The First Thanksgiving Meal

Much has been written about the original Thanksgiving meal. From accounts written by Pilgrims, the only known components of the first thanksgiving were wheat, Indian corn, barley, peas, waterfowl (probably ducks, but possibly swans), deer, fish and, of course, wild turkey. From diaries written at the time, it is evident that the primary dietary elements were bread, meat and fish.

Oddly enough, some of our favorite holiday foods were not part of the original Thanksgiving meal. Over time, the foods with which we have come to associate the holiday were not eaten at the meal: pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, yams and corn on the cob.

The Pilgrims could have made some kind of pumpkin pudding, sweetened by honey or maple syrup, but it would not have resembled the pumpkin pie that we know today.

Sweet potatoes and yams had not yet been introduced to America. Marshmallows would not be introduced until the mid-1800s in France.

Cranberries would have been out of season at that time, as would any kind of fruit or berry. Fruits that grow in the area include strawberries, raspberries, cranberries, grapes, plums and cherries. Most likely, cranberries would be used as stuffing, but not seasoned with sugar.

Corn was probably not served at the first Thanksgiving. Native corn, or maize, was used only to make cornmeal. It was almost inedible as corn on the cob. Contrary to popular belief, popcorn was not eaten at the first thanksgiving. Sweet corn, which is used to make popcorn, did not arrive in the New World until almost a hundred years later. In most cases, corn was prepared by boiling, and eaten like hominy.

Interestingly, some of the food that the pilgrims did eat is somewhat unusual. They were known to have eaten eagles, swans and cranes, some species that are currently protected under federal law. Shellfish, including crab and lobster, was considered poverty fare by the Pilgrims; because shellfish were so plentiful and formed such a large part of the Pilgrim everyday diet, they were considered too commonplace and therefore too pedestrian for a feast.

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