I was musing today about why we are so determined to serve sweet potatoes, cranberries, and turkey at Thanksgiving – just to list a few things my family expects.
After all, that first celebration at Plymouth would have been vastly different – no supermarkets, football games, microwave ovens or beer. Some accounts report that more than ninety Pilgrims showed up to seal the deal on a new holiday in the new world.
According to an article written by Edward Winslow, the colonists harvested their crops and sent out a party of hunters to kill a few deer. I harvested my “crops” at the local Kroger. Thank goodness the turkey came plucked and dressed or my family would still be wondering what turkey tastes like.
Winslow specifically mentions wild game and Indian corn, although he expresses a disappointment in the crop of peas. Other accounts report there was an ample supply of bass, cod, and other fish.
There were no potatoes, since these hadn’t yet been cultivated in New England, and butter and oils were quite scarce. The corn was most likely in the form of meal rather than on the cob, and although a pumpkin pudding or stew may have been prepared, it would not have been put into a crust.
Only four adult married women survived the first year at Plymouth, and it would have been they who did most of the food preparation. Feeding 90 people would certainly kill me.
It’s not likely there were cookbooks to turn to, and the Pilgrims could never have dreamed of rambling supermarkets and appliances designed to perform every little task. Roasting was the preferred method of preparing meats and poultry, but roasting takes on a somewhat complicated aspect when one has no ovens and has to rely on a spit over a fire. Somebody has to stand around turning the spit for hours on end.
Since their turkeys were wild and obtained by the hunting party, I expect they were stuffed with bird shot instead of cornbread dressing.
So, the prototype Thanksgiving meal would have probably been something along the lines of roast venison, stewed or boiled fowl, fish, breads (both corn and wheat), stewed dried fruits, maybe one or two boiled vegetables, washed down with water.