Eat Like a Pilgrim on Thanksgiving

The first Thanksgiving was a three-day meal shared between the Pilgrims and the Wamponoag Indians. Want to make your Thanksgiving dinner a little more authentic so you can eat like a Pilgrim? Although there is no record of the exact menu, we can reasonably venture to say what the feast probably consisted of, based on Pilgrim journals and research by historians.

The best existing account of the Pilgrims’ harvest feast comes from colonist Edward Winslow, author of Mourt’s Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth. Winslow’s first-hand account of the first Thanksgiving included no explicit mention of turkey. He does, however, mention the Pilgrims gathering “wild fowl” for the meal, although that could just as likely have meant ducks or geese.

There was only one other first-hand account of that first Thanksgiving. Pilgrim Governor William Bradford kept a journal titled Of Plymouth Plantation. He never specified that turkey was served at the Thanksgiving feast, although earlier in the autumn of 1621 he noted, “besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many.”

Whether or not they ate turkey on Thanksgiving, we do know that the Wampanoag tribe brought five deer with them, so venison was definitely on the menu. Also, seafood was plentiful including fish, lobsters, mussels, scallops, and clams.

Many of our beloved and traditional favorites weren’t available back in 1621. For example, the Pilgrims didn’t have potatoes or wheat flour, so there weren’t any mashed potatoes or pies. But they did have corn for cornbread and porridge.

As a side dish, it’s quite likely the Pilgrims and Wampanoags ate a mixture of beans and corn. These two foods made up about 70% of the Wampanoag diet. Have you ever had succotash? The word comes from the Wampanoag msíckquatash.

In addition to corn and beans, they had pumpkins and squash. Also possibly onions, garlic, peas, carrots, parsnip and turnips.

The Pilgrims did not eat any green bean casserole. Green bean casserole is a recipe created by the Campbell’s Soup company in 1955.

They did not serve cranberry sauce at the first Thanksgiving, either. While there were plenty of whole cranberries for the Pilgrims to eat, sugar was a luxury that had to be imported from England.

Other foods that grew in the area include crab apples, wild grapes, blueberries, currants and nuts.

The Pilgrims didn’t use forks; they ate with spoons, knives, and their fingers. They used wooden bowls, which they didn’t wash – they just wiped them out.

Get ready to eat like a Pilgrim with our handy infographic guide to traditional Pilgrim Thanksgiving food. Venison, corn porridge, and stewed pumpkin for all!


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