Traditional Thanksgiving Foods & Recipes starting from 1621 (2024)

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Traditional Thanksgiving foods, recipes and traditions starting back from 1621 that we can use in how we prepare our holiday foods from the bounty of our land. And it's pretty fun to see how things have changed and which foods have stood the test of centuries.

Traditional Thanksgiving Foods & Recipes starting from 1621 (1)

Traditional Thanksgiving fare can differ quite a bit from what we now consider in modern times a traditional Thanksgiving meal. I think it's always important to look back at our past so we don't forget the things that are important or loose skill sets, so we take those and figure out how to use them in our modern world.

This is episode #121 of the Pioneering Today Podcast where we teach families how to grow, preserve and cook their own food using old-fashioned skill sets and wisdom to create a natural self-sufficient home.

Thanksgiving is coming up shortly and most of us have some favorites we usually serve, a roasted turkey, stuffing or dressing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, green beans, winter squash, and pumpkin and apple pie are usually on the table, or a close variation.

I thought it would be fun to look at what would have been served during the first Thanksgivings, the progression we've made to what is now served, and the tips and tricks for using what you've grown to create your Thanksgiving meal.

The first American Thanksgiving was celebrated in the fall in 1621 in Plymouth. There was a letter written of the three day feast, with the colonist and the Native Americans. They had five deer and fowl where they celebrated their thankfulness for the food and the harvest.

It actually wasn't celebrated on the 4th Thursday of November like we do now. Historians have put it somewhere between September 21st and November 9th. That would have been the timeline and when the harvest would have been gathered in and ready. *sourceThe Book of Thanksgiving by Paul Dickson

Thanksgiving was officially made a national holiday in America in 1863 by Abraham Lincoln set as the 4th Thursdsay in November.

In the The Book of Thanksgiving, we have two surviving descriptions via letters of the first Thanksgiving and from that, can glean what was most likely served.

Traditional Thanksgiving Foods & Recipes starting from 1621 (2)

Foods most likely served at the first Thanksgiving:

  • cod
  • sea bass
  • wild fowl
  • turkeys
  • venison (deer or elk)
  • corn
  • nuts, walnuts, hickory, chestnuts
  • grapes, gooseberries, and raspberries
  • wild cherries and strawberries
  • green beans and squash
  • American crab apple (not regular apples)
  • currants
  • blueberries
  • wild onions
  • purslane

Desserts as we so lovingly serve now, they didn't have back then due to lack of sugar and even molasses.

A lot of the foods we serve today at Thanksgiving aren't in season. We've put them up and saved them, not only for this meal but to sustain us year-round. That goal was the same as the early pilgrims, our ancestors, and now modern homesteaders.

Back in the day, the way they could have preserved their food was dehydration. Canning was not even invented yet in 1621. Your root vegetables would have still been good and root cellaring techniques would have been used.

The first Thanksgiving would not have had any foods that weren't native to the Americas. They hadn't been on the shores long enough to grow any of the crops and seeds they'd brought with them from England.

Traditional Thanksgiving Foods & Recipes starting from 1621 (3)

List of food not served at the first Thanksgiving we include today as traditions:

  • apples
  • pears
  • potatoes (not even known yet)
  • sweet corn
  • celery

Homesteaders have more in common with the first Thanksgiving than we do the modern celebration. We know when you grow, harvest, hunt and forage your own food you have a larger sense of gratitude and thankfulness because you know you're not guaranteed that food.

You know when you go to the store, unless they run out, you can purchase your turkey, sugar, flour, cranberries. I'm not saying we're still thankful for the food we purchase, but there's a different level when you've grown and harvested it yourself.

In fact, the first time you sit down to a meal that's completely from the food you've raised or harvested yourself, it's an incredible feeling you can't put into words.

The cool thing is, it doesn't really ever go away. Anytime the meal is completely from our own hand, the thankfulness and satisfaction are unlike anything you get from buying it from the store.

It's something I hope everyone has the opportunity to experience one time in their life (and hopefully much more).

Menu from Thanksgivings past

*according to The Book of Thanksgiving by Paul Dickson would have likely included:

  • Boiled codfish, grilled sea bass
  • fowl, (tradition of turkey came in) but geese and ducks
  • corn
  • venison
  • nuts (chestnuts roasting on an open fire)
  • boiled onions (this fried apple and onion dish is a great one to try)
  • crab apples with currants
  • minced meat pie

They were near the coast, so seafood was part of the menu, the food they had available to them was what they used and served.

