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The first Thanksgiving

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And if cranberries were served, they would have been used for their tartness or color, not the sweet sauce or relish so common today. In fact, it would be 50 more years before berries were boiled with sugar and used as an accompaniment to meat.

Potatoes weren't part of the feast, either. Neither the sweet potato nor the white potato was yet available to colonists.

The presence of pumpkin pie appears to be a myth, too. The group may have eaten pumpkins and other squashes native to New England, but it is unlikely that they had the ingredients for pie crust - butter and wheat flour. Even if they had possessed butter and flour, the colonists hadn't yet built an oven for baking.

"While we have been able to work out which modern dishes were not available in 1621, just what was served is a tougher nut to crack," Ms. Curtin says.

A couple of guesses can be made from other passages in Winslow's correspondence about the general diet at the time: lobsters, mussels, "sallet herbs," white and red grapes, black and red plums, and flint corn.

"We have only one documented harvest feast that occurred between the cultures," Curtin points out. "You don't hear about [any other] harvests occurring between them. I assume that they did on some level, but it's fascinating that it is just that one source, one sentence in one letter. I wonder what else is there that someone just didn't jot down, and we now know nothing about."

Until the early 1800s, Thanksgiving was considered to be a regional holiday celebrated solemnly through fasting and quiet reflection.

But the 19th century had its own Martha Stewart, and it didn't take her long to turn New England fasting into national feasting. Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of the popular Godey's Lady's Book, stumbled upon Winslow's passage and refused to let the historic day fade from the minds - or tables - of Americans. This established trendsetter filled her magazine with recipes and editorials about Thanksgiving.

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