I doubt Pilgrims had the weight issues we have today in America. There was no Boston Market or Honey Baked Ham stores. There was no Cracker Barrel or even a Publix supermarket to pile up all those ingredients for your favorite casseroles and pies.
As I pondered how Thanksgiving has changed over the years, I wondered what would have been on the table back in 1621 at the original “The First Thanksgiving” between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag at Plymouth Colony. As I started my investigation, I was shocked at my findings.
If we ate more like a Pilgrim, we’d all be pretty darn fit and trim!
8 Surprising 1621 Thanksgiving Facts
The first thing that popped out at me was the high-protein menu. While turkey has always been a Thanksgiving staple, waterfowl was top on the list of foods, including duck, geese and swan (can you imagine?!). Venison was also included in their hunt but the most surprising items were lobster and clams. Since wild turkey was plentiful in that region, is is fair to say other fowl, including turkey, were included in this high-protein feast but I wouldn’t have even thought about seafood.
2. NO HAM
Ham couldn’t have been on their menu since they didn’t have pigs for another couple of years. Can you imagine, no pigs? No bacon? No Virginia ham? Virginia ham was always a holiday treat for us thanks to my Uncle Mac who shipped us the most amazing Virginia ham every year.
3. PASS THE STEW
When I think “Thanksgiving”, I do not think “stew”, However, stew might have been on the original menu. Historians say there were reports of the Wampanoag guests arriving with several deer. Experts say they would have likely roasted deer on a spit over a smoldering fire and used some of it to make a hearty stew.
4. NO CORN
I love corn. Corn on the cob, creamed corn, roasted corn, grilled corn and popcorn, but it is not likely it was on the table in 1621. While the pilgrims were actually celebrating the successful corn harvest, experts say it’s not very likely they had corn on the table as we would picture it today. Instead, they would have used the corn to create cornmeal for a corn mush or porridge. I wonder when they discovered corn was good by itself, and even better with a little salt and butter?
5. LOTS OF FRUIT
As a compliment to the massive amount of protein, they would have offered a beautiful array of fruits indigenous to the region including blueberries, plums, grapes, gooseberries, raspberries and, of course cranberries – most of which are also some of the lowest calorie fruits available and rich in antioxidants. Fruit would have probably been like dessert and appreciated as much as we appreciate a good pecan pie with ice cream on top.
6. NO PUMPKIN PIE
While squash and pumpkins were reported to be included in the original feast, the oven had not been constructed yet so the likelihood of any kind of pie was pretty low. They also had no butter or flour to make pie crust. Historians do say that some of the early settlers did experiment with a pumpkin dessert by hollowing out the pumpkin, filling the shells with milk, honey and spices to make a custard, then roasting the gourds whole in hot ashes. How creative!
7. LOTS OF BODY ODOR
OK, I admit, there are no reports about Pilgrims’ struggling with manly underarm odor, but there was a lot of testosterone at the table since 78% of the women who had traveled on the Mayflower had died from the harsh winter. According to eye witness accounts, there were 22 men, 25 children and teenagers and just 4 women enjoying the meal together. What this says to me is I bet men were very helpful in the kitchen! (hint hint!)
8. MIXED COMPANY
One of the most beautiful things to hear is reading about how the American Indians and colonists shared a meal together, each bringing something to the table. This is a great reminder of what our Thanksgiving should look like. It is a time to set aside differences, beliefs and cultural distinctions and embrace friendship and each person’s value. It is really easy to do what is easiest over the Holidays.
Coordinating schedules, trying new foods or recipes and being more flexible takes a lot of work. Fight any laziness to do what is easy, but do what is best this year. You will likely burn more calories, build stronger relationships and, in the end, have more fun!