Thanksgiving dinner is probably the one meal so rooted in tradition we know exactly what we are going to eat and exactly how it is going to taste. Every year we look forward with familiar anticipation.
We all have our favorites… maybe for you, it’s that pile of mashed potatoes drenched in gravy… or a favorite recipe of stuffing… or the cranberry sauce (either fresh or from-the-can)… or maybe you’re the type who just looks forward to the turkey sandwich after the meal.
Whichever your favorite part of the meal is, have you ever wondered, “Did the Pilgrims really eat turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie?”
While not much is known about the actual meal shared in 1621 the answer is, not likely.
The pilgrims had access to an abundance of both wild game and rice so it is probably safe to assume that dinner included some kind of bird or ‘fowl’. Wild turkey may very well have been on the menu, but there was almost certainly goose and duck as well. In lieu of a ‘stuffing’, a wild rice dish might have been served alongside.
Records show quite a bit of seafood to have been included in early thanksgiving meals, including cod, bass, lobster, and oysters. One of the earliest printed recipes we could find was in the 1832 book, Cook’s Own Book, which instructed “Fill your chickens with young oysters cut small, truffles, parsley and spices, and roast them.” New England stuffing of that time tended to incorporate chestnuts, which often continues to this day, while a more Southern approach utilizes cornbread as the base, with pecans added.
We can trace the earliest stuffings back to some time between the 2nd century BC and the 1st century AD, to a chef by the name of Apicius from the Roman Empire, who wrote a cookbook titled De Re Coquinaria. It contained recipes for a variety of stuffed animals including hares, pigs and chickens. For the most part, the stuffing of this period consisted of a variety of vegetables, spices, nuts and herbs, as well as spelt and organ meat. It wasn’t called ‘stuffing’ at the time… in fact that word didn’t appear in print until about 1538. Prior to this, it was mostly referred to as ‘farce’ which came from the Latin farcire which meant ‘to stuff’. Much later, the word ‘stuffing’ was regarded as a bit too crass and it was referred to as ‘dressing’, a term still frequently used today.
Cranberries are a native North American fruit and are abundant in the Northeast. It is well known that the Native Americans ate them regularly and used them as a natural dye for clothing as well as for medicinal purposes. If the Pilgrims and the Native Americans ate cranberries at the first Thanksgiving feast it was likely a dish called “pemmican” which incorporates crushed cranberries and dried meat. Cranberry sauce as we know it today would not have existed, as sugar was not a widely available ingredient.
There would have been plenty of corn on the table and likely it was mashed into a porridge. And as much as they are now a Thanksgiving-table-staple, and most definitely a favorite, potatoes would not have been part of the original Thanksgiving Feast. Native to South America, potatoes are recorded to have made their way to Europe by around 1560, and were not an established crop in North America until 1719.
The Puritans likely did enjoy pumpkin, but since they had no access to wheat for flour, sugar, or butter, they would not have had pie. The first pumpkin pie wasn’t recorded until 1650. And whipped cream for pie? Not a chance!
So… Would you have enjoyed the 1621-version of the Thanksgiving meal?
While we all have our own secret family recipes, The Market can make your celebration a bit easier, offering up a delightful and delicious version of what has become the “traditional Thanksgiving Menu”.
We are open until 3:00 PM on Thanksgiving Day for you to come pick up your pre-ordered meal to enjoy with family & friends.
We are thankful for your loyalty & patronage.