The First Thanksgiving
The first Thanksgiving was a celebration of the English Puritan settlers, aka Pilgrims, joining the Wampanoag Native Americans during the harvest of 1621. It took place in the Plymouth Colony of Massachusetts. Ever since, the fourth Thursday in November is Thanksgiving, a day that we can remember the kindness the Native American showed by sharing a meal with the Pilgrims. Over the years, the holiday has changed. It is now a day of parades, football games, and even the food has changed. Here is what most people eat on Thanksgiving, versus what they actually ate on the first Thanksgiving.
Roast Turkey vs. Wild Turkey
There is nothing better than when the roasted turkey comes out of the oven on Thanksgiving. We buy our turkeys either fresh or frozen at the supermarket and cook them in the oven. Turkey was also served in 1621, but they ate wild turkey that they caught in the fields. Also, they were smaller back then, and they were boiled, not roasted. They certainly didn’t have deep-fried turkey like many people serve today.
Pumpkin Pie vs. Boiled Winter Squash
Pumpkin pie is a classic Thanksgiving dessert. No dinner is complete without this dessert. Since the pilgrims didn’t have butter, sugar, flour or butter on hand to make a pie, they made do with boiled winter squash varieties.
Mashed Potatoes vs. Maize
No Thanksgiving would be complete without warm, buttery, creamy mashed potatoes. With or without gravy, they are a Thanksgiving staple. During the 17th century, there were no potatoes in North America. Instead, the pilgrims served maize, which was a popular grain for the Wampanoag tribe. After grinding it up, they turned it into a porridge, similar to mashed potatoes but not as tasty.
Cranberry Sauce vs. Berries
Cranberry sauce is popular on Thanksgiving. Some people buy the canned type, and others make their own. People didn’t start boiling cranberries until a century after the first Thanksgiving when sugar became available. For the first Thanksgiving, it was just fresh and dry berries. They did serve cranberries, and there was also raspberries, blueberries, and gooseberries.
Oyster Stuffing vs. Plain Oysters
If you’re from New England, there is a good chance that you enjoy oyster stuffing every year at Thanksgiving. The pilgrims didn’t have the ingredients necessary for oyster stuffing, but they did take advantage of the oysters and other mussels that are plentiful in Massachusetts. They were eaten often all year long, but mostly when they were in season, which was October and November, just in time for Thanksgiving.
Sweet Potato Casserole vs. Turnips
Thanksgiving isn’t Thanksgiving without sweet potato casserole, and the more marshmallows, the better. The pilgrims didn’t have the ingredients to make something so sweet and delicious. Instead, they ate turnips. Many people eat turnips today during Thanksgiving, but we have other options. Back during the first thanksgiving, sweet potatoes weren’t available in New England. They are native to the Caribbean. The marshmallow root needed to make marshmallows was restricted to the swamps of Louisiana, and it wouldn’t be years before it would make its way to Massachusetts.
Dinner Rolls vs. Corn Bread
Dinner rolls are a traditional Thanksgiving staple. Since the pilgrims didn’t have the ingredients to make dinner rolls, they made cornbread. They used ground maize, meat dropping, and water. They would squish the mixture into the shape of a pancake and cook it over the fire.
Green Bean Casserole vs. Beans
Green bean casserole is made with cream of mushroom soup and french fried onions. Since none of these things were available to the pilgrims, they had to make do with plain old beans. They didn’t even have green beans. Kidney bean and pinto beans were found in the area, and they were boiled over a fire, then served whole or mashed.
Glazed Carrots vs. Regular Carrots
If you don’t like sweet potatoes, glazed carrots are a great alternative. The sugar in the glaze brings out the sweetness of the carrots and softens them up. The pilgrims had regular carrots because the sugar reserve they brought from England to America had run out by the fall of 1621. They didn’t have glazed carrots, but they did have regular ones.
Brussels Sprouts vs. Jerusalem Artichokes
Brussels sprouts don’t taste great on their own, but they are great roasted, salted, or covered in balsamic vinegar. Brussels sprouts weren’t available at the first Thanksgiving. Instead, they served Jerusalem artichokes, aka sunchokes. They are abundant in New England, and they were boiled like most of the vegetables prepared by the pilgrims.
Glazed Ham vs. Venison
Some people like to serve ham and turkey at Thanksgiving. There weren’t too many wild pigs running around Massachusetts back then, but there were plenty of deer. Venison was a very common meat served in 1621, and the pilgrims had it during their first Thanksgiving.
Gravy and Lobster
Most people love to cover their mashed potatoes in gravy. The pilgrims didn’t have the gravy that we have today, but they did have lobster. Since the English love gravy, there is a chance that they used the lobster drippings to make gravy.
Macaroni and Cheese vs. Sobaheg
Many people serve baked macaroni and cheese on Thanksgiving. The ingredients for macaroni and cheese wasn’t available in 1621, but they did have sobaheg. It is a combination of stew beans, ground nuts, and various meats. This thick, savory dish was important to the Wampanoag tribe.