"First Thanksgiving" - Original Recipes From 1621, But There Were No Pie Or Pilgrims

Hat Worn by the Men in Plimouth Colony

This is the woolen Welsh hat that the Plimouth settlers wore after the first months on American soil. No black "pilgrim" hats.
This is the woolen Welsh hat that the Plimouth settlers wore after the first months on American soil. No black "pilgrim" hats. | Source

A Good Meal, But Not What You Expected

On November 13, 2008, the faculty and staff of The Ohio State University completed the first meeting with Native American students and other interested parties to discuss the actual events of the first European (English) settler's Thanksgiving in the New World. They wanted to reproduce the event with authentic dishes and have a yearly feat on campus.

The results were surprising, but a good meal arose from the controversies nonetheless. Some of the facts in the First Thanksgiving case were stunning.

The results of the meeting led to the creation of a new annual OSU celebration every Thanksgiving with the actual foods that were served -- and they are pretty good! Surprising to most Americans, there was no pie at the first Thanksgiving held by British settlers with much help from local Native Americans.

Pumpkins and squash were cooked up as a sort of pudding, but there was with which to make a pie crust, because the settlers' largely crops failed in the growing season of 1621. The settlers. protestants calling themselves "saints", had brought many barrels of beer with them, but no seeds.

In America, the day after Thanksgiving is National American Indian Heritage Day.

Sarah Hale, who wanted a black-clad Pilgrim Thanksgiving and got it.
Sarah Hale, who wanted a black-clad Pilgrim Thanksgiving and got it. | Source

Background From the Original Plimouth Plantation

The poor - destitute - English settlers did not call themselves pilgrims at all, but were called such in passing by Governor Bradford's biased diaries. The people called themselves saints (meaning believers). Fellow travelers on the Mayflower who were not of their group, they called strangers.

Advertising and retail professionals considering American Thanksgiving as a holiday for sales became active in 1840, especially Sarah Hale and her women's magazine. They were aided in sales of an expanding retail and food nature by the American railroads.

The merchants behind a national Thanksgiving movement spread retail trade and another image of Thanksgiving that made the poor immigrants whom England deported more likable, more moral, more pious - as Pilgrims dressed in black and white. The American public adopted the idea, swayed by advertising.

Pilgrims in America were invented about 1840, the year my Civil War Veteran great grandfather was born. My relatives at the time in America saw it happen, and that is solid documentation.

In summary, the new nationwide American Thanksgiving was invented by a female marketing person as an advertising scheme that helped herself and other retailers build business for the autumn and winter holidays. It worked very well.

In fact, the writer always wore black -- Sarah Josepha Hale (who wrote "Mary Had a Little Lamb"), determined to create a movement to declare a US federal holiday nationwide for New England's Thanksgiving, boosting retailers' efforts in this direction and finally successful in 1863. President Lincoln declared the holiday an that is the one we celebrate, not the 1621 event.

Fewer than 100 years later, during FDR's administration, the F & R Lazarus Store of Columbus, Ohio joined a political lobby of Macy's and other retailers to promote the change of the Thanksgiving holiday from the last to the 4th Thursday of November. This would create more shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and a giant shopping celebration we now call Black Friday. It all began with friendly "Pilgrims" and "Indians", ending with Coca-Cola®'s image of Santa Claus. It was all marketing.

As a response to the information revealed in the 2008 OSU meeting, historical documents and written and oral histories among Native Americans in the Northeast US and in Ohio, local Native American Nations, and people sympathetic to learning and respecting the truth of the celebration instituted an annual alternative celebration to Thanksgiving on the OSU Campus and in the surrounding community. The food is quite good!

We already have Native American Day in Ohio and it is not very popular yet, so OSU went further. On November 20, 2008, the first alternative meal from the original menu that is displayed below was served by the OSU Multicultural Center. It's now an annual treat.

The biggest surprises about Thanksgiving are offered at the end of the recipes that I hope you enjoy.

Charlie Brown Thanksgiving - Toast & Popcorn

The Menu

Remember A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving?

When Snoopy and some of the kids were left behind on Thanksgiving Day, they prepared buttered toast and popcorn for their meal, because that is all there was. They also had some whipped topping in dessert dishes. The real first Thanksgiving for the saints/pilgrims and Native Americans was similar to Charlie Brown's.