Traditional Thanksgiving Foods & Recipes starting from 1621 (4)

Transition into foods we consider traditional Thanksgiving fare today

As more foods became available you have the dishes we now serve with the addition of fruits, sugar, and molasses including:

  • Apple pie (this is THE best flaky easy to roll from-scratch pie crust recipe you'll ever use)
  • Pumpkin pie
  • Cranberry sauce/jelly (or fermented cranberry sauce)
  • Relishes
  • Potatoes
  • Green beans (this from-scratch whole foods version of green bean casserole is a must)
  • Sweet potatoes
  • corn pudding
  • puddings

Modern homesteaders look at using what they've been able to grow and put up as to what they put on the table.

In Hand Made: the Modern Guide to Made-from-Scratch Living I share some of our traditional holiday foods and recipes. If you haven't gotten your copy, you'll want to get your copy here and see all of the bonuses included with over 100 recipes from grandma, great-grandma, and wisdom from the Great Depression Era and the pioneers to use in our modern lives and kitchen.

This time of year, a lot of our root vegetables are getting a showcase.

  • parsnips
  • carrots
  • beets
  • potatoes
  • winter squash
Traditional Thanksgiving Foods & Recipes starting from 1621 (6)

Our favorite traditional Thanksgiving dishes and recipes (shared from Chapter 6 in Hand Made)

Acorn squash with molasses, butter, honey, cinnamon, and nutmeg

Carrots- roasted with butter or coconut oil, sea salt, a little dash of brown sugar, and cinnamon

Pumpkin- pie, pumpkin sugar cookies, and Grandma's Pumpkin Roll

Traditional steamed molasses pudding– steamed puddings were often served and this one doesn't use any processed sugar and has Instant Pot instructions!

Cornbread- cornbread stuffing with sage and sausage is our favorite.

I hope you've enjoyed this look back at a traditional Thanksgiving and ways to incorporate some of them into our meals.

Traditional Thanksgiving Foods & Recipes starting from 1621 (2024)


Traditional Thanksgiving Foods & Recipes starting from 1621? ›

You can replicate the first Thanksgiving by making the Seethed Mussels with Parsley and Vinegar, Stewed Turkey with Herbs and Onions, Stewed Pumpkins, and Sweet Pudding of Indian Corn, or take a trip to Plimoth Plantation for special 1621-themed dinners in October and November.

What did they eat for Thanksgiving in 1621? ›

So, to the question “What did the Pilgrims eat for Thanksgiving,” the answer is both surprising and expected. Turkey (probably), venison, seafood, and all of the vegetables that they had planted and harvested that year—onions, carrots, beans, spinach, lettuce, and other greens.

What were the original Thanksgiving dishes? ›

But according to the two only remaining historical records of the first Thanksgiving menu, that meal consisted of freshly killed deer, assorted wildfowl, cod, bass, and flint, and a native variety of corn harvested by the Native Americans, which was eaten as corn bread and porridge.

What types of food did the Pilgrims and natives eat during Thanksgiving? ›

Although turkeys were indigenous, there's no record of a big, roasted bird at the feast. The Wampanoag brought deer and there would have been lots of local seafood (mussels, lobster, bass) plus the fruits of the first pilgrim harvest, including pumpkin.

What are the 10 traditional Thanksgiving foods? ›

Here are our favorite traditional Thanksgiving dishes that are delicious and easy to make.
  • Creamy Mashed Potatoes. Prep Time: 20 minutes | Cook Time: 15 minutes | Serves: Up to 4 people. ...
  • Stuffing. ...
  • Green Bean Casserole. ...
  • Sweet Potato Casserole. ...
  • Baked Corn. ...
  • Mac and cheese. ...
  • Peas & Water Chestnuts. ...
  • Fresh Rolls.
Oct 28, 2021

What did the Pilgrims eat on the Mayflower? ›

During the Mayflower's voyage, the Pilgrims' main diet would have consisted primarily of a cracker-like biscuit ("hard tack"), salt pork, dried meats including cow tongue, various pickled foods, oatmeal and other cereal grains, and fish. The primary beverage for everyone, including children, was beer.

