What did they eat at the First Thanksgiving?
Thanksgiving is one of the most beloved holidays thought Canada and the United States. It’s an excellent time to get together with our loved ones and eat the traditional meal of turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce. We like to tell the story of the first Thanksgiving when Native Americans and pilgrims put aside their differences and sat down together for a meal. We try to follow this tradition as closely as we can by coming together and sharing love and thanks with relatives near and far. But if we were really following the traditions of the first Thanksgiving, our meals would look a little bit different.
Here’s some of the foods that would be on the table:
Yes, the number one Thanksgiving food was a part of the feast even back in 1621 when the holiday was first celebrated. We know this for a fact because William Bradford, who wrote one of the first hand accounts of the feast wrote about the large number of wild turkeys served on this day. Turkey has been considered a Thanksgiving staple since before Thanksgiving became an official American holiday, and many of the founding fathers wrote about their fondness for the bird.
In desperate times, people couldn’t be too picky about the birds they ate for dinner. Turkey would have been just one of many different kinds of birds served. In fact, some historians believe that goose or duck would have been the main dish of the meal, birds that were commonly eaten during European celebrations. Pigeons and swans may have also found their way to the Thanksgiving table
Fish and Lobster
Let’s not forget that the first Thanksgiving took place in Plymouth, Massachusetts, a seaside town where all kinds of seafood would have been easy to come across. Fish and shellfish of all variations would have been abundant at Thanksgiving dinner. This is a tradition that didn’t stand the test of time.
If you’re thinking that the first Thanksgiving was not the place for vegetarians, you would be correct. Meat was difficult to preserve before refrigeration, so having a feast with a variety of different meats would have been a special treat. Our first hand sources of the first Thanksgiving make note of the deer killed for the occasion.
Stuffing is, of course, a common side dish at modern Thanksgiving dinners, but the stuffing of the pilgrim’s days would have been very different. The pilgrims would not have used breading as a stuffing. Instead they would have used nuts, vegetables, or herbs to flavor their birds.
Corn is abundantly grown in North America today, and the Native Americans were growing it in the same abundance in the 1600s. If there is one crop that represents America, it’s corn. Corn would have been served in different forms at the first Thanksgiving. It was also probably used to make a form of bread.
Pumpkin was in fact served at the first Thanksgiving, but there was no pumpkin pie to be found. Europeans would generally have had pies or pastries at any feast, but they didn’t have anything to make pastry dough with. Pumpkin probably was not a dessert dish at the time. It would have been cooked with other squashes and served as a vegetable.
Chestnuts and walnuts were wildly available to the pilgrims and Native Americans in the fall of 1621, so they probably would have made an appearance at the first Thanksgiving, though not as a pie or an embellishment to sweet potatoes as nuts are often used today.
Around the time of the first Thanksgiving, the pilgrims would have been able to brew beer for the very first time. There probably wasn’t much beer, so it would have been accompanied by ample amounts of water.
You would not see potatoes of any variation at the first Thanksgiving, because potatoes were not yet grown in North America. Cranberry sauce was also not to be found. They may have used cranberries to flavor other dishes, and other berries might have been at the table, but adding sugar to cranberries was not yet a common practice.