Few food items were available in the frigid lands of what is now New England in the early 1600s. This is one of the causes of the large number of deaths among the settlers during the first winter. There were no fresh fruits, although dried cranberries may have been present.

The Indigenous Peoples may have had some ground acorn flour with them, but the saints from the Mayflower ship likely had no flour with them with which to make pies.

The First Thanksgiving Menu

  • Venison - deer meat, likely roasted over the open fires or cooked in a stew.
  • Wildfowl - duck, geese, pheasant, possibly wild turkey
  • Corn Porridge
  • Fried Pumpkin Mush - mixed with acorn flour and fried in deer or duck fat; served with honey, perhaps dried cranberries
  • Cooked Squash - maybe with honey.

While some Native Americans may have helped some of the first British settlers through the first winter, some settlers robbed the sacred gravesites and even burglarized Native American dwellings.

Native Americans had been holding Harvest Fesitivals in the autumn of each year for at least 12,000 years in September, October, and November [the link describes them in detail] and this was long before the British came to the New World and had a Thanksgiving Day. In fact, Harvest Festivals were a millennia-old "Old World" tradition in many cultures of the Far East and Middle East, as well as Africa and India, among other regions. They'd been going on for thousands of years; today in the 21st century, some American communities have reverted to a Harvest Festival in place of, or in addition to, Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving/Plimouth Plantation Recipe: Venisen Stew

This recipe is about as close to the original recipe in what is now New England as one can approach. The duck fat can be found in gourmet markets or you might ask your butcher.

Cook Time, Including Marinating

  • Prep time: 12 hours 10 min
  • Cook time: 2 hours
  • Ready in: 14 hours 10 min
  • Yields: 4 to 6 Servings

Delicious!

5 stars from 1 rating of Venison Stew

Ingredients

  • 1 large wild onion, a bunch of small wild onions, or 1 good sized leek, sliced medium
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped coarse
  • 2 carrots or 1 sweet potato or 1 northern potato, sliced
  • 1 handful of wild herbs
  • 1 handful of dried cranberries
  • 1 pound of venisen meat, chunked or cubed
  • 1/4 cup oil or duck fat

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Place venison in large pottery or ceramic bowl (metal will react and cause an off flavor)
  • Mix vegetables, cranberries, and herbs together in another bowl and pour this mixture over the meat for a marinade.
  • Let sit, covered, overnight or at least for 12 hours in your refrigerator.
  • Remove meat and vegetables & cranberries onto separately plates and save the marinade.
  • Heat half of the fat in a skillet and brown venison for 3-4 minutes.
  • Heat remaining fat in another pan and fry vegetables & cranberries lightly for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add fried meat into the other ingredients and stir the marinade back in and bring to the boil.
  • Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 2 hours.

Fried Pumpkin Mush

You will need a medium sized fresh pumpkin or squash, several cups of water, some flour or cornmeal, and some oil.

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Cut off the pumpkin stem end and remove the seeds and save them to roast.
  • Scoop out the flesh.
  • Place flesh in a large pot of boiling water and then reduce heat to a simmer and cook until tender (8-10 minutes).
  • Drain the water and stir and mash the flesh.
  • Add enough flour or cornmeal to make a mixture that holds together. You may want to add some salt and pepper, to taste.
  • Heat some oil in a skillet and fry the pumpkin mixture by large spoonfuls or scoops in the way that you would a potato pancake, until golden brown on the bottom. Flip and repeat.
  • Serve with honey, butter, syrup, or even salsa.

Corn Porridge

You will need 4 cups of water and 2.5 cups of cornmeal to serve 6 people.

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Bring 3 cups of water to the boil in a large soup pot.
  • In a bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups of cornmeal with 1 cup of water and mix well.
  • Reduce the heat under the soup pot to medium-low and add the cornmeal/water to the boiling water, stirring with a wooden spoon constantly for 5 minutes, slowly adding 1 more cup of cornmeal.
  • When the porridge is thick, it is ready to serve in bowls. Or you can cook it until it is very thick, shape it into a ball, slice it and serve with butter or jam.

