Thanksgiving 1621: Not A Turkey In Sight

Nov 27, 2019

For most Americans, the Thanksgiving meal usually includes some variation of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce. But food historian Kyle Cherek says if we think we’re eating a true representation of the first Thanksgiving feast of 1621, we’d be wrong.

Cherek says that first harvest meal in what is now Massachusetts was a seafood fest of lobster, eels, mussels, and oysters. Also on the table: venison, flint corn, wild plums, gooseberries, and grapes. These were the “delicious and accessible” options available to the Pilgrims and the Native Americans who were already living there, says Cherek.

Stuffing, a dish we now consider crucial to the Thanksgiving meal, didn’t appear in an American cookbook until 1792. And even then stuffing was mostly just old bread — no sage, onions or sausage to flavor it. Cranberries didn’t hit the scene until 1912 when lawyer and cranberry farmer Marcus L. Urann founded Ocean Spray.

And the turkey? Well, that noble bird did a lot of transatlantic traveling before it became the mainstay of our current Thanksgiving meal tradition. If you want to know more about how turkeys overtook Thanksgiving, we talked about the history of the bird last year - you can find a link to that conversation below.

Cherek says that despite the fact our Thanksgiving meal looks almost nothing like that first one in 1621, it’s his favorite holiday. “There is no exclusionary aspect to this holiday. It’s where we celebrate the deliciousness of what it means to be an American,” he says.

So no matter your culinary traditions, Cherek and all of us at Lake Effect wish you and yours a very happy Thanksgiving. Happy eating!