The first Thanksgiving, held at Plymouth Plantation, Massachusetts in 1621, looked completely different from the holiday celebration we enjoy today.
For starters, there was no pumpkin pie, no cranberry sauce, and definitely no Macy's Day Parade. Not to mention no ceremonial tossing around of the pigskin in the backyard with your cousins (although there may in fact have been actual pig skin; we can't be sure).
The actual feast was a three day affair, celebrated by colonists and Native Americans, and it probably didn't involve tables or utensils according to National Geographic.
What did people actually eat on that first Thanksgiving Day?
These are our best educated guesses, based on a few historical sources, cross-referenced with the food sources readily available to colonists.
1. Goose and Duck
These waterfowl were plentiful in the area, and a historical source notes that Governor William Bradford sent out four men "to hunt for fowl." We're not sure which fowl, exactly, but probably these fowl. Wait, I kinda like the word fowl. Let's say fowl more often!
Colonists were definitely munching on some deer meat that first Thanksgiving day, thanks to their Native American buddies. The natives brought along five deer, according to a letter by first-person source, colonial leader Edward Winslow.
3. Fish, Lobster, & Mussels
I don't know about your Thanksgiving, but seafood's not usually on the menu at mine. But we know that striped bass, bluefish and cod were abundant in the waters around Plymouth Plantation, as were lobsters and mussels, so it's possible these were consumed that day.
OH THANK GOD. THEY HAD TURKEY. It's just not Thanksgiving without the turkey, you know? Governor Bradford bragged in a letter written earlier that year about how many wild turkeys the colonists had hunted. I wonder if his turkey-hunting prowess made him a big hit with the pilgrim ladies?
Believe me, pilgrims LOVED stew. They were all about making 'pottages,' stew-like concoctions that featured meats and vegetables (but somehow managed to sound way less appealing than actual stew).
Here's something the Pilgrims were probably EXTREMELY thankful for: the 1621 harvest yielded the settlement's first crop of barley, which meant the colonists were able to brew their own beer! That's fortunate indeed, because I'm sure the beer they brought over with them on the Mayflower didn't last long. I'm pretty sure something about trying to survive in a totally unknown hostile wilderness drives one to drink.
7. Cornbread (Wait, not popcorn?)
I feel like I always learned that Native Americans taught their Pilgrim friends how to make popcorn on Thanksgiving. Maybe that was just so my first grade teacher had an excuse for a cute seasonal snack. I don't know.
But the 1621 harvest was evidently a good one, because it also yielded delicious fresh Indian corn (different from the sweet yellow corn we usually eat today). This could be pounded into meal and used for baking. There's no historical mention of popcorn, as far as we know. Oh well.
8. Pumpkin & Squash
These classic fall vegetables were classics even back in the day. Stewed, boiled, roasted – they were staples for both Native Americans and colonists, who had just reaped their first harvest of both. 1621 was clearly a great year for farming, you guys. And a great year for friendship. And giving thanks. Hooray for the first Thanksgiving!!
I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving!!
I dedicate this card to the beautiful, amazing @RaquelArredondo – sorry it's a day late, but HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!! She's one of the sweetest Vinglers ever, you guys :) I hope you had an amazing day. <3
Thank you to National Geographic for historical information!