• April 15, 2024

[Slideshow] What Did They Eat On The First Thanksgiving?

The feast, held in 1621 at the Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts, was very different from the Thanksgiving dinner that we enjoy today. It went on for three whole days, and the colonists and their Native guests probably didn’t sit at a table or use forks. Staples of modern Thanksgiving—like pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce—weren’t even served.

So what did they eat? While nobody knows the full menu, based upon various sources, it’s possible at least to make some educated guesses.

Goose and duck. Edward Winslow, a colonial leader, wrote a 1621 letter in which he described how Gov. William Bradford had sent four men out to hunt for fowl for the feast. Though the letter doesn’t specify which birds, Nathaniel Philbrick, author of “Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War,” notes that migratory geese and ducks were plentiful in the area during the autumn, so it seems likely that they were among the foods served.                                                                                                                                                                                                               

Venison. We definitely know that this meat was served at the first Thanksgiving feast. The Native American guests at the feast—who actually outnumbered the Pilgrims—brought along with them five deer, according to Winslow.

Fish. In the autumn, striped bass, bluefish and cod were abundant in local waters, according to Philbrick, and he thinks they may have been eaten that day.

Lobster and Mussels. In Winslow’s letter, he describes the local abundance of these aquatic animals as well, so it’s conceivable that they were on the menu.

Beer. The Pilgrims liked beer, which they brought with them on the Mayflower. The 1621 harvest had yielded a crop of barley, which for the first time made it possible for the colonists to make their own home brew, according to Philbrick.

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