While it’s a tradition to serve turkey on Thanksgiving Day, the origins of the tradition are a bit murky. Sarah Bitner explores the possibilities of what was on that first Thanksgiving table:
Every year on the 4th Thursday of November, most Americans sit down to a delectable meal of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. We do this to celebrate the first feast between European settlers and Native Americans hundreds of years ago.
Figuring out what they at on that memorable day long ago, requires some detective work. In that harsh winter of 1620, almost half the colonist of Plymouth, Massachusetts died. The survivors befriended the nearby Wampanoag tribe to taught them to fish, hunt, and plant crops in their new environment…”in the year 1621 the pilgrims held their first Thanksgiving feast, and they invited the great Indian chief Hasselsoit who brought 90 of his brave Indians, and a great abundance of food.”
Historians are unsure exactly what was on the menu for the feast but they believe they know what was most likely consumed. The journal of pilgrim, Edward Winslow, who was present at the feast, provides evidence that main roast of the feast was venison. Winslow also wrote…”our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fouling, that while we might, after a special manner, might rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labors.” He does not specify if the foul was turkey, goose, duck, crane, swan, partridge, eagle, or some combination. So, turkey could have very well been on the table. Additional protein was probably served in the form of seafood, in the form of cod, eel, clams and lobster. Cultivated food most likely included wheat flour, grain corn, pumpkin, beans, peas, onions, lettuce, radishes, carrots, plums, grapes, walnuts, chestnuts, and acorns. Olive oil, liverwort, leeks, dried currents, and parsnips would have been used to season the meal.
Turkey became a staple on America’s Thanksgiving Day table in the mid-1800’s, leading to the now common nickname for the meal…Turkey Day. Minnesota is the top US turkey producing state, followed by North Carolina, Missouri, Arkansas and Virginia.
In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday at the behest of Sarah Josepha Hale, author of the famous poem, “Mary Had a Little Lamb”. Hale wrote to five presidents to advocate for the holiday’s official status. Thus, a foodie feast to give thanks is prepared annually for family and friends.
Have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving.