11 Foods Missing From the First Thanksgiving – Mental Floss

Posted: November 14, 2021 at 1:47 am


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The story of the first Thanksgiving has been mythologized in countless media, but concrete facts from the day are limited. Almost all the information historians have about the event comes from a letter written by Plymouth Plantation colonist Edward Winslow in December 1621. He wrote of a harvest feast the Pilgrims shared with the native Wampanoag people over three days in late autumn. The meal would have looked unfamiliar to people who associate Thanksgiving with green bean casserole, marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie: Dishes on the menu included venison and wild fowl.

We dont know every item that was served at that celebration, but we do know that many traditional Thanksgiving dishes were probably (or in some cases, definitely) absent. When you sit down to dinner on the fourth Thursday in November, be thankful for these foods that werent a supermarket-trip away in 1621.

Much of the produce associated with Thanksgiving wasnt present at the Pilgrims dinner table. That likely includes green beans, and green bean casserole certainly didnt make an appearance at the first Thanksgiving dinner. The recipe for green beans baked with cream of mushroom soup and topped with french-fried onions was first developed by Campbells employee Dorcas Reilly in 1955 for the backs of soup cans. Compared to many traditional Thanksgiving dishes, green bean casserole is fairly modern.

Pumpkin pie wasnt served for dessert at the first Thanksgivingnor was any pie, for that matter. The Pilgrims probably didnt have access to many of the things needed to make pie crust, including butter, flour, and ovens. But that doesnt mean pumpkin was left out of the meal entirely. The gourd is native to the Americas, and cooks at the first Thanksgiving may have roasted it whole or stewed it in a pot.

No flour also meant no gravy to go with the venison and waterfowl on the table. Though its possible the cooks saved drippings from the meat, it wouldnt have been the traditional, thickened gravy we know today. One sauce that likely appeared on the menu was green sauce, a condiment that was made by cooking down produce like squash, onions, and spinach into a thick goop. Turkey gravy has never sounded so appealing.

Another ingredient missing from the Pilgrims pantries was sugar. Without it, they wouldnt have been able to cook down the cranberries that grew in Massachusetts into a sweet sauce. The Wampanoag people were known to harvest the berries from local cranberries bogs and dry them to use in dishes all winter. There werent any cranberry bogs in the immediate area of the Plymouth Plantation, however, so the first Thanksgiving may have lacked the fruitin sauce form or otherwise.

Potatoes are native to South America, and they had yet to land in New England at the time of the first Thanksgiving in 1621. Thats probably for the best, because what good are mashed potatoes if you cant make them into a gravy volcano?

Without pie crust, apple pie also would have been missing from the inaugural Thanksgiving dinner. The main ingredient was absent as well. Apples still hadnt made the trip to New England from Europe, but that would soon change. By the mid-1600s, cider was the colonists drink of choice.

The Pilgrims had no wheat flour for baking traditional bread rolls in 1621. Instead, the first Thanksgiving featured corn bread from Wampanoag cuisine.

This southern Thanksgiving staple wasnt served when the Puritans and the Wampanoags sat down for dinner in 1621. In addition to the lack of ingredients for making pasta, macaroni and cheese wasnt eaten in America at this time. Thomas Jefferson is credited with popularizing the dish in the U.S. in the 19th century after first trying it in France.

Thats rightthe food thats become synonymous with Thanksgiving probably wasnt served at the original feast; the birds werent common game animals at that time. We do know that the dinner guests did indulge in some type of wild fowl: Duck, geese, swans, and carrier pigeons are all more likely possibilities than turkey.

Sweet potatoes had yet to arrive in New England via the Caribbean in 1621. Mini marshmallows also werent available on the Plymouth Plantation.

Modern stuffingor dressingis made from a mixture of cubed bread, spices, veggies, and occasionally meat. The mixture that stuffed the fowl cooked for the first Thanksgiving wouldnt have included bread. Onions and nuts were the main ingredients of the breadless stuffing the Pilgrims enjoyed.

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11 Foods Missing From the First Thanksgiving - Mental Floss

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November 14th, 2021 at 1:47 am

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