Nov 13 2007

What did they eat at the first Thanksgiving feast?

Published by at 9:31 am under History,Holidays,Recipes

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We tend to think that Thanksgiving is all about pumpkin pie, turkey, mashed potatoes, yams and cranberries. In reality, the first Thanksgiving meal in 1621 celebrated by the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag Indians didn’t feature any of those items. Historians know for certain that they ate venison and wild fowl. They probably didn’t have much in the way of vegetables that time of year, and they didn’t have ovens in which to make cakes and pies. In fact, there were probably too stuffed on meat to care about eating something sweet. (For more information about the First Thanksgiving, go to and EnjoyMA)

So what could have been on the menu? This comes from Kathleen Curtin, Food Historian at Plimoth Plantation via

Foods that may have been on the menu

pilgrim-thanksgiving-feastSeafood: cod, eel, clams, lobster (now this is my idea of a great feast!)
Wild Fowl: wild turkey, goose, duck, crane, swan, partridge, eagles
Meat: venison (deer or elk), seal
Grain: wheat flour, Indian corn
Vegetables: pumpkin, peas, beans, onions, lettuce, radishes, carrots
Fruit: plums, grapes

Foods not on the menu

Ham: There is no evidence that the colonists had butchered their pigs though they had brought such animals with them from England.
Sweet Potatoes/Potatoes: These were not common.
Corn on the Cob: Corn was kept dried out at this time of year.
Cranberry Sauce: The colonists had cranberries but no sugar.
Pumpkin Pie: Hard to make without sugar, plus the recipe didn’t exist at this time. However, the pilgrims had recipes for stewed pumpkin.
Chicken/Eggs: We know that the colonists brought hens with them from England, but it’s unknown how many they had left at this point or whether the hens were still laying.
Milk: No cows had been aboard the Mayflower, though it’s possible that the colonists used goat milk to make cheese.

Make your Thanksgiving more authentic

According to EnjoyMA, the Native Americans enjoyed Indian Pudding. This pudding became a favorite of the colonists for centuries to come. However, if you believe (and I tend to think their sources are better) this wouldn’t have been enjoyed at the first Thanksgiving because there was no sugar and they probably didn’t have milk, eggs, lemons, molasses or raisins. But if you have someone in your family who can’t eat gluten, this is a great recipes to traditional bread puddings.

Still, it’s probably something that was enjoyed later during the time of the original 13 colonies. Couldn’t you imagine Ben Franklin having a bowl of this along with a glass of hot mulled wine?

Indian Pudding
Makes 4 to 6 servings.


  1. j03095692 cups milk
  2. 1 cup stone-ground cornmeal
  3. 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  4. 3/4 cup unsulphured molasses, warmed
  5. 4 tablespoons sugar
  6. 3 eggs, well beaten
  7. 1 teaspoon cinnamon, or to taste
  8. 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, or to taste
  9. grated peel of 1/2 small lemon
  10. 1/2 cup raisins
  11. sweetened whipped cream or sweet wine for topping


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat milk with cornmeal. Whisk from time to time until thick.
  2. Add molasses and butter. Then whisk in sugar.
  3. Gradually beat hot cornmeal mixture into beaten egg. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon peel and raisins.
  4. Place in 8-inch-diameter glass baking dish or ceramic mixing bowl. Bake for 1 hours, or until top is rounded and set.
  5. Serve hot with toppings of whipped cream or sweet wine, if desired.

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2 responses so far

2 Responses to “What did they eat at the first Thanksgiving feast?”

  1. Karen (Karooch from Scraps of Mind)on 14 Nov 2007 at 2:10 pm

    Loved the article Anne-Marie. Definitely a Stumble.
    It makes you wonder about our other ‘traditions’ Christmas is a perfect example of how we think we’re doing traditional things but most of the ‘traditions’ are less than 100 years old. Can’t wait to read what you do with that.

  2. Travel Bettyon 20 Nov 2007 at 11:04 am

    Great info, Anne-Marie. I’d be tempted to try a “traditional” Thanksgiving if it weren’t for the lack of sugar!

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