In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast which is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. This harvest meal has become a symbol of cooperation and interaction between English colonists and Native Americans. Although this feast is considered by many to be the very first Thanksgiving celebration, it was actually in keeping with a long tradition of celebrating the harvest and giving thanks for a successful bounty of crops. Native American groups throughout the Americas, including the Pueblo, Cherokee, Creek and many others organized harvest festivals, ceremonial dances, and other celebrations of thanks for centuries before the arrival of Europeans in North America.
Historians have also recorded other ceremonies of thanks among European settlers in North America, including British colonists in Berkeley Plantation, Virginia. At this site near the Charles River in December of 1619, a group of British settlers led by Captain John Woodlief knelt in prayer and pledged "Thanksgiving" to God for their healthy arrival after a long voyage across the Atlantic. This event has been acknowledged by some scholars and writers as the official first Thanksgiving among European settlers on record. Whether at Plymouth, Berkeley Plantation, or throughout the Americas, celebrations of thanks have held great meaning and importance over time. The legacy of thanks, and particularly of the feast, have survived the centuries as people throughout the United States gather family, friends, and enormous amounts of food for their yearly Thanksgiving meal.
What Was Actually on the Menu?
What foods topped the table at the first harvest feast? Historians aren't completely certain about the full bounty, but it's safe to say the pilgrims weren't gobbling up pumpkin pie or playing with their mashed potatoes. Following is a list of the foods that were available to the colonists at the time of the 1621 feast. However, the only two items that historians know for sure were on the menu are venison and wild fowl, which are mentioned in primary sources. The most detailed description of the "First Thanksgiving" comes from Edward Winslow from A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, in 1621:
"Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, among other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed upon our governor, and upon the captain, and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."
Did you know that lobster, seal and swans were on the Pilgrims' menu? Learn more...
Seventeenth Century Table Manners:
The pilgrims didn't use forks; they ate with spoons, knives, and their fingers. They wiped their hands on large cloth napkins which they also used to pick up hot morsels of food. Salt would have been on the table at the harvest feast, and people would have sprinkled it on their food. Pepper, however, was something that they used for cooking but wasn't available on the table.
In the seventeenth century, a person's social standing determined what he or she ate. The best food was placed next to the most important people. People didn't tend to sample everything that was on the table (as we do today), they just ate what was closest to them.
Serving in the seventeenth century was very different from serving today. People weren't served their meals individually. Foods were served onto the table and then people took the food from the table and ate it. All the servers had to do was move the food from the place where it was cooked onto the table.
Pilgrims didn't eat in courses as we do today. All of the different types of foods were placed on the table at the same time and people ate in any order they chose. Sometimes there were two courses, but each of them would contain both meat dishes, puddings, and sweets.
More Meat, Less Vegetables
Our modern Thanksgiving repast is centered around the turkey, but that certainly wasn't the case at the pilgrims's feasts. Their meals included many different meats. Vegetable dishes, one of the main components of our modern celebration, didn't really play a large part in the feast mentality of the seventeenth century. Depending on the time of year, many vegetables weren't available to the colonists.
The pilgrims probably didn't have pies or anything sweet at the harvest feast. They had brought some sugar with them on the Mayflower but by the time of the feast, the supply had dwindled. Also, they didn't have an oven so pies and cakes and breads were not possible at all. The food that was eaten at the harvest feast would have seemed fatty by 1990's standards, but it was probably more healthy for the pilgrims than it would be for people today. The colonists were more active and needed more protein. Heart attack was the least of their worries. They were more concerned about the plague and pox.
Surprisingly Spicy Cooking
People tend to think of English food at bland, but, in fact, the pilgrims used many spices, including cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, pepper, and dried fruit, in sauces for meats. In the seventeenth century, cooks did not use proportions or talk about teaspoons and tablespoons. Instead, they just improvised. The best way to cook things in the seventeenth century was to roast them. Among the pilgrims, someone was assigned to sit for hours at a time and turn the spit to make sure the meat was evenly done.
