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Going Native: What the First Thanksgiving Menu Might Have Looked Like

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Thanksgiving menus today rarely veer from the norm: turkey, mashed potatoes, green-something casserole, and pumpkin something-or-other. Curious how this holds up to the first Thanksgiving menu? Read on for a glimpse into what food historians think was on the table back then, and try a few of our recipes for your own Thanksgiving menu.

It was almost 400 years ago that the first Thanksgiving was thought to have taken place. While it’s still debated among scholars and historians where and when the actual “first” Thanksgiving celebration occurred, Smithsonian Magazine claims the date as 1621 in Plymouth Colony. What’s thought to have been served at the dinner table seems to be less debated.

Writer Megan Gambino explored the first Thanksgiving dinner in a 2011 article on by interviewing a foodways culinarian. According to her article, there are many differences between the Thanksgiving feast we are all so used to today and the one that was most likely enjoyed in the 1600s.

The first difference, according to Gambino, is that turkey was probably not the star of the table. While turkeys may or may not have been a part of the original Thanksgiving menus, the fowl of choice was likely goose, duck, or pigeon. The bird may have been stuffed, but not with the bread-based recipes we use today. The bird was likely filled with onions, herbs, and possibly even chestnuts.

While we don’t usually have seafood at all on our Thanksgiving menus today, interestingly enough it was probably on the original menus, according to Gambino. Eels and shellfish (e.g., clams, lobster) would have been part of the meal, as may have been dried and smoked fish, which were common back then.

An article by Joanne Camas on gives further insight into the possible foods at the first Thanksgiving(s). Potatoes, today so synonymous with Thanksgiving, were probably not served at all then. No mashed potatoes, no candied yams, no sweet potato casserole. (And no marshmallows.)

What they probably did have, though, were lots and lots of Native American fruits: cranberries, melons, grapes, and plums. Vegetable side dishes may have included beans, squash, and onions, and possible English veggies like root vegetables, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.

From the Organic Authority Files

Another large difference in today’s Thanksgiving celebrations: There were likely little to no spirited beverages being sipped back then. There may have been small amounts of English beer being produced at the time, but according to Camas’ article, the colonists were likely just drinking water for the meal.

If you’re creating a traditional Thanksgiving menu this year, give a look at some of these recipe ideas. has a recipe for Rosemary Salt-Crusted Venison with Cherry-Cabernet Sauce, and another for Local Clams with Herb Butter. has two intriguing side dish recipes: one for Sweet Pudding of Indian Corn and one for Stewed Pumpkins.

And right here on Organic Authority, we’ve got a few tempting recipes ourselves for you to try out. For the bird, try our recipe for Roast Duck with Orange Cointreau Sauce, or Grammy’s Wild Game Wrapped in Bacon.

Image adapted from Adam Kahtava, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0


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