1620, bread, cattle, Church of England, corn, deaths, first thanksgiving, flour, fruits, history, livestock, Mayflower, menu, milk, native plants, natives, Pilgrims, potatoes, roasted, separatists, survival, teas, thanks, Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving dinner, traditional, turkey, venison, wheat, wine, winter, yams
Taxidermist, Kosh Trading Post
In our world today we all know what the traditional Thanksgiving is, and what we eat would be the same as the first thanksgiving, right. To explore this answer we would have to go back in history and see what life would have been like had we been with the Pilgrims in that day and time. So, let’s do some time travel.
To understand what happened at the first thanksgiving we need to understand some of the history leading up to that day. In England they had the Church of England that everyone was supposed to agree with in all their beliefs. There were a group of Protestants who started their own congregations, separate of the Church of England who became known as separatists. The English officials persecuted this group so badly that they moved from England to Holland in 1608.
They still loved their home country, so when they had the opportunity to return to English soil (America) in 1620 and still be allowed to worship as they saw fit, they jumped on it. Upon leaving Holland they became known as Pilgrims. Here is where a critical mistake was made.
The trip began in September of 1620. The Pilgrims (102 of them) boarded a 90-foot boat (the Mayflower) and proceeded west for 64 days before landing at what is now known as Provincetown harbor on Nov. 21, 1620. On such a small ship, they did not have room for livestock, or much else to begin a new life in the new world. Here they are, beginning of winter in a relatively northern landing, no real supplies, and very little chance of survival.
The first winter was hard to say the least. In fact by the next fall when the first Thanksgiving would be held, almost half of these people would be long dead. Had it not been for the local native people, they might have all been dead by then. These natives introduced the Pilgrims to many of the native plants, taught them how to raise and prepare these foods and helped them do so. We all know that this is where the traditional meal comes from.
So as I sit down Thanksgiving to my baked turkey, mashed potatoes, candied yams, and hot rolls I will be eating just like they did back then. Except wheat had not been introduced to that part of America yet (so much for my hot rolls and gravy and since cattle were not on the ship milk may have been scarce too).
Well, my mashed potatoes are native to America, right. Well, South America, in fact they were taken to Europe and then back to North America, before being introduced in Virginia that same year, not to where the Pilgrims had landed.
My candied yams were from the tropics area of America and wouldn’t be that far north for at least another hundred years.
How about my baked turkey? Wild turkey and venison were definitely on the menu, but baked? At that time there would not have been stoves to have baked a Turkey. He would have been roasted over an open fire as would have been the deer meat.
Dutch ovens (in a crude form) and some earth ovens would have almost certainly been there. In them would have been baked bread but not as we would have today. The flour for the bread would have been made from corn, acorns and other nuts, and probably even cattail root starch. It would have been good, but certainly not our brown and serve variety.
Since there was no refrigeration, most fruits and meats that were not just harvested were preserved by drying, which would have an impact on how they would have been prepared and tasted.
Corn, if harvested a while earlier, would have been dried and could have been parched instead of prepared on the cob.
They may well of had wine, and certainly had teas such as sassafras and mint teas, but soda pop was centuries away.
This feast would have taken days to prepare at the very least.
So when we sit down to our dinners that we prepared in our microwaves, gas or electric cook stoves or even better had catered, with all of our delicious foods from all over the world and give thanks that our loved ones were able to travel from all over the world to be there with us, we should give special thanks that in the last year, half of our family and neighbors didn’t lose their lives to the severe living conditions that were endured by the people of the first thanksgiving.
The pictures that I have included would have been a representation of how life could have looked some 200 years later in the frontier time in our country. When you look at these, imagine this would have been after 200 years of progress.