The original Thanksgiving meal shared between the English colonists and the Wampanoag people looked a little different than our modern day one. First of all it consisted of several feasts over three days. The food was of course a little different because of limited cooking methods, available ingredients, and the tastes of the day.
On the Menu in 1621…
- Turkey (which might have been stuffed with onions, chestnuts, and/or garden herbs) was likely part of the meal along with many other wildfowl including ducks, geese, ruffed grouse, American quail, heath hen, and passenger pigeons which would have been cooked on a spit.
- Venison would likely have been the highlight as it was easier to come by than in England where it was considered a status food.
- Eels, mussels, clams, and lobsters would have been abundant in the fall and likely have been part of the feast even though seafood was considered a “lesser meat”.
- Corn-meal in the form of porridge, puddings, and as a stew thickener was probably on the menu also.
- Although considered an inferior food to meat, the season’s harvest of fruits and vegetables (including cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, collards, endives, fennel, chard, leeks, lettuce, marjoram, mint, onions, parsnips, parsley, pumpkin, radish, spinach, sage, winter savory, thyme turnip, and violet leaves) as well as native wild fruits, vegetables, and nuts (including Jerusalem artichokes, wild onions, garlic, water cress, cranberries, Concord grapes, walnuts, and chestnuts) would likely have been served as boiled dishes.
- There may even have been some live-stock and spices brought from England with the colonists contributing to the feast.
Giving Thanks by Kathleen Curtin, Sandra L. Oliver, & Plimoth Plantation is a beautiful book if you are interested in learning about Thanksgiving traditions and how they have evolved since the beginning. It is half historical reference and half cookbook with lots of interesting images including historical paintings, sketches, and photographs. The recipes are a nice mix of old and new and reflect our American diversity. This is a fun book to check out as we approach our American day of thanks.
Was native food on the menu? Likely yes – on page 25 of Giving Thanks is a recipe for a modern version of a traditional fall Wampanoag stew which is made with beans, grits, venison, salt, acorn squash, Jerusalem artichoke, and walnuts.
No cranberry sauce folks! Cranberries were probably used for making broth and sauces tart but sugar was not likely available in the quantities needed for cranberry sauce.