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~ Typical Thanksgiving Foods ~

Roasted turkey
A traditional Thanksgiving dinner in the USA usually involves roasting a turkey or a ham-- or both-- and a multitude of side dishes that varies by region. Regardless of region, though, these side dishes almost always include some type of stuffing for the turkey; cranberry sauce or compote; pumpkin, sweet potato, pecan and/or mincemeat pie; candied yams; rice or mashed potatoes with giblet gravy; corn in some fashion and lots of desserts.

Other common dishes include string beans, often cooked with diced onion and diced bacon or ham; cornbread; hot rolls or biscuits; Waldorf salad (an apple and walnut concoction); and ambrosia (a fruit dish that often includes nuts and mini marshmallows, the whole mixed with whipped or sour cream).

There is an unlimited number of variations for cooking all of these dishes. In the South, for instance, oysters are often mixed into corn bread stuffing; in the Midwest, sausage; and in New England, apples. Send in your own specialty if you like, we'd be happy to include it!

Interestingly enough, at Christmas time a few weeks later people in the USA eat all these dishes again-- and then some.

The following is a fairly complete list of the foods available to the Pilgrims during the three-day Thanksgiving harvest celebration, followed by foods that were NOT available to them. The only foods specifically mentioned by the Pilgrims themselves in their own writings (see the history page) are: "corn" (wheat, by the Pilgrims' usage of the word), Indian corn, barley, peas (if any were spared), "fowl" (Bradford says "waterfowl"), five deer, fish (namely bass and cod), and wild turkey.

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Foods Available to the Pilgrims for their 1621 Thanksgiving

  • FISH: cod, bass, herring, shad, bluefish, and lots of eel.
  • SEAFOOD: clams, lobsters, mussels, and very small quantities of oysters
  • BIRDS: wild turkey, goose, duck, crane, swan, partridge, and other miscellaneous waterfowl; they were also known to have occasionally eaten eagles (which "tasted like mutton" according to Winslow in 1623.)
  • OTHER MEAT: venison (deer), possibly some salt pork or chicken.
  • GRAIN: wheat flour, Indian corn and corn meal; barley (mainly for beer-making).
  • FRUITS: raspberries, strawberries, grapes, plums, cherries, blueberries, gooseberries (these would have been dried, as none would have been in season).
  • VEGETABLES: small quantity of peas, squashes (including pumpkins), beans
  • NUTS: walnuts, chestnuts, acorns, hickory nuts, ground nuts
  • HERBS and SEASONINGS: onions, leeks, strawberry leaves, currants, sorrel, yarrow, carvel, brooklime, liverwort, watercress, and flax; from England they brought seeds and probably planted radishes, lettuce, carrots, onions, and cabbage. Olive oil in small quantities may have been brought over, though the Pilgrims had to sell most of their oil and butter before sailing, in order to stay on budget.
  • OTHER: maple syrup, honey; small quantities of butter, Holland cheese; and eggs.

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Some foods we think of as authentic for Thanksgiving that actually aren't:

  • Ham. (The Pilgrims most likely did not have pigs with them).
  • Sweet Potatoes- Potatoes- Yams. (These had not yet been introduced to New England).
  • Corn on the cob. (Indian corn was only good for making cornmeal, not eating on the cob).
  • Popcorn. (Contrary to popular folklore, popcorn was not introduced at the 1621 Thanksgiving. Indian corn could only be half-popped, and this wouldn't have tasted very good.)
  • Cranberry sauce. (Cranberries were available, but sugar was not.)
  • Pumpkin Pie. (They probably made a pumpkin pudding of sorts, sweetened by honey or syrup, which would be like the filling of a pumpkin pie, but there would be no crust or whipped topping.)

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Choose a link below for more:

A brief history of Thanksgiving
Contemporary accounts of the First Thanksgiving
Some foods the Pilgrims did and did not have at their own Thanksgiving.
Lyrics to "Over the River and Through the Wood"
Thanksgiving
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