After barely surviving the winter, the pilgrims had much to celebrate in the fall of 1621. Together with their Wampanoag friends, the pilgrims decided to host a huge feast with turkeys, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce. I’d say that sounds like a fairly accurate historical depiction, wouldn’t you? WRONG.

Unlike most of the stories we read as children, the first Thanksgiving, if it can even be called that, was nothing like the quaint pictures shown to us in elementary school. Although I absolutely love having my yearly dose of turkey, I thought it necessary to examine which foods actually made up the first Thanksgiving menu.

The Main Course

Waterfowl were plentiful in the Bay area, so a fresh roasted duck was probably part of the main meal. The Wampanoag Indians particularly enjoyed venison, and records show that they brought five deer to be roasted and made into stew and other meat-based entrees. Since they were near the ocean, seafood was also part of the main meal. The pilgrims would have likely had mussels since they would have been easily found on the rocks along the shoreline.

thanksgiving menu

Photo by Net Supatravanij

The Sides

If you want to recreate a traditional Thanksgiving feast, set aside your beloved green bean and sweet potato casseroles and opt for some stewed cabbage, onions, or squash instead. If none of that appeals to you, the children in the settlement would have ground up corn to make a sort of corn-based oatmeal that they may have sweetened with molasses.

thanksgiving menu

Photo by Kendra Valkema

The Desserts

Unfortunately, pumpkin pie was not one of the desserts served at the first Thanksgiving. Some records say that the pilgrims filled hollowed out pumpkins with milk, honey and spices and baked it in hot ashes to form a custard. Whether or not this is true, I can’t tell you for certain. But what I can tell you is that at this time the pilgrims wouldn’t have had much sugar, if any at all, so the dessert table was probably empty.

thanksgiving menu

Photo by Jeremy Seitz

No matter what history tells me, I’m still a staunch believer in turkey, casseroles and homemade pies. For me, the pilgrims’ Thanksgiving feast sounds like the perfect recipe for indigestion, and I don’t anticipate wanting to recreate it any time soon. However, I am extremely grateful for this holiday since it gives me an excuse to visit my family again and to cook until my fingers can’t stand to knead any more dough.

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