“It was a two-day job because we were many. Mom made most of the cooking because our budget couldn’t afford a lot of mistakes, but my sisters and I helped out,” she said.
Earl and Marion’s father was in charge of bagging the bird that would appear on the family table.
“I would go after the youngsters, instead of the tough old Toms,” he said.
In addition to the turkey, the table was laden with garnishes including stuffing, potatoes, “corn pudding made from my grandmother’s recipe and other vegetables, as well as pickled peaches and watermelon rinds,” Hawkes said.
Meanwhile, Marion’s brothers collected nuts to use in candy, salads, and baked goods. Desserts typically included sweet potato pie, lemon meringue pie, pound cake, and chocolate cake. Sometimes applesauce pie was also served.
Hamner’s sister shared family recipes for the 1993 reunion movie
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To give A Walton Thanksgiving Gathering an air of authenticity, the film’s set designers approached Hawkes. He shared with them many of the traditional Hamner family recipes. They were then made up and seen at the dinner table in the movie.
Hawkes also shared several of those recipes with The Morning Call readers, including ones for his family’s corn pudding, sweet potato pie, pound cake, and the famous applesauce pie. More of the traditional family recipes are collected in the Hawkes cookbook, Recipes by Mary Ellen. It is available for purchase through the Walton’s Mountain Museum store.
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