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Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! What did the Pilgrims eat? Kathleen Curtin, Food Historian at Plimoth Plantation explains what was in the menu in 1621.

November 21, 2012
THANKSGIVING MENU. KARIN CURTIS INTERVIEW

THANKSGIVING MENU. KARIN CURTIS INTERVIEW

Learning from our past is what makes a society smarter, more resilient, more developed.

Our brave and courageous pilgrims needed help to grow the first harvest. Native Indians didn’t think about it: They just helped out, reached out. That was the beginning. Lets help each other out more in many different ways: Health, love and also spiritually: That’s why we live in the greatest country, United States of America.

 

Thanksgiving, or Thanksgiving Day, is a holiday celebrated in the United States on the fourth Thursday in November. It has officially been an annual tradition since 1863, when, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincolnproclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens”, to be celebrated on Thursday, November 26.[1] As a federal and popular holiday in the U.S., Thanksgiving is one of the major holidays of the year. Together with Christmas and the New Year, Thanksgiving is a part of the broader holiday season. (wikipedia)

LEARNING FROM OUR PAST

In 1621, native indians, the Wampanoag Indian and the Plymouth colonists  shared an autumn harvest feast which is considered today as one of the first Thanksgiving. This harvest  and shared meal has become a symbol of cooperation, respect, interaction and collaboration between English colonists and Native Americans.

Foods That May Have Been on the Menu

Seafood: Cod, Eel, Clams, Lobster
Wild Fowl: Wild Turkey, Goose, Duck, Crane, Swan, Partridge, Eagles
Meat: Venison, Seal
Grain: Wheat Flour, Indian Corn
Vegetables: Pumpkin, Peas, Beans, Onions, Lettuce, Radishes, Carrots
Fruit: Plums, Grapes
Nuts: Walnuts, Chestnuts, Acorns
Herbs and Seasonings: Olive Oil, Liverwort, Leeks, Dried Currants, Parsnips

What Was Not on the Menu

Surprisingly, the following foods, all considered staples of the modern Thanksgiving meal, didn’t appear on the pilgrims’s first feast table:

Ham: There is no evidence that the colonists had butchered a pig by this time, though they had brought pigs with them from England.
Sweet Potatoes/Potatoes: These were not common.
Corn on the Cob: Corn was kept dried out at this time of year.
Cranberry Sauce: The colonists had cranberries but no sugar at this time.
Pumpkin Pie: It’s not a recipe that exists at this point, though the pilgrims had recipes for stewed pumpkin.
Chicken/Eggs: We know that the colonists brought hens with them from England, but it’s unknown how many they had left at this point or whether the hens were still laying.
Milk: No cows had been aboard the Mayflower, though it’s possible that the colonists used goat milk to make cheese.

Source: Kathleen Curtin, Food Historian at Plimoth Plantation.

Check out a phenomenal interview with Kathleen Curtin at Archaeology.org

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How did you begin studying the history of food? How did this study lead you to become Plimoth Plantation’s food historian? 
I began at the museum as a colonial role-player in 1987. I was fresh out of graduate school (history and education), and I applied for what I thought was going to be an interesting temporary job. Here I am nearly 20 years later…. As a historian with a love of food and cooking click here to keep reading 

 
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