What Did the Pilgrims Really Eat on Thanksgiving?

If you think squash casserole and pecan tassies came over on the Mayflower, think again. Take a peek at the foods from the first Thanksgiving feast.

  • Rosemary Salt-Crusted Venison with Cherry-Cabernet Sauce
    Ashley Kappel, Becky Luigart-Stayner

    Rosemary Salt-Crusted Venison with Cherry-Cabernet Sauce

    Your table may not be complete without a hearty bird for carving, but the truth is, if you wanted to eat it, you had to go out and shoot it. Most likely, the remarkable thing about this celebratory meal was that it was guaranteed to have meat. After all, it was always deer season back then.
  • Duck with Dried Cherries and Rosemary
    Ashley Kappel

    Duck with Dried Cherries and Rosemary

    If you weren't an adept deer hunter, you might break out your duck call instead. Another popular option: Goose. Take a gander at our Roast Goose with Currant Sauce and be thankful that you won't be in charge of the plucking.

  • Local Clams with Herb Butter
    Ashley Kappel, Photo: Jean Allsopp

    Local Clams with Herb Butter

    If you were short on gunpowder or lucky enough to be near the sea, a fish dish would be just the ticket for a big dinner. Clams were likely an excellent, and succulent, choice for the memorable meal.
  • Boiled Lobster
    Ashley Kappel, Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner; Styling: Kathy Calnen

    Boiled Lobster

    While lobster goes for a pretty penny these days, you wouldn't have had to be flush to enjoy it during the first Thanksgiving. The first rule of real estate applied even then: Location, location, location. If you're on the coast and in the right area, you can be feasting just as soon as you get that massive cauldron boiling. BYO clarified butter.
  • Pumpkin-Sage Polenta
    Ashley Kappel, Photography: Becky Luigart-Stayner; Styling: Melanie J. Clarke

    Pumpkin-Sage Polenta

    While we think of corn as a fall veggie and often use it to stuff our cornucopia tablescape, in reality it's out of season and wouldn't have graced the Pilgrims' table. Instead, they'd use cornmeal to thicken this delicious pumpkin dish and a dash of sage to add flavor. That's right, friends, pumpkin belongs in more than just pie.
  • Farmer John's Pumpkin Soup
    Ashley Kappel, Angela Wyant

    Farmer John's Pumpkin Soup

    Gasp! Breaking free from the dessert table, pumpkin again surges into the main dish. Soup would have been a popular dish, though likely it was made from available ingredients instead of a standard recipe. Before you say, "I could do that," remember this: Food processors and blenders weren't around back in the day of tri-pointed hats.
  • Butter Lettuce Salad with Walnuts and Grapes
    Ashley Kappel, James Carrier

    Butter Lettuce Salad with Walnuts and Grapes

    If you live for Bacos and Craisins as standard salad toppers, you may have been out of luck as the big bowl passed you by at the first Thanksgiving table. More likely toppers? Nuts, including walnuts, acorns, and chestnuts, were both hearty, nutritious, and plentiful. Plus, it's likely there was an axe handle around ready for to take on the cracking.
  • Oven-Roasted Parsnips and Carrots
    Ashley Kappel

    Oven-Roasted Parsnips and Carrots

    The main keys to the first Thanksgiving was, first, giving thanks, and, second, keeping it simple. Imagine lighting a fire for each dish you wished to complete. No wonder the first Thanksgiving was a feast; it likely took all day! Another downer? Unless it was a particularly icy Thanksgiving, the lack of refrigeration likely made day-after sandwiches pretty scarce.
  • Sugar-Roasted Plums with Balsamic and Rosemary Syrup
    Ashley Kappel, Photography: Becky Luigart-Stayner; Styling: Lydia DeGaris-Pursell

    Sugar-Roasted Plums with Balsamic and Rosemary Syrup

    One great thing about the first Thanksgiving: Since sugar was pricey and scarce, the odds of a pie-induced sugar coma was about as likely as finding a gobbler wandering right into your homestead. Instead, delicious, seasonal fruit would have been the meal-ending show-stopper. You'd pair it with a mug of tea, if you were lucky.
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