What really happened at the first Thanksgiving feast in 1621? ›

Massasoit sent some of his own men to hunt deer for the feast and for three days, the English and native men, women, and children ate together. The meal consisted of deer, corn, shellfish, and roasted meat, different from today's traditional Thanksgiving feast. They played ball games, sang, and danced.

What was the popular dish served at the first Thanksgiving? ›

Now this is a tough question! According to what traditionally is known as "The First Thanksgiving," the 1621 feast between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag at Plymouth Colony contained waterfowl, venison, ham, lobster, clams, berries, fruit, pumpkin, and squash.

What is the biggest difference between the celebratory feast in 1621 and Thanksgiving today? ›

Explanation: The biggest difference between the celebratory feast in 1621 and Thanksgiving today is the scale and cultural significance. In 1621, the feast was a small gathering of Pilgrims and Native Americans that lasted for three days, while Thanksgiving today is a national holiday celebrated by millions of people.

What did they eat at Thanksgiving in the 1700s? ›

Dishes served at Thanksgiving in the 1700s might have included venison pie, roasted goose, puddings and vegetables, all of which are included on the Webb-Deane-Stevens bill of fare.

Did they eat lobster at the first Thanksgiving? ›

While turkey is the staple for Thanksgiving today, it may not have been on the menu during what is considered the First Thanksgiving. The First Thanksgiving meal eaten by pilgrims in November 1621 included lobster. They also ate fruits and vegetables brought by Native Americans, mussels, bass, clams, and oysters.

What vegetables did the Pilgrims eat? ›

Indian corn was part of almost every meal in Plymouth Colony. Along with Indian corn, the Pilgrims also grew some beans, pumpkins, wheat, barley, oats and peas in their fields. In the gardens near their houses, women grew many different kinds of herbs and vegetables, like parsley, lettuce, spinach, carrots and turnips.

Which of these dishes was not served at the Plymouth Thanksgiving in 1621? ›

Potatoes—white or sweet—would not have been featured on the 1621 table, and neither would sweet corn. Bread-based stuffing was also not made, though the Pilgrims may have used herbs or nuts to stuff birds.

What is the least popular Thanksgiving food? ›

The Least Popular Thanksgiving Foods, Ranked
  • Sweet Potatoes or Yams — 25.12%
  • Stuffing/Dressing. — 22.33%
  • Pumpkin Pie. — 21.44%
  • Carrots. — 16.95%
  • Mashed Potatoes. — 15.45%
  • Corn. — 14.36%
  • Macaroni and Cheese. — 14.36%
  • Apple Pie. — 12.86%

What were the first 3 foods eaten on Thanksgiving? ›

There are only two surviving documents that reference the original Thanksgiving harvest meal. They describe a feast of freshly killed deer, assorted wildfowl, a bounty of cod and bass, and flint, a native variety of corn harvested by the Native Americans, which was eaten as corn bread and porridge.

What are 5 traditional Thanksgiving foods? ›

A traditional Thanksgiving dinner has Turkey, stuffing (also called bread dressing), gravy, potatoes (mashed or scalloped), rolls with butter, green beans or some other cooked green like cabbage or collards, one orange thing (cooked carrots, sweet potato casserole, or squash), something cranberry flavored, and pie ( ...

What type of food did the Wampanoag tribe eat? ›

Farmed foods such as corn and beans made up about 70% of the Wampanoag diet. Although the Wampanoag favored meat, meat made up less than 20% of their diet. Roots, berries and other gathered plant materials, as well as eggs, fish, and shellfish (both fresh and dried) made up the rest.

Did the Pilgrims and natives actually eat together? ›

In 1621, those Pilgrims did hold a three-day feast, which was attended by members of the Wampanoag tribe. However, typically, when these settlers had what they referred to as "thanksgiving" observances, they actually fasted. So this feast and celebration was known as a "rejoicing," according to The New Yorker.

Did the Native Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving? ›

Importance in Native American Culture

Before their popularity in modern Thanksgiving feasts, turkeys have been an important part of the food and cultural systems of Native Americans for thousands of years.

Was Swan eaten at the first Thanksgiving? ›

Turkey was not the centerpiece of the meal, as it is today, explains Wall. Though it is possible the colonists and American Indians cooked wild turkey, she suspects that goose or duck was the wildfowl of choice. In her research, she has found that swan and passenger pigeons would have been available as well.

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