Food at the first Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Ever since I graduated college, it seems like Thanksgiving sneaks up on me. Sure, co-workers chat about it, but usually it’s just exclamations like “sweet dude, 4 days off!” and “I can’t wait to get out of here”. I’m totally guilty with thinking that holidays are now just free vacation days, but that’s not a good mentality to have! When you’re a kid (or if you’re my brother), you spend months dreaming about all the delicious dishes and seeing your relatives. It’s a fun season, so we should all try to slow down a bit and savor the moments!

When I was a young kid, my family ate Thanksgiving dinner at my grandparents’ house. Everyone came together, fill their house to the brim, catch up, and eat a huge meal. As the kids grew up, holidays migrated to my house since it was a lot larger (it’s kiiiiiind of nice to have some breathing room after shoveling mountains of food into your mouth, ya know?). Due to some medical mumbo jumbo, my grandfather is no longer able to travel, so my family is headed back to the location of our “first” Thanksgiving…his house! It’ll be packed, but hopefully still fun.

Anyway, this change got me thinking about the roots of Thanksgiving and what the original participants ate at the meal. I did some research and thought I’d share it with you guys. Before you begin the list, just be aware that only venison and waterfowl are confirmed dishes at the first Thanksgiving…everything else is speculative. Enjoy, and have a great day! :)


**  The first Thanksgiving was enjoyed in 1621 in Wampanoag, Massachusetts**

Bread: Bread made from maize (i.e. corn) was likely served at the meal, although the quantity was not recorded.

Chestnuts, walnuts, beechnuts: These nuts were plentiful in the forests, and were likely included in the meal.

Flint Corn: Native Americans taught American settlers how to grow corn, so this veggie was probably served at the first Thanksgiving meal in either the form of grains (for bread) or porridge. Flint corn is the multicolored variety that we often use as decoration these days.

Pumpkin/Squash: Nope, I’m not talking about pumpkin pie here! Pumpkins and squash were grown in the gardens of early settlers and likely made it onto the Thanksgiving table.

Shellfish/Seafood: Wampanoag, Massachusetts is an area rich in shellfish and seafood. Lobsters, clams, mussels, and other aquatic inhabitants (like eels) were a central part to the diets of the settlers in this area. Shellfish were often dried and seafood smoked.

Venison: Wood, woods, and more woods – that’s what was around back in 1621. And what fills those woods? Lots of deer. Due to their availability (and ability to feed large crowds), venison were brought to the celebration by Native American participants.

Water: That’s right, the main beverage served at the meal was probably water. Alcohol was scarce in the early years of America, so those partaking in the first Thanksgiving probably washed down their food with good old fashioned H2O.

Waterfowl: Believe it or not, turkey wasn’t as ubiquitous to the  first Thanksgiving dinner as it is today. Instead, waterfowl such as goose, duck, swan, and passenger pigeons were served during meals in 17th century America. At the time, typical preparation involved par boiling the birds before roasting them to finish the cooking process. They were commonly stuffed with onions, herbs, or chestnuts.

Wild Turkey: Even though it wasn’t readily available, wild turkeys may have been enjoyed at the first Thanksgiving…sparingly. It would be years before turkey became synonymous with Thanksgiving.