Your Thanksgiving Meal, Was It Traditional Holiday Fare? Maybe, Maybe Not

Posted by Beth Hartman

This being the day after the celebration of Thanksgiving, and the dishes from your feasts have been washed, dried and put away, we thought we would just revisit the holiday itself, in its “True” form and impart a few facts that you may or may not know happened on that eventful day, back on November of 1621.

It was during period in history that the Pilgrims and a group of native American Indians gathered together to celebrate a feast that the then governor of the colony, William Bradford declared should take place in honor of their first successful harvest of a corn crop, which the native Indian, Squanto, instructed them on how to prepare the soil and plant so that the harvest would be bountiful. This bountiful feast lasted for 3 days, not just one and was looked upon as a blessing that helped unite the native-born inhabitants of the new world with its newly arrived visitors from the “Old World”.

Going back to the previous year, of September of 1620, a small ship called the Mayflower left Plymouth, England, carrying 102 passengers—an assortment of religious separatists seeking a new home where they could freely practice their faith and other individuals lured by the promise of prosperity and land ownership in the New World. After a treacherous and uncomfortable crossing that lasted 66 days, they dropped anchor near the tip of Cape Cod, far north of their intended destination at the mouth of the Hudson River. One month later, the Mayflower crossed Massachusetts Bay, where the Pilgrims, as they are now commonly known, began the work of establishing a village at Plymouth colony.

Throughout that first brutal winter, most of the colonists remained on board the ship, where they suffered from exposure, scurvy and outbreaks of contagious disease.

Only half of the Mayflower’s original passengers and crew lived to see their first New England spring. In March, the remaining settlers moved ashore, where they received an astonishing visit from an Abenaki Indian who greeted them in English. Several days later, he returned with another Native American, Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe who had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold into slavery before escaping to London and returning to his homeland on an exploratory expedition.

Squanto taught the Pilgrims, who were weakened by malnutrition and illness, how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants. He also helped the settlers forge an alliance with the Wampanoag, a local tribe, which would endure for more than 50 years and tragically remains one of the sole examples of harmony between European colonists and Native Americans.

This 3-day celebration that took place was joined by the fledgling colony’s Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit. Now remembered as American’s “First Thanksgiving”, although the Pilgrims themselves may not have used the term at the time. While no record exists of the historic banquet’s exact menu, the Pilgrim chronicler Edward Winslow wrote in his journal that Governor Bradford sent four men on a “fowling” mission in preparation for the event, and that the Wampanoag guests arrived bearing five deer, along with swans, bountiful amounts of lobster, which were easily caught in the waters off of the coast and even native seals that inhabited the coves up and down the rocky shoreline.

Historians have suggested that many of the dishes were likely prepared using traditional Native American spices and cooking methods. Because the Pilgrims had no oven and the Mayflower’s sugar supply had dwindled by the fall of 1621.

Today, in many American households, the Thanksgiving celebration now centers on cooking and sharing a bountiful meal with family and friends. Turkey, a Thanksgiving staple so ubiquitous it has become all but synonymous with the holiday, may or may not have been an offer when the Pilgrims hosted the inaugural feast in 1621. Today, however, nearly 90 percent of Americans eat the bird—whether roasted, baked or deep-fried—on Thanksgiving, according to the National Turkey Federation. Other traditional foods include stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. Today, you won't see swans, seals or lobster on most family’s menus, but that being said, Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on each person's blessings and take stock of what is really important to them.

So, there you have it, a little history lesson on what took place almost 400 years ago. When you get right down to it, something as simple as saying thanks for what was provided as a form of community nourishment has transcended down through the ages to become a looked-for tradition in many American homes.

We hope you and your families enjoyed a Happy Thanksgiving this year and we wish you all the best, from all of us here at

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