What is your favorite dish at Thanksgiving?
Is it the roasted turkey smothered in tart cranberry sauce?
What about those creamy mashed potatoes topped off with some luscious gravy
Don’t forget about the stuffing that grandma makes every single Thanksgiving.
While we all have our own dishes that we hold dear during this season, I started to wonder—why do we serve up all of these Thanksgiving classics year after year? Where did the whole turkey, gravy, stuffing idea even come from in the first place?
We all know that the pilgrims were the first people to celebrate Thanksgiving, but do you think they were snacking on deep-fried turkey and salted caramel apple pie? Though I want to think so, my good conscience says probably not.
This got me thinking…
What exactly was consumed by the pilgrims at that first Thanksgiving meal?
So I took it upon myself to find out and the answers are pretty interesting.
Turkey or no Turkey?
First thing is first, we had to find out if turkey was on the menu that day back in November 1621. To my surprise it was, but this is not the same turkey that a lot of us are used to on Thanksgiving. More than likely, the pilgrims were hunting a variety of “fowl” including wild turkey, geese, and duck, as well as venison—this is the 1600s after all.
Historians say that between the Pilgrims themselves and the Wampanoag tribe members there was a slew of deer, turkey, fish, and more to go around. So much so they made multiple stews that included a variety of the different meats they had on hand.
While all that sounds pretty tasty, I do think I’ll personally stick to turkey as my main course on Thanksgiving this year.
What about the stuffing?
Again, to my surprise, people (historians specifically) say that the pilgrims stuffed their birds with a wide collection of different food items. Instead of going with the modern tradition of bread and sausage, it was likely that they filled their turkey and other birds with herbs, onions, and nuts.
These different ingredients would slowly cook inside the bird and then be spread across the table to be picked at while people ate the main dishes which eventually evolved into the stuffing that we know and love today.
Pack on the potatoes…
I tried not to cry when I found out that potatoes were not on the menu at the first Thanksgiving—what a tragedy. The reason for that is that the Spanish were the driving force behind the distribution of the potato—making it a staple in Europe, but not here in North America.
By the time the pilgrims had set sail for the new land, the potato had not become popular enough to come along for the ride, thus it’s believed that they roasted other root vegetables instead such as Indian turnips and groundnuts.
Can’t pass up the fruits and veggies…
Just like every healthy and hearty meal, you know the pilgrims had themselves some fruits and vegetables to pass around at the party. For the most part, this included a variety of veggies like beans, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, carrots, peas, and even corn—which was turned into a thick porridge at the time.
On the sweet side of things, the recent harvest that occurred earlier that year would have yielded some fruits like blueberries, plums, grapes, raspberries, and cranberries. Unfortunately, these cranberries were likely eaten whole instead of being featured in a sauce like we know today because the pilgrims did not have access to sugar until about 50 years later.
Don’t forget dessert…
While ovens and baking weren’t quite around yet, the pilgrims found plenty of ways to enjoy a few sweet treats after their Thanksgiving meal. In journals dating back to this time period, it was noted that many of the colonists and Native Americans both loved eating pumpkin—it was easily accessible and a solid source of fuel, especially during the cold winter months.
Instead of baking the traditional Pumpkin Pie on Thanksgiving, historians believe that Native Americans took the pumpkin, hollowed it out, and filled it with milk and other spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and honey, and placed it over hot coals.
The result was a creamy and savory custard that was served up to those celebrating the meal.
Now, I’m not calling this the first pumpkin spice latte ever because it’s lacking the coffee part, but I will say, Starbucks should give some credit to the pilgrims and Native Americans for putting them onto the idea.
Food & Friendship is the recipe to a perfect Thanksgiving…
There you have it—the inside scoop on the first Thanksgiving meal and what people were putting in their bellies on that day.
While the ingredients to our Thanksgiving meals have changed over the years the idea is still the same—bring together a bunch of people, share food, drink, and conversation, and express a little bit of gratitude for this life that we get to live every day.
Sounds pretty great, right?
Now go have yourself a Happy Thanksgiving!