Historical recipes make Thanksgiving a very vintage celebration

Four hundred years ago this fall, 50 pilgrims sat down to eat with 90 members of the original Wampanoag tribe to thank for the first harvest in the new world.

No one knows the exact dates of the celebration, except it was sometime on September 21 and November 9 of the same year. The menu serving has also lost history, but we have a few clues.

In a letter sent in December 1621, Edward Winslow wrote that four of the men had successfully hunted birds, which could very possibly have been wild turkeys — but they could also have been ducks, geese, or swans. The Indians brought in five deer, which were presumably also served, but we certainly do not know that.

The most successful crop of the first crop was corn, so we can conclude that it was on the menu. Pumpkins abounded, although pilgrims lacked flour to make pie crusts.

Because they were in the Atlantic Ocean, seafood was plentiful. We know they often got bass and cod, and lobster was also plentiful, at least in the summer. Eels were also readily available, and mussels were collected simply by pouring stones.

I would like to point out here that I am talking about the first day of thanksgiving of folklore, which was held by the pilgrims in 1621.

With history in mind, I decided to make my own version of Pilgrims ’Thanksgiving, or at least part of it. Since we don’t know what the actual meal was, my version is more of a practice of what could have been offered, based on our knowledge of what was available and their recipes from that time.

Stewed pumpkins photographed on Wednesday, October 27, 2021. (Colter Peterson / St. Louis Post-Dispatch / TNS)


4 c. boiled pumpkin, see note

4 T butter

1-2 T. cider vinegar

1-2 t of ground ginger (or any combination of nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and pepper to taste)

1 tsp salt

Note: Use pumpkin pie (or canned). Remove the seeds and strips from the fresh pumpkins and cut them into small pieces and cook until soft or cut in half and bake at 375 degrees until very soft, 30 to 45 minutes. Remove the meat from the skin if the skin is hard.

Put all the ingredients in a saucepan over low heat. Mix together if the pumpkin is fresh. Stir and heat until all ingredients are well mixed and hot. Adjust the spices to your liking and serve. Makes 8 servings.

(Modified from the recipe in “New England’s Rarities: Discovered in Birds, Beasts, Fishes, Serpents, and Plants of the Country” (John Josselyn, 1671), adapted by Kathleen Curtin, Sandra L. Oliver, and Plimoth Plantation in “Giving” Thank you: Thanksgiving recipes and history of the pilgrims to the pumpkin pie. “)

“SHIPMENTS” Mussels with parsley and vinegar

4 lbs of mussels

2 T butter

1/2 c. chopped parsley

1/2 c. red wine vinegar

3/4 t salt

1/4 tsp. Freshly ground black pepper

2 cloves garlic, ground

Put the mussels in cold water and rub them clean. “Beard” them by removing the bundle of fibers protruding from the shell (if any – many farmed mussels are “bearded”). Discard any broken clams that do not close when touched.

Put 1 cup water and butter, parsley, vinegar, salt, pepper and garlic in a large saucepan, cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the mussels and reduce the heat until the mussels cook to a boil. Cover and cook the pan occasionally, shaking for 10 minutes or until all the mussels are fully opened. Keep an eye out for mussels – if cooked for too long, they can be chewable.

Pour the mussels and broth into the bowls for serving and place another empty bowl on the table on the discarded shells. Makes 8 servings.

(Edited from “The Second Part of the Good Huswives” (Thomas Dawson, 1597) by Kathleen Curtin, Sandra L. Oliver, and Plimoth Plantation in “Giving Thanksgiving: Thanksgiving Recipes and History, From Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie.”

Stewed turkey with herbs and onions was photographed on Wednesday, October 27, 2021. (Colter Peterson / St. Louis Post-Dispatch / TNS)


4 lbs turkey parts (thighs and legs fit well with this recipe)

1 tsp salt

2 large onions cut into 1/4 inch rings

Bunch of fresh herbs, tied (any combination of sage, thyme, parsley, marjoram or salted) or 2 T dried

1/3 c. red wine vinegar or cider vinegar

2 T butter

2 T. granulated sugar

1 t. Black pepper

1/4 tsp. Ground cloves

6 (1 inch thick) slices of hearty bread, cut in half and toasted or baked until brown

Rinse the turkey pieces and place them in a sufficiently large saucepan. Cover with cold water and add salt. Cover the pan and bring the contents to a boil over medium heat. Lower the temperature to keep the broth on low heat for 1 hour. Peel the foam that rises regularly to the surface.

After an hour, remove the turkey pieces and allow to cool. Increase the heat until the broth boils. Continue cooking without the lid until the liquid is reduced by half, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Once the broth has evaporated, add the sliced ​​onions, herbs, vinegar, butter, sugar, pepper and cloves. Simmer for about 20 minutes until the onions are soft. While the broth is boiling, cut the chilled turkey into serving pieces.

Before serving, taste the broth and adjust the spices. Put the meat in the broth and “let it take a walme or two”, meaning let it simmer for just a minute. Pour the turkey and sauce into a serving bowl. Spread the “onions” (toasted slices of bread) on the base of the turkey and soak the sauce. Makes 6 servings.

(Edited from “Country Contentments, or the English Huswife” (Gervase Markham, 1615) by Kathleen Curtin, Sandra L. Oliver, and Plimoth Plantation in “Giving Thanksgiving: Thanksgiving Recipes and History, From Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie.)

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