Wednesday, August 17th, 2022

F Shopper Columns


Turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and cranberry sauce, along with pumpkin, pecan, and apple pies. These are the makings of a traditional Thanksgiving feast just like the Pilgrims and Indians enjoyed in 1621- right? Well, actually, no.

The Pilgrims were giving thanks because they had just barely survived a period of near starvation. They were, after all, English colonists struggling to survive in a new world then utterly devoid of the crops and food sources available in England. While pumpkins grew in the area, the Pilgrims had no sugar or flour in 1621: no pies- pumpkin or otherwise- were served. Ditto for cranberry sauce: it would be another 50 years before some inventive colonist, with sugar finally on hand, created that concoction.

The vegetables served were limited to those grown by the local Wampanoag Tribe- and they did not include potatoes. In 1621, most Europeans and Native North Americans had never even seen a potato, let alone learned to mash them and drown them in gravy. Potatoes come from the high Andes of South America and weren’t cultivated in North America until the 1700s. So, mashed potatoes are not an original Thanksgiving side dish.

As for meat, turkey might not have even been present at the first Thanksgiving. Other local wild game was probably served. No flour meant no bread stuffing: wild onions and nuts may have been used. Seafood- rare on modern Thanksgiving tables- was plentiful in the local bay, but in cold weather, it consisted of shellfish and some other marine life we moderns wouldn’t consider very appetizing. It was the 90 Native American guests who provided the feast’s main course: five deer that they offered as a gift to the settlers.

All of which means contrary to modern traditions, the menu for the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving probably looked something like this:


Eel, lobster, mussels

Duck, Goose, Swan, Carrier Pigeons

Racoon, Rabbit, Squirrel

Squash, Beans, Peas, Flint Corn

Pumpkin- boiled in water or fire-roasted

Take a close look at that menu, and keep this thought in mind: we can all give thanks that, no matter what is served on our tables this year, the chances are we’ll hear no one say, “Could you please pass the eel?”