Since the pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians had no refrigeration in the seventeenth century, they tended to dry a lot of their foods to preserve them. They dried Indian corn, hams, fish, and herbs.
Dinner for Breakfast: Pilgrim Meals:
The biggest meal of the day for the colonists was eaten at noon and it was called noonmeat or dinner. The housewives would spend part of their morning cooking that meal. Supper was a smaller meal that they had at the end of the day. Breakfast tended to be leftovers from the previous day's noonmeat.
In a pilgrim household, the adults sat down to eat and the children and servants waited on them. The foods that the colonists and Wampanoag Indians ate were very similar, but their eating patterns were different. While the colonists had set eating patterns—breakfast, dinner, and supper—the Wampanoags tended to eat when they were hungry and to have pots cooking throughout the day.
Source: Kathleen Curtin, Food Historian at Plimoth Plantation
TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE THANKSGIVING
Twas the night before Thanksgiving and all through the kitchen,
I was cooking and baking and moaning' and twitchin';
I've been here for hours, I can't stop to rest,
This place is a disaster, just look at the mess!
Tomorrow I've got thirty people to feed,
They expect all the trimmings — who cares what I need!
My feet are both blistered, I've got cramps in my legs,
The dog just knocked over a bowl full of eggs.
There's a knock at the door and the telephone's ringing,
Frosting drips on the counter as the microwave's dinging;
Two pies in the oven, dessert's almost done
My cookbook is soiled with butter and crumbs.
I've had all I can stand, I can't take anymore;
Then walks in my husband, spilling rum on the floor.
He heaves and he wobbles, his balance unsteady;
Then grins as he chuckles "The eggnog is ready!"
He looks all around, saying, with total regret,
"What's takin' so long? Aren't you through in here yet??"
As quick as a flash I reach for a knife;
He'd better get going if he values his life!
Now he flees from the room in terror and pain,
Screaming "GET A GRIP, WOMAN, ARE YOU INSANE!!"
Now what was I doing, and what smell is this?
Oh, darn, it's the pies!! They're burned to a crisp!!
I hate to admit when I make a mistake,
But I put them on BROIL instead of on BAKE.
What else can go wrong? Is there still more to dread?
If this is good living, there's a hole in my head!
Now, don't get me wrong, I love holidays;
They just leave me exhausted, all shaky and dazed.
But, I promise you one thing, if I survive 'til next year,
I won't be in the kitchen, pulling my hair out in here.
I'll hire a maid, a cook, and a waiter;
And if that doesn't work ...
I'LL HAVE IT ALL CATERED!!
The Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving (Edgar Albert Guest, 1881-1959)
It may be I am getting old and like too much to dwell
Upon the days of bygone years, the days I loved so well;
But thinking of them now I wish somehow that I could know
A simple old Thanksgiving Day, like those of long ago,
When all the family gathered round a table richly spread,
With little Jamie at the foot and grandpa at the head,
The youngest of us all to greet the oldest with a smile,
With mother running in and out and laughing all the while.
It may be I'm old-fashioned, but it seems to me today
We're too much bent on having fun to take the time to pray;
Each little family grows up with fashions of its own;
It lives within a world itself and wants to be alone.
It has its special pleasures, its circle, too, of friends;
There are no get-together days; each one his journey wends,
Pursuing what he likes the best in his particular way,
Letting the others do the same upon Thanksgiving Day.
I like the olden way the best, when relatives were glad
To meet the way they used to do when I was but a lad;
The old home was a rendezvous for all our kith and kin,
And whether living far or near they all came trooping in
With shouts of "Hello, daddy!" as they fairly stormed the place
And made a rush for mother, who would stop to wipe her face
Upon her gingham apron before she kissed them all,
Hugging them proudly to her breast, the grownups and the small.
