Tomorrow, as you sit down around the table and give thanks for those close to you, a lesson in history is probably the last thing on your mind with all that delicious food staring back at you.
But here’s one anyway.
Everyone knows the primary school version of the first Thanksgiving in 1621. The Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock and the Indians invited them to celebrate that first autumn harvest.
Ever wonder what graced their table that day? Though it likely wasn’t loaded to the extremes that we stuff ourselves on nowadays, it likely contained some of the basics of what we still eat today, including turkey and veggies.
According to the History Channel though, here’s a little more of the story behind the “first Thanksgiving.”
The colony’s governor, William Bradford, sent four men on a fowling mission, likely bringing back wild turkey for the occasion. Since there’s no record of what bird they returned with though, it could also just as likely have been duck, goose or swan.
It was also documented that the Wampanoag Native Americans brought deer, which were roasted and possibly made into stew.
For veggies, they likely harvested and feasted on onions, beans, lettuce, cabbage, carrots and corn.
“In those days, the corn would have been removed from the cob and turned into cornmeal, which was then boiled and pounded into a thick corn mush or porridge that was occasionally sweetened with molasses,” the History Channel documents.
Fruits likely included blueberries, plums, grapes, gooseberries, raspberries and cranberries.
Seafood was likely on the menu as well.
Two things missing from the first Thanksgiving table that likely aren’t missing from any table today are potatoes and pumpkin pie.
Though Europeans had been introduced to potatoes by this time period, tubers hadn’t made it to the United States yet. The Pilgrims ate other root foods like turnips and groundnuts, but no potatoes.
Though pumpkins and other squashes were a part of the meals then, there wasn’t the butter and flour necessary for whipping up pies. They also didn’t have ovens back then yet.
“According to some accounts, early English settlers in North America improvised by hollowing out pumpkins, filling the shells with milk, honey and spices to make a custard, then roasting the gourds whole in hot ashes.”
Besides the history of the food, the history of Thanksgiving’s existence is an interesting one too.
Those leaving Plymouth, England, for the new land left in September 1620. There were 102 passengers. It took them 66 days to cross the ocean on the Mayflower, and they landed near Cape Cod. There they established Plymouth.
That winter, many passengers stayed on the Mayflower, and by spring, only half were still alive.
The remaining colonists moved to land in March, where they were greeted by an Abenaki Indian. He introduced the settlers to Squanto, and he, in return, introduced them to the local Wampanoag tribe.
It was that fall that the Pilgrims celebrated their first successful harvest, considering this the first U.S. Thanksgiving. It lasted three days.
The celebration became an annual one, and in 1789, George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation by the national government.
It wasn’t until 1863, however, that Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving.
In 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week to spur retail sales during the Great Depression. It was met with opposition though, and in 1941, it went back to the fourth Thursday of the month.
And we have been enjoying turkey and pumpkin pie on that day ever since.
Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.
Apple and herb roasted turkey
- ¼ cup minced fresh sage
- ¼ cup minced fresh rosemary
- 1 turkey (14 lbs)
- 1 medium apple, quartered
- 1 medium onion, halved
- 1 celery rib, halved
- ½ cup butter, melted
- ½ cup apple jelly, warmed
Combine sage and rosemary. With fingers, carefully loosen the skin from under the turkey breast, rub the herbs under the skin. Secure the skin to the underside of the breast with toothpicks. Place breast side up on rack in roasting pan. Stuff turkey with apple, onion and celery. Brush with butter. Bake uncovered at 325 degrees for 3-3.5 hours or until a meat thermometer reads 180 degrees, basting occasionally with pan drippings. Loosely cover with foil is turkey browns too quickly. Brush with apple jelly, cover and let stand for 15 minutes before moving toothpicks and carving. Courtesy of Taste of Home
Parmesan rosemary mashed potatoes
- 5 large russet potatoes, peeled and cubed (about 4 lbs)
- 3 medium red potatoes, peeled and cubed (about ¾ lbs)
- ½ cup butter, softened
- 2 tbsp. mayonnaise
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 tsp. minced, fresh rosemary
- 1 tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. pepper
- 1 cup whole milk
- 3 tbsp. shredded parmesan cheese
Place potatoes in a dutch over, cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Cook uncovered 15-20 minutes or until tender. Drain. Return to the pan. Mash potatoes, gradually adding butter, mayonnaise, garlic, rosemary, salt, pepper and enough milk to reach desired consistency. Stir in cheese. Courtesy of Taste of Home
Sparkling cranberry kiss
- 6 cups cranberry juice
- 1½ cups orange juice
- 3 cups ginger ale
- Ice cubes
- Orange slices (optional)
In a pitcher, combine cranberry juice and orange juice. Just before serving, stir in ginger ale. Serve over ice. If desired, garnish with orange slices. Courtesy of Taste of Home
Stuffing with quince and bacon
- 1½ lbs challah bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 16 cups)
- 12 oz. thick cut, smoked bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
- 3 cups diced onions
- 2 cups diced celery
- 1 tbsp. chopped garlic
- 4 quince, peeled, cored and cut into ¾-inch (or, use 4 cups, diced Granny Smith apples)
- 1 cup dried cranberries
- 1 tbsp. each of chopped fresh sage, rosemary, thyme
- 1 cup chopped Italian parsley
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- ½ tsp. pepper
- 1½ cups chicken broth
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1 cup heavy cream
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place challah in large roasting pan. Bake 20 minutes. Tossing several times until lightly toasted. Transfer to large bowl. Fry bacon in large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat until crisp. Transfer bacon with slotted spoon to paper towel-lined plate. Drain. Pour off all but ¼ cup bacon drippings from the pan. Add onions, celery and garlic. Sautee 8 minutes until almost softened. Add quince, cranberries, sage, rosemary and thyme. Sautee 10 minutes, until quince are tender but still hold their shape. Add onion mixture to bread, along with bacon, parsley, salt and pepper. Toss. Drizzle 1 cup of broth over stuffing and toss again.
