By Chris Furguson
For many families, Thanksgiving is a time for relatives to gather around a large table filled with turkey, mashed potatoes and all sorts of side dishes.
However, for the early settlers of the Plymouth colony, the menu was very different than what we would call “traditional.”
While the actual meal served at the first Thanksgiving feast in 1621 isn’t fully known, Historians do recognize that venison (deer meat) and wild fowls were served, along with lobsters and seals.
Vegetables weren’t necessarily on the menu, either. Most of the colonists were worried about plague and pox to worry about heart attacks, plus the active lifestyle required a higher than now protein diet loaded with meats.
Cranberries, now a must have item on the Thanksgiving table, was not thought of as part of the original feast. While cranberries were widely available in the New England area, sugar was not.
The lack of sugar also meant that pies and breads were definitely not part of the Thanksgiving meal, either. The closest thing to dessert would have been fruits and cheeses rather than any sort of pastry.
The traditional Turkey, which is now roasted, barbecued or even deep fried, was most likely boiled as the ovens were reserved for goose, an English tradition. Turkeys weren’t even considered an important part of the feast until the 1870s, when attempts were made to reconcile the rift in the aftermath of the Civil war as well as to help integrate immigrants arriving in the United States at the time.
Also, while pigs were brought to the Americas, Ham was believed to not have been part of the original menu as no record of any pigs being slaughtered survive to this day.
The transition to the modern “traditional” Thanksgiving feast began in the 1850s, when Sarah Josepha Hale, writer of the poem “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” began a national campaign for a national day of Thanksgiving.
In 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared that the final Thursday in November would be a day of Thanksgiving. However, in 1941, at the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the day was declared an official national holiday by Congress.
By Chris Furguson