What the Pilgrims Ate on the First Thanksgiving


Succulent turkey, piping hot squash casserole, and sweet pumpkin pie probably weren’t on the Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving table. Here’s a look at what they may have dined on instead, with current recipes to help you dine on some Pilgrim-inspired eats this Thanksgiving.

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 Pilgrims wanted to eat meat, they had to go out and shoot it. Thanksgiving was a special celebration, so chances are, that meal was guaranteed to have meat. Venison is the likeliest choice, as it was always deer season back then.

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. Be thankful that you won’t be in charge of the plucking this year’s feast.

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

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 were on the coast and in the right area, you could be feasting just as soon as you got that massive cauldron boiling. BYO clarified butter.

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

Gasp! Breaking free from the dessert table, pumpkin makes a savory appearance. 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 days of tri-pointed hats.

Butter Lettuce Salad with Walnuts and Grapes

If you live for Bac-Os 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 hearty, nutritious, and plentiful. Plus, it’s likely there was an axe handle around ready to take on the cracking.

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. Likely, the Pilgrims roasted plentiful seasonal root vegetables right over the cooking fire with the meat.

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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