Generously butter 3-quart casserole dish. In a medium bowl, whisk remaining ½ cup broth, eggs and cream. Pour over bread mixture and toss with a large spoon until evenly moistened. Spoon stuffing into prepared dish. Cover tightly with foil. Bake 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake 15 more minutes until stuffing is hot and slightly crisp on top. Courtesy of Redbook Magazine
Cranberry walnut sweet potatoes
- 4 large sweet potatoes
- 1 tbsp. butter
- ¼ cup finely chopped onions
- 1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
- 1/3 cup maple syrup
- ¼ cup cranberry juice
- ¼ tsp. salt, divided
- ½ cup chopped walnuts toasted
- 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
- ¼ tsp. pepper
- 2 tbsp. minced fresh chives
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Scrub sweet potatoes. Pierce several times with fork. Bake 1 hour or until tender.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat butter over medium-high heat. Add onions. Cook and stir until tender. Stir in cranberries, maple syrup, cranberry juice and half the salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Simmer, covered 10-15 minutes or until berries pop, stirring occasionally. Stir in walnuts and Dijon mustard, heat through. When the sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut each in half length wise, sprinkle with remaining salt and pepper. Top each with cranberry mixture and sprinkle with chives. Courtesy of Taste of Home
Pumpkin tart with pistachio crust and brittle
- ½ cup shelled, unsalted pistachio nuts
- ¼ cup confectioners sugar
- 1½ cups flour
- ¼ tsp. salt
- ½ cup (on stick) plus 2 tbsp. butter, cold, unsalted, cut in small chunks
- 1 large egg yoke, lightly beaten with 2 tbsp. cold water
- 1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin puree
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- ¾ cup heavy cream
- 3 large eggs
- 2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp. almond extract
- ¼ tsp. salt
Tart shell: Chop pistachio nuts and confectioners sugar in food processor until the nuts are ground into powder (30 seconds). Add flour and salt. Pulse until combined. Add butter. Pulse several times until mixture resembles course meal. Add egg mixture. Pulse until dough just comes together into a ball. Press dough evenly in bottom and up sides of 11-inch fluted tart pan with removal bottom. Prick the bottom of the tart with fork in several places. Freeze tart shell for 15 minutes.
Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line tart shell with parchment paper, fill with pie weights of dried beans. Place tart pan on a baking sheet. Bake 15 minutes. Remove parchment paper and weights from shell. Bake shell 8 minutes longer, until golden. Cool completely on wire rack. Raise oven temperature to 350 degrees.
For the filling, whisk all ingredients until blended. Pour into crust. Carefully cover crust edges with foil so crust doesn’t get too dark. Bake until filling is set and crust is golden. (50-60 minutes). Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely. Slide tart off pan bottom and onto serving plate. Cut into wedges and serve with gelato and a piece of pistachio brittle.
Pistachio brittle: Line a baking sheet with non-stick baking foil. In a sauce pan, heat 1 cup sugar and ¼ cup water to a boil over medium heat, swirling pan to dissolve sugar. Cook without stirring until syrup turns a light honey color. (4 minutes). Add 2/3 cups shelled, unsalted pistachios to caramel. Stir to completely coat nuts. Cook until caramel deepens to an amber color. Quickly pour onto prepared baking sheet and spread into an even layer with a rubber spatula. Cool 30 minutes until hard. Break brittle into small pieces before serving. Courtesy of Redbook Magazine