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Thanksgiving Food: Then and Now

The first ever Thanksgiving was way back in 1621, so there are bound to be differences between what was eaten then and now. So how did it all get started? When the pilgrims landed in Plymouth in 1620, they had no idea how to farm the land. The pilgrims had to start completely fresh while recovering from the trip over. So naturally they didn't have much time to figure out new crops to grow and eat, and crops they could already grow most likely wouldn't grow where they landed in the middle of December. So they made friends with the Wampanoag tribe, who taught them how to grow corn, beans, and squash. Along with growing crops they taught the pilgrims how to smoke and dry fish and meat, as well as fertilize the crops they grew with fish and powdered tobacco which was also a natural insect repellent.


But what did the pilgrims and the native Americans eat at the feast, and why was there a feast in the first place? First of all the "party" was to celebrate their first ever fall harvest in the new land. So they ate their crops right? Well a so called "chronicler", Edward Winslow, wrote that the colony's governor sent 4 men hunting for birds, or fowling, for their three day event. The chronicler also wrote that, just the four men came home with enough birds to feed the colony for a week, so surely there was turkey. The governor, William Bradford, accounts of founding the colony and also briefly mentions the men on the fowling mission bringing home wild turkey as well as other birds they ate regularly like Geese, swan and duck. They all definitely had their fair share of meat though, because Edward Winslow wrote that the Wampanoag brought an offering of five deer, that culinary experts believe was roasted over a "spit" and a good fire, and could've also been thrown into a stew. Historians believe that most of the Thanksgiving meal consisted of seafood; mussels were easily harvested, and Edward Winslow also wrote that they had quite a lot of bass, lobster, clams, and oysters as well.


Lets not forget about all the good veggies though; It is a given they had corn because records show that was plentiful with their first harvest. While corn has always been delicious, the pilgrims definitely didn't enjoy it the same way we do now. They typically ground the kernels into a meal, or fine powder, then used the powder for a paste or a type of porridge and sometimes sweetened it with molasses. Along with "corn paste", they most likely enjoyed onions, beans, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, and carrots, most of which we eat on thanksgiving now. They had blueberries, plums, grapes, gooseberries, raspberries, and cranberries as well.


While some things the Native Americans and the Pilgrims enjoyed are similar to what we eat for dinner now, we typically don't eat gooseberries and clams. They still ate boiled or and mashed potatoes like we do, and even pumpkin and squash, but typically their meal was the basis of ours. Today we enjoy foods like turkey, ham, cornbread, deviled eggs, potato salad, beans, and peas, and they didn't have the technology to eat that then. They could not bake pies or even make pie crust, because they didn't have ovens or butter and flour. When they first landed they lacked most of the supplies they had when they started so they couldn't make jams or jellies, because the sugar had been eaten up, they didn't know the land well yet and couldn't tell what was poisonous or not. Pilgrims and Native Americans set the scene for a perfect Thanksgiving meal but it just wasn't the same as it is now.


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