In my family turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and pumpkin pie are essential for the Thanksgiving meal, and, while these are typical holiday foods for most people, some of the foods the pilgrims ate at the First Thanksgiving would have been very different. Sugar was very expensive and potatoes had not made their way to North America yet, which would have meant no pumpkin pie and no mashed potatoes. That being said, some of the foods the pilgrims ate are very similar to people currently eat at Thanksgiving.
1. Wild Fowl
While turkey is the current star of the Thanksgiving table, the pilgrims would have had duck in addition to wild turkey. These wild birds were a welcome part of the harvest feast, and according to the governor of Plymouth County, William Bradford, “there was [a] great store of wild turkeys” in the fall of 1621. Wild fowl was just one of the foods the pilgrims ate at the First Thanksgiving.
When was the last time you had seafood for your Thanksgiving meal? I know it has never made an appearance on my family’s Thanksgiving table. Seafood like eels and shellfish may seem like odd foods to include in a Thanksgiving meal, but since seafood is something the pilgrims had access to, it would have been only natural for them to include it in their harvest meal.
In 1621 the Native Americans “went out and killed five deer” for the harvest meal. This was meant as a goodwill gesture, and, as a result, venison was an important part of the First Thanksgiving. The pilgrims had an abundant amount of venison, and probably welcomed having the protein at their Thanksgiving table.
Cranberry sauce or jelly is traditionally included at Thanksgiving meals today. While cranberries were probably one of the foods the pilgrims ate, they would not have been sweetened like today’s cranberries. Instead, they would have been eaten to add tartness to some of the dishes. So, even though cranberries may have been present at the First Thanksgiving, they would have had a minimal role in the meal.
Corn soufflé is a dish that must be present at my family’s Thanksgiving, and if it is not there, the meal just doesn’t seem complete. While the pilgrims would not have indulged in corn soufflé, they did eat corn bread or porridge at the First Thanksgiving. Corn bread doesn’t sound out of the ordinary; however, corn porridge is a little unusual. Yet, considering that potatoes hadn’t found their way to North America in 1621, the corn porridge would have been a great substitute for mashed potatoes.
Pumpkin pie is my favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal. In fact, I love it so much that I often ate pumpkin pie for breakfast when I was little. The pilgrims would not have eaten pumpkin pie, but pumpkin and other varieties of squash would most certainly have been eaten at the harvest celebration.
Aside from green bean casserole, beans are not a typical part of Thanksgiving meals. Yet, they would have been a part of the First Thanksgiving meal. Beans were one of the staple crops, along with corn and squash, that the pilgrims grew. Therefore, the pilgrims certainly would not have left beans out of the harvest meal.
From the beginning, Thanksgiving has been about celebrating food, family, and friends. Even though the pilgrims may have eaten food that is not typically part of Thanksgiving meals today, they still ate many foods that are an important part of Thanksgiving dinner for many people. What is your favorite food to eat at Thanksgiving?