Then laughter rang throughout the home, and, Oh, the jokes they told;
From Boston, Frank brought new ones, but father sprang the old;
All afternoon we chatted, telling what we hoped to do,
The struggles we were making and the hardships we'd gone through;
We gathered round the fireside. How fast the hours would fly--
It seemed before we'd settled down 'twas time to say good-bye.
Those were the glad Thanksgivings, the old-time families knew
When relatives could still be friends and every heart was true.
We humbly ask Thy blessing
on the turkey and the dressing,
on the yams and cranberry jelly,
and the pickles from the deli.
Bless the apple pie and tea,
bless each and every calorie.
Let us enjoy Thanksgiving dinner.
Tomorrow we can all get thinner.
For all Thy help along the way
we're thankful this Thanksgiving Day.
We're thankful too, for all our dear ones,
for all the far away and near ones.
Although we may be far apart,
we're together in my heart.
Keep us in Thy loving care,
This is my Thanksgiving prayer.
P.S. Anyone who wishes may help with the dishes.
Who does not thank for little, will not thank for much. ~Estonian Proverb~
T’was the night of Thanksgiving,
But I just couldn’t sleep.
I tried counting backwards,
I tried counting sheep.
The leftovers beckoned,
The dark meat and white.
But I fought the temptation,
With all of my might.
Tossing and turning,
The thought of a snack
So I raced to the kitchen,
Flung open the door,
And gazed at the fridge,
Full of goodies galore.
I gobbled up turkey,
And buttered potatoes,
Pickles and carrots,
Beans and tomatoes.
I felt myself swelling,
So plump and so round.
‘til all of a sudden,
I rose off the ground.
I crashed through the ceiling,
Floating into the sky,
With a mouthful of pudding,
And a handful of pie.
But I managed to yell
As I soared past the trees
Happy eating to all,
Pass the cranberries, please!!
May your stuffing be tasty
May your turkey be plump.
May your potatoes and gravy
Have nary a lump.
May your yams be delicious,
May your pies take the prize
And May your Thanksgiving dinner
Stay off of your thighs!
Be thankful that you don't already have everything you desire...
if you did, what would be there to look forward to.
Be thankful when you don't know something...
for it gives you the opportunity to learn.
Be thankful for the difficult times...
it's during those times you grow.
Be thankful for your limitations...
they give you opportunities for improvement.
Be thankful for each new challenge...
which will build your strength and character.
Be thankful for your mistakes
they will teach you valuable lessons.
Be thankful when you are tired and weary...
because it means you've given your all.
It's easy to be thankful for the 'good' things...
Yet a life of rich fullment comes to those who thankful for the setbacks.
Gratitude can turn a negative into a positive...
Find a way to be thankful for your troubles...
amd they can become your blessings.
Here's a game that's takes lots skill, but beware of the FORK:
Or your can try your hand at a Turkey Shoot?
Before watching video click HERE to turn off music
Turkey Facts What do you know about turkeys?
Turkeys are able to adapt to a wide variety of habitats. However, most turkeys are found in hardwood forests with grassy areas.
The best time to see a turkey is on a warm clear day or in a light rain.
Turkeys have heart attacks. When the Air Force was conducting test runs and breaking the sound barrier, fields of turkeys would drop dead.
Turkeys can drown if they look up when it is raining.
Turkeys spend the night in trees. They fly to their roosts around sunset.
Turkeys fly to the ground at first light and feed until mid-morning. Feeding resumes in mid-afternoon.
Gobbling starts before sunrise and can continue through most of the morning.
A wild turkey has excellent vision and hearing. Their field of vision is about 270 degrees. This is the main reason they continue to elude some hunters.
A spooked turkey can run at speeds up to 20 miles per hour. They can also burst into flight approaching speeds between 50-55 mph in a matter of seconds.
Benjamin Franklin wanted the national bird to be a turkey.
The year has turned its circle,
The seasons come and go.
The harvest all is gathered in
And chilly north winds blow.
Orchards have shared their treasures,
The fields, their yellow grain,
So open wide the doorway,
Thanksgiving comes again.