Today, most of us in the United States will sit down to a feast of turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. Sound about right? Ever wonder what the settlers and their native friends had for dinner on the first Thanksgiving?
The Smithsonian Magazine provides some clues. Apparently, there was a very bountiful assortment of goodies for the First Feasters to enjoy, making for quite a three-day repast:
Edward Winslow, an English leader who attended, wrote home to a friend:
“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others.”
William Bradford, the governor Winslow mentions, also described the autumn of 1621, adding, “And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides, they had about a peck a meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion.”
Goose, duck, and passenger pigeon were likely the fowl that the hunters brought back for the feast. These birds would be stuffed with onions and herbs or even chestnuts. Besides venison, the inhabitants ate fish, eel, lobster, clams, and mussels. To supplement the meat, there were walnuts, beechnuts, corn, pumpkins, and squash. From their gardens, they gathered turnips, carrots, and garlic. Sounds yummy!
Although not mentioned in the article, common sense would tell us that the feasters may also have enjoyed native fruits like persimmons and elderberries. Pemmican may have been brought by the native guests. Perhaps the settlers had preserved blackberries, blueberries, wild raspberries, and cranberries. Surely they could have rustled up some (Yankee) cornbread, sweetened with honey or maple syrup.
As you sit down to your meal today, think about our forebears and the real meaning of today’s feast: