Five Questions: Flavors of Thanksgiving
As you sit down with friends and family this week over a big Thanksgiving dinner, you may believe you’re honoring a 400-year-old tradition. That’s not exactly true. According to the historians at Plimoth Plantation, who answered this week’s Five Questions, there was no pumpkin pie, certainly no Black Friday and maybe not even turkey.
Q: Was there really no turkey at the first Thanksgiving in 1621?
A: It’s hard to say. Colonist Edward Winslow’s eyewitness account notes only that the Wampanoag Native Americans brought venison, while the colonists prepared a variety of fowl — with waterfowl like ducks and geese being most likely.
Q: But there was definitely no pumpkin pie?
A: True. The colonists may have eaten pumpkin in 1621, but definitely no pumpkin pie. For one, the fledgling colony probably didn’t have the butter and wheat flour for making pie crust. More importantly, though, the earliest pumpkin pie recipes are dated after the first Thanksgiving, and they treat the pumpkin more like apples, slicing and sometimes frying it.
Q: What about cranberries?
A: The Wampanoag may have used cranberries as a garnish in some dishes, but it would be another 50 years before an English writer would mention boiling the quintessential New England berry with sugar for sauce. In 1621, sugar was so expensive in England, it’s unlikely the colonists had any available.
Q: And mashed potatoes?
A: No way. White potatoes originated in South America and had not made their way into the Wampanoag diet by 1621.
Q: So what am I eating, anyway?
A: The modern Thanksgiving dinner didn’t fully come together until sometime in the 1800s, when Americans with nostalgia for colonial times tried to recreate the classic tastes of hearth and home. It’s fair to say they did a pretty good job.