 

How Thanksgiving Has Been Celebrated for 1000s of Years

A useful and fun history about Indigenous Peoples in the Americas, Asia, and some other parts of the world, celebrating the concept of thankfulness, for millennia.

Irving Berlin - Let's have another cup of Coffee, let's have another piece of Pie.

This song begins with an instrumental, followed by the big band singers.

Let's Have Some Pie

I wish you all a happy celebration of your own Thanksgiving or harvest time traditions. Often, our own traditions are happier when we know the truth and create something good from it.

My tradition is to make as many different kinds of pie as I can. I have more pies than the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company had shrimp dishes -

Cranberry pie, sweet potato pie, pear pie, squash pie, vegetable pie, quiche, turkey pot pie, shepherd's pie, mince meat pie, butter pie, apple-walnut pie, and many others. Most of them are around Hub Pages somewhere.

The YouTube presentation below begins with a short instrumental and then adds the swing lyrics from around the Depression Era. Way before my time, but I like it.

Wild turkeys
Wild turkeys | Source

United American Indians of New England Sponsor a Remembrance

Plymouth Massachusetts mounted a plaque in the downtown historic district called Plymouth Center to honor the local Native Americans present in 1620 - 1621 as well as the National Day of Mourning held on Thanksgiving Day since 1970.

After the English arrived in the Cape Cod Area, Native Americans in New England were surprised, upset, and annoyed with their increasing abuse and violence.

The warrior Metacomet (also called King Philip), a son of Massasoit, asked Native people to organize to defend their lands against the English. This produced King Philip's War from 1675-1676.

Metacomet was murdered in Rhode Island in August 1676, and his body was mutilated and cut apart. His head was impaled on a pike and was displayed for over 20 years. One of his hands hand was sent to Boston (America) and the other hand was sent to England.

Metacomet's wife and son, as well as families of many of the Natives, were sold into slavery in the West Indies.

Heads On Pikes - A Rival of Vlad the Impaler at Plymouth Colony

In mid-October 1621, one saint from the ship Mayflower at Plymouth wrote a paragraph about the first "Thanksgiving" in his diary, which is today a museum piece. The holiday had no name as yet. It was a general feast and there was no prayer from the white men and women at all. Native Americans had been giving thanks in ceremony and feast for centuries at the time of each full moon, 13 times per year. It was a usual practice.

The saints did not wear black. They wore bright colors in cheap materials, since they were extremely poor. They brewed beer and drank heavily. There was a lot of drinking by the English, to the disgust of their Governor. Some of the men waved rifles around in their drinking, and the Native Americans must have wondered what sickness this was.

The “Indians” as a whole were not invited, but their leader Massasoit was. In turn, he invited 90+ of his village in the Indigenous tradition of sharing. Massasoit himself brought all the wild fowl and 5 deer to the feast for 150 people. He'd been giving the saints food all along.

The English farm crop failed that first summer and fall, but the Native Americans grew and harvested twenty acres of corn and gave much to the saints initially and continued to help them with food and agricultural instruction. Relations between Indigenous and English peoples began very pleasantly.

Soon after the feast, Myles Standish decided to behead a Chief from a group that had helped the whites survive. He did this to instigate a rivalry between two Natives and start a feud to gain "better intelligence" from their arguments. Soon, a wall nearly 12 feet high was built around the English settlement to keep the Natives out. Standish took the guise of a fur trader and beheaded the man Wituwamat, putting his head on a wooden spike at Plymouth as a symbol of power, in the manner of Vlad the Impaler.

For all this, Myles Standish earned for the English the name of Wotowquenange, meaning cutthroat stabbers.

In the animated film Free Birds 3D, Myles Standish is depicted as a Wild West bounty hunter dressed all in black and riding a black horse. His face shows hollow cheeks and scarring as he hunts down turkeys that were war paint and Native American feathers.

All the same, we can make our own Thanksgiving traditions and leave behind these monstrosities. Still, the retail marketing "First Thanksgiving" is a myth, but one enjoyed by millions of Canadians and Americans. (See Sarah Hale's Thanksgiving Campaign.)

