November has arrived, and that means it’s time for Certified Food Protection Managers to begin their preparations for their annual Thanksgiving feasts. It’s a meal steeped in tradition featuring moist roasted turkey drizzled with cranberry sauce, creamy mashed potatoes slathered in rich butter, sweet candied yams, warm bread rolls and of course, no Thanksgiving feast would be complete without a large slice of pumpkin pie topped with freshly whipped cream, just like the Pilgrims ate on that very first Thanksgiving Day. Or did they?
A Traditional Thanksgiving Menu Circa 1621
Before we debunk all of your favorite Thanksgiving menu items, we can tell you that the centerpiece of the modern Thanksgiving feast, the turkey, was enjoyed by the Pilgrims and their native guests on that first Thanksgiving, although it probably was not the focus of the meal. In one of two surviving documents chronicling that first feast, William Bradford, wrote “…and besides waterfowl there was a great store of wild turkeys…” So the good news is, if you’re looking to host an authentic Thanksgiving event, the traditional turkey can stay on the table and be joined by duck, geese, pigeon and other birds native to New England.
Other meats graced the table in 1621 as it’s recorded that King Massasoit of the native population sent hunters to bring venison to the feast, and, being a coastal area, it’s highly likely that clams, mussels, eel and other easy to harvest seafood would have been a staple of the settler’s diet and included during the festivities.
Now for the bad news for Certified Food Protection Managers researching the first Thanksgiving menu: cranberry sauce, roasted yams, mashed potatoes and fresh bread would have been unheard of in 1620’s New England. The potatoes’ origins lie in South America and yams were only to be found in the islands of the Caribbean which makes it extremely improbable for these two staples of today’s feasts to be found in the Pilgrim’s storehouses. And what about cranberry sauce you ask? Well, sad to say that the first recorded use of Cranberry sauce did not occur until nearly 50 years later.
As long as the settlers still had pumpkin pie, everything will be ok, right? Well, time for another let down. It’s stipulated by culinary historians that the early settlers had no access to ingredients such as wheat flour or butter, so it would have been impossible to bake any kind of pie. But, don’t worry, pumpkins were native to the area, so some form of the roasted gourd would have made its way to the table.
Whether you serve a modern Thanksgiving meal, or are planning a bold attempt at recreating the first menu, we at Safe Food Training wish you and yours a HAPPY THANKSGIVING!