There are certain food images that come to mind when we picture the first Thanksgiving. However, many of the foods that are now associated with Thanksgiving were not available at the first feast.
Taking a look back to Plymouth Plantation in the year 1621 shows us quite a different table of food, dress, manners and customs of the day. The first difference is in the length of the feast. The first Thanksgiving lasted three days. While we may have leftovers beyond Thanksgiving, most gatherings last only a day. Also, forks were not around yet. Guests sliced off their own portions of meat with a knife. Spoons, wood plates, bowls and large linen napkins were used. Napkins were also used as hot pads to handle hot meats during the early days of Plimoth.
Thinking about serving authentic Pilgrim and Wampanoag foods this Thanksgiving?
You’ll need to grow it or shoot it in the wild to recreate a truly authentic first Thanksgiving fare.
Turkey was served at the first feast and has properly held its place as the main entrée for the past 393 years. However, there were no domestic turkeys in the early days of the settlement. Wild turkeys were prepared as well as venison, from the five deer that the Wampanoag men brought to the celebration. Wildfowl beside turkey was also served, most likely ducks and geese. There was additional meat on the table in Plymouth at this time and that was fish, particularly cod and bass. Shellfish were plentiful and a common food of the day.
The Pilgrims enjoyed what we know today as sour dough bread. However, they called it Cheate Bread. Cornbread was made from hominy at Plimoth. The early corn grown by the Pilgrims was flint corn, which was not a sweet corn or a popping corn. Flint corn was generally roasted. It was the corn raised by the Indians in the area.
The few vegetables that were served were boiled onions and spinach and stewed pumpkin. Onions were peeled quartered and boiled with raisins, sugar, egg and vinegar. Spinach was also boiled. It was then drained and served with currants, butter, sugar and vinegar.
To complete your course of authentic Pilgrim-Wampanoag fare, no feast would be complete without dessert. A prune tart seasoned with rosemary, rosewater and cinnamon and sweetened with sugar was the order of the day. Are you brave enough to try it?
What was not served at the first Thanksgiving?
- There was no cranberry sauce as sugar was in low supply.
- Breads were generally baked in round loaves instead of loaf pans.
- Apples and pears were not grown in this region at the time and would not have been on hand to make into pies or sauce.
- Domestic turkey. Only wild turkey was available.
- There was no colorful Indian corn decorating the table. Only flint corn was grown.
- Mashed potatoes weren’t prepared by the Pilgrims since potatoes hadn't been planted or grown in their gardens at this time.
- Pumpkin was not served in a pastry shell as a pie. Instead pumpkins were diced and stewed, then seasoned with ginger, cinnamon, butter, and vinegar to make it tart.
1. Of Plymouth Plantation: Bradford’s History of the Plymouth Settlement by William Bradford
2. The Thanksgiving Primer, A Plimoth Plantation Publication
About the Author:
Deborah Tukua is the editor of Journey to Natural Living and author of the healthy fresh from the blender recipe book, Naturally Sweet Blender Treats. She is a freelance writer for the Farmers' Almanac and Chiropractic Economics magazine and author of the book, Marketing Strategies for Chiropractic Success.