The Norman Rockwell vision of Thanksgiving we see today looks timeless. But, according to Smithsonian.com the first Thanksgiving menu had a decidedly different feel in 1621 when approximately 90 Wampanoag Indians and 50 Pilgrims gathered at Plymouth (in what is now Massachusetts) to celebrate the harvest.* Here are some of the differences:
2015: Turkey (or perhaps Tofurky in vegan households)
1621: Although there might have been some wild turkey (the bird, not the bourbon) it wasn’t the highlight and it is more likely that other fowl such as goose, duck or even swan were served. It is highly probable that a main entree was carrier pigeon which is now extinct in the wild. Because Plymouth is on the coast, water birds (seagulls?) may have been on the table along with fish, muscles, lobster and eel. Records show that venison was brought by the Indians. It was common to cook using a combination of boiling and roasting over a spit.
2015: Bread stuffing with celery is most common
1621: Herbs and onions were used. (That is what I’m doing this year along with apple and a cinnamon stick.) Nuts may have also been included.
2015: Wheat dinner rolls
1621: Corn (this was pre-Monsanto, so it would have been Non-GMO) prepared as a porridge or possibly cornbread. That would probably have been made in a skillet as they didn’t have ovens yet.
2015: Green bean casserole with mushroom soup, candied sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes
1621: Turnips and according to The History Channel: “onions, beans, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, carrots and perhaps peas.”
2015: Cranberry sauce (the canned type that is sliced contains over 5 teaspoons of sugar per serving due to its content of high fructose corn syrup and additional corn syrup.)
1621: Although cranberries were available, sugar was too rare to squander tamping down the tartness of the berries.
2015: Goodness, where do I start? When our extended family gets together there is a whole second buffet of desserts including pecan pie, various bars, cheese cake and maybe pumpkin pie just to say we did.
1621: Although pumpkin was available, they didn’t have wheat flour or butter for the crust and see notes above about sugar and ovens. They may have used hot coals to bake a hallowed out a pumpkin filled with a custard of milk, honey and spices.
Happy Thanksgiving. I’m very thankful for your support.
*Due to a lack of cell phones at the time, I’m pretty sure that photo was not taken at the original feast. In fact, this re-creation looks to me a bit like a skit on Hee Haw.