When the pilgrims first came to America from England, they had a very difficult first year, and without the help of the Native Americans, would not have survived. After finally having a successful harvest the following year, they had a harvest feast to celebrate with their new neighbors. We continue this tradition today on the 4th Thursday of November with family and friends. Our feast today has much in common with the first Thanksgiving celebration with some major and minor differences. In the end though, the Thanksgiving feast is a chance to gather with family and friends and remember how much you have to be thankful for!
Turkeys are one of the few domesticated animals today that originated in North America, so they most likely were on the menu, but other fowl were probably prepared as well for the feast. Wild ducks, geese, and swans would have also been consumed that day. The turkey would have been wild rather than the domesticated one that you purchase at the local store. Its taste would be similar to the heritage turkeys that can still be ordered from specialty shops or the wild ones still roaming the fields today. Shellfish and varieties of fish would have also been offered since that was a convenient source of protein for a colony that was close to the sea. Historical records also show that the Wampanoag tribe brought an offering of 5 deer for the celebration, so the meal had a wide variety of what today we would consider the main course to choose from!
Vegetables were also very much present at the first Thanksgiving in 1621. After all, this was a celebration of the first successful harvest in the new world, but some may have looked different than how we eat them today. Of course there would be no green bean casserole on the table for another 300- plus years, and even though they grew and harvested maize (or corn), they would have made cornmeal out of it and created a mush or porridge to eat. Onions, beans carrots, and, lettuce would have graced the table similar to today.
The first version of pumpkin pie was probably consumed as well in 1621. Once again, it was there, but just different. The fledgling colony lacked the butter and flour to be able to make a pie crust, as well as the oven to bake the pie in. What they did instead was make custard by hollowing out the pumpkins and adding milk, honey and spices, and then placing the gourds in the hot ashes of the fire to roast creating the precursor to what we know as pumpkin pie today.
So whatever you are planning for your Thanksgiving meal, whether it is the “traditional” feast of today, or your favorite variation of it, I hope you have a blessed holiday spent with those you care about most. Happy Thanksgiving!
Alicia Boor is an Agriculture and Natural Resources agent in the Cottonwood District (which includes Barton and Ellis counties) for K-State Research and Extension. You can contact her by e-mail at [email protected] or calling 620-793-1910.