After Halloween and pumpkins, we couldn’t resist talking about Thanksgiving because they are after all the three musketeers. Thanksgiving (Day), is a public holiday celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States.
A Day To Be Grateful: What’s That About?
Thanksgiving is a holiday feast that we can track back to November 1621. History says that first Thanksgiving was an autumn harvest celebration by Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians who had newly colonized in Plymouth.
Thanksgiving Feast: Then & Now
Since it was a harvest celebration, locally grown grains, fruits and vegetables along with the bounty of hunting made their way to the first Thanksgiving feast. Today, the famous banquet includes roast turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. But these didn’t earn a place at the table until later in the holiday’s 400-year history.
Surprise surprise, Turkey was not the centrepiece of the meal! The colonists ate wildfowls such as ducks, geese, and swans; and the wild turkey was one such fowl. Also, instead of bread-based stuffing, herbs, onions and/or nuts were part of the recipe to make the birds extra flavorful.
Fun Food Fact: It seems that turkey was the victim of a common complaint ‘feeling drowsy after Thanksgiving meal’ as it contains tryptophan, an amino acid with a somnolent effect. But research highlighted that carbohydrate-rich sides and desserts are the ones that aid tryptophan to make way for the brain.
Speaking of meat, culinary historians believe that hunting also included deer and venison which were used to whip up a hearty stew. The colonists and Wampanoag also probably ate seafood like lobster, bass, clams, and mussels.
Local vegetables such as onions, beans, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, carrots, and peas were used. The bumper crop was corn, consumed as cornmeal or porridge. Indigenous fruits were berries and plums, no wonder the Native Americans ate and used cranberries as a natural dye. However it wasn’t eaten as a sauce, this tradition started about 50 years later.
Potatoes of any kind, in any form, were not part of the meal. But pumpkins and quashes were definitely on the indigenous list. Of course, the colonists definitely lacked butter and wheat flour required to bake pies! Besides the settlers hadn’t yet constructed an oven for baking. So custards were more probable.
So how did the modern Thanksgiving banquet turn out to be this way? Here’s the final tit-bit on the Thanksgiving front. Sarah Josepha Hale, the author of the famous nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” started campaigning (in the 1800s) to establish Thanksgiving as an annual event. As a part of her campaign, Hale circulated Thanksgiving recipes and menus which make up today’s feast! Ironically lamb was not on the menu 😉