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Monday, November 24, 2014

What's for Dinner, Pilgrim?


The First Thanksgiving 1621, oil on canvas by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1899). The painting shows common misconceptions about the event that persist to modern times: Pilgrims did not wear such outfits, and the Wampanoag are dressed in the style of Native Americans from the Great Plains
        The Thanksgiving food we know today is nothing like what the 53 Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans hunted, harvested, prepared, and served at the famous meal 391 years ago.
        No one knows the complete dinner menu, but historians are certain that the participants enjoyed the following:

• Wildfowl (goose, duck, swan, passenger pigeons)
• Wild turkey
• Venison
• Porridge
• Corn bread
        Instead of turkey, goose or duck was the main course. Historians suspect that some birds were boiled first, and then roasted, and others were roasted first, and then boiled. Also, the birds were stuffed with shelled chestnuts or onions and herbs.
        Historians, although uncertain, believe that the following was also served:

• Eels
• Lobster
• Clams
• Mussels
• Chestnuts
• Walnuts
• Beechnuts
• Hickory nuts
• Multi-colored Indian corn
• Pumpkins
• Squashes
• Onions
• Dried beans and peas
• Lettuces
• Spinach
• Radishes
        Seasonings included salt, pepper, cinnamon, ginger, liverwort, leeks, and nutmeg.

        Here are some recipes adapted from Plimoth Plantation’s recipe page featuring original colonial recipes

Onion Sauce for Roast Turkey
        In the 17th century “gravy” was the drippings from the meat that were often transformed into a sauce.
6 medium onions, sliced thinly
2 cups of water
2 teaspoons of coarsely ground pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup bread crumbs (optional)
        Follow your favorite recipe for roast turkey. Remove the turkey to a platter reserving the pan juices. Place thinly sliced onions in a pot with water and salt. Bring to a boil over medium high heat and cook until the onions are tender but not mushy. A good deal of the water should have boiled away. Set aside for a moment. Place the roasting pan over medium heat and stir to loosen any brown bits. Stir in the onion sauce, sugar, vinegar and bread crumbs if desired. Add pepper to taste and adjust seasonings. To serve, pour over sliced turkey or serve alongside in a separate dish.

Hasty Pudding
        This pudding recipe was originally brought over from England and was called Indian Pudding or supawn when it was made in Colonial America, since cornmeal was cheaper and more readily available.
        As a British dish, it was a quick pudding to make using a sweetened porridge made from flour, tapioca or oatmeal and milk.
        Here the recipe was transformed to use local ingredients -- cornmeal, molasses or maple syrup and milk.
       It’s anything but “hasty,” since it requires 2 hours to bake. If you want to be truly authentic, serve as an appetizer.
2 cups milk
2 cups light cream
3 tablespoons stone ground yellow cornmeal
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs, beaten
         In a heavy pan scald milk and cream. Gradually sprinkle with yellow cornmeal and bring to a boil, stirring briskly. Stir in sugar, maple syrup, butter and all the other dry ingredients. Let the mixture cool slightly. In a small bowl beat the eggs with the milk/cream mixture. Pour the batter into a buttered 1 ½ quart baking dish and bake in a moderately slow oven (325 degrees F) for 2 hours. Serve hot or warm with whipped cream or ice cream if desired.

Susan F. Craft is the author of the award-winning Revolutionary War romantic suspence, The Chamomile. She is represented by Linda S. Glaz, Hartline Literary Agency.


  1. Food, glorious food.... Thank you for this look into the real meal.

    Thanksgiving is about the attitude rather than the menu. One of the things I thank God for is this blog and the information I've received here.

    The company is wonderful, such interesting people! Thank you to all who contribute to our sum of knowledge by sharing experiences and photos.

    1. So glad you enjoyed the post, Judith. I love history and researching for my novels, but most of all I enjoy sharing it with others who have an appreciation for learning.

  2. Oh, fun! Something I recently learned was that all the deaths after that first winter resulted in just FOUR Pilgrim women remaining. That means FOUR women preparing this feast for over a hundred! (To which the presenter said, "Some things never change, do they?" LOL

    1. I didn't know about there being only four women remaining. The ones who survived must have been extraordinary.


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