More by this Author


Comments and Additions - And Pie Recipes 18 comments

jimmythejock profile image

jimmythejock 7 years ago from Scotland

Thanks Patty, you always give great answers when I make a request and I get a bonus with this one lol recipe's too I love food.....jimmy


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

Man, you are one fast Scotsman to comment so quickly. If I can't live in a bookstore or library, I'll take the back of a restaurant! :)


B.T. Evilpants profile image

B.T. Evilpants 7 years ago from Hell, MI

Pie is something for which I always give thanks! I never met a pie I didn't like (except maybe for humble pie)!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

Ah, the Great Evilpants is back -- Time for a Pie Nation Takeover.

And some pies have gravy too - double bonus.


Netters profile image

Netters 7 years ago from Land of Enchantment - NM

This is a great story. And you included recipes! You are awesome. Thanks.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

The recipes turn out pretty good, but they may need some seasonings that we are more accustomed to using. I hope you try one or two of them.


Tony 7 years ago

Very nice page. It's amazing how history gets twisted over the years to suit the purposes of what you want people to believe.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

That is surely correct, Tony. I now wonder where writers of history got the notions of black clothing, "pilgrims", and a completely happy feast. We need a real WayBack Machine, similar to that in the Clarke/Sterling story "Light of Other Days"!

Thanks for visiting.


lakeerieartists profile image

lakeerieartists 7 years ago from Cleveland, OH

This is an incredible hub. I love it. Learned a lot and had fun too!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

Hi, lakeeirieartists! - This one enjoyable to do, with some information that a lot of Americans are never told. I still love pie best, anytime -- Thanks for reading!


couch guy 7 years ago

One thing you may not have thought to talk about was that the indians probably nixtamalized their corn, a practice that European settlers didn't adopt, but was in use by indian populations who subsisted on corn.

I imagine an indian corn mush to maybe have been something more similar to a mexican pozole because that is the kind of corn that the indians might have ended up with.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

Thanks for the addition, couch guy!


Spiritwind profile image

Spiritwind 6 years ago

Thanks Patty for sharing your knowledge with us. My fathers family was from the boarders of Canada and Minnesota. Love the recipes.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 4 years ago from North America Author

The Original 1621 Recipes are good for today as well. I often make a pumpkin pie without a crust.


PilarTeishin profile image

PilarTeishin 3 years ago from Western Massachusetts

very grateful for this post! we'll have a 'traditional' turkey day with friends over the weekend, so for thursday itself, we've decided to try as many native dishes as possible. thank you for helping me to build that menu, and to learn the better depths of our history. great hub!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 3 years ago from North America Author

WOW! I'm glad you like the native recipes. I don't think they'd be great on an everyday basis without changing the seasonings every few days; but, I love the squash and pumpkin pudding dishes. I've a crust-less pumpkin pie that comes close to a pudding.


missolive profile image

missolive 22 months ago from Texas

Great info and interesting look into the true origin of our 'First Thanksgiving'. I'll be sure to add this to our convesation on Thanksgiving Day as I'm always intrigued by the American narrative and our original traditions.

On another note, my dad was an alumni of OSU...Go Buckeyes! Also, I've been working on my family tree and I'm in the process of confirming my lineage to the early settlers in the Massachusetts area. Genealogy is a hobby of mine.

I'll give the Venison Stew recipe to a good friend of mine, they usually have plenty of venison in their freezer.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 22 months ago from North America Author

@missolive - Thanks very much for reading this work. Many of us love the big Thanksgiving that Sarah Hale promoted, but knowledge of the actual food in 1621 is useful. The cartoon film last year called "Free Birds" featured turkeys dressed as Native Americans and amusingly exaggerated Governor Bradford's act of storing all the already-shot turkeys for the upcoming hard winter by portraying him as a short fat glutton who hid all of food from the colonists - who were starving, but were still portrayed as fat.

I would like to hear about your Massachusetts genealogy findings if you share them! I don't go so far back on that side of the family, only to about the early 1700s or late 1600s in Virginia related to Richmond Terrell; before that, I can't find much - too much moving around in England. The other side has the Native Americans, with very little documentation, except for one in the French and Indian War.

So maybe you have ancestors on the original European ships that came to America. That's fascinating.

The venison stew is pretty good - a friend made it recently, along with venison jerky, which was very tasty.

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