Many college students like me can't wait to go home for the holiday weekend to feast on turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and all things Thanksgiving. For us, Thanksgiving revolves around food, family, friends, and football. This was certainly not the case at the first Thanksgiving in 1621.
The autumnal harvest was first celebrated in the Plymouth colony almost 400 years ago, and this special "dinner date" later became known as the "First Thanksgiving." While our dining room tables may seem like an endless buffet of Thanksgiving goodness, it's pretty safe to say that The Pilgrims and their Wampanoag friends had slimmer pickings. Here's what was on the menu at the First Thanksgiving in 1621 (and what didn't make the cut).
Where's the Turkey?
While today we roast delicious turkeys to perfection, there is no record of this bird being on the menu. It is possible, but it's more likely that the main dish was a goose, duck, or other wildfowl. It is also believed that the birds that were eaten were much smaller, and that the Pilgrims probably supplemented their protein with deer meat, or venison brought by their Wampanoag neighbors. This was probably roasted and then turned into a stew, something that doesn't usually make it to the Thanksgiving dinner table today.
The Veggies on the Table
They were celebrating their first fall harvest after all, so it's no surprise that the menu included lots of the best crops from the season. Favorites included carrots, beans, peas, turnips, spinach, onions, cabbage, and squash. Unfortunately, Grandma's green bean casserole didn't make the cut.
Forget About Corn
What's a Thanksgiving dinner without corn on the cob? Don't ask our friends from 1621, because they have no idea. While the colonies did grow large crops of corn, they didn't enjoy it the way we do now. Instead, they probably made meal from the kernels and made some type of porridge sweetened with molasses.
It's thought that blueberries, grapes, plums, and cranberries (all native to the region) were served at this historic feast. While today we love to serve cranberry sauce that holds the shape of a can, the pilgrims had depleted their sugar ration by the fall of 1621 so any sweetened sauces were off the menu.
Lots of Seafood
Pass the Mashed Potatoes
Unfortunately, in 1621 passing the mashed potatoes was simply impossible. Potatoes had not become popular enough with Europeans at the time to make the journey to the New World, but the pilgrims may have enjoyed other mashed root veggies like turnips.
Goodbye, Sweet Potato Casserole
Both white potatoes and sweet potatoes were off the menu for this famous celebration and wouldn't become popular until much later. Too bad, because this golden superfood is one of my holiday favorites. Sweet potato casserole anyone?
Pumpkins and other squashes were definitely eaten at this first fall harvest celebration, but neither the Pilgrims nor the Wampanoags had the sugar, flour, or butter to make a pie crust. Apples were absent too. They also lacked the technology of an oven to bake a holiday pie. It's possible that they hollowed out pumpkins and filled them with milk and spices and then roasted them over an open fire to make a custard-type dessert.
This year when you're feasting with your family and friends, remember to be extra thankful for all of the goodies on your table that have became holiday tradition since the first Thanksgiving. I'm looking at you mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and pumpkin pie. In the meantime, while you wait for this glorious day to arrive, find out what Thanksgiving dish you are, based on your personality.