Tradition holds that our national holiday of Thanksgiving actually stems from the feast held in 1621 by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians to celebrate the colony’s first successful harvest. It is said that this feast lasted about three days.
No one is actually sure whether the Wampanoag Indians and the settlers regularly sat together and shared their food or if the Thanksgiving feast was a one-time event. But, for the 52 colonists, the bountiful harvest was a cause for a special celebration to give thanks to God for their lives and for their families, especially after a year of disease and hunger, and to thank their Indian friends for showing them how to cultivate corn and grow native vegetables.
Turkey was on the very first Thanksgiving menu in Plymouth, Massachusetts. However, their wild turkeys were smaller than our hybrid versions of today, with much less white meat than dark and not as tender. Seasonal waterfowl such as duck or geese were plentiful also and you can bet that venison and fish were part of the bill of fare.
The vegetables were pretty much limited to squash, beans, and corn. Neither the sweet potato nor the white potato was available at that time to the colonists, so no mashed potatoes or sweet potato souffle for the Pilgrims. And if cranberries were served, they would only have been used for their tartness and color; it would be 50 more years before berries were boiled with sugar and used as an accompaniment to meat.
The presence of pumpkin pie at this first feast appears to be a myth as it is unlikely they had butter and wheat flour and definitely had no ovens for baking. But, pumpkins are native to North America, so perhaps the gourd-like squash were baked in the coals of a fire. Supposedly fresh baked pumpkin is quite tasty.
When you think about it, a Pilgrim’s grace that includes thanks to God for family, for good food, and for blessings … is that so very different from our Thanksgiving prayers of today?
Article by Melissa Parker
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