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Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving 1.0

There is no holiday that has more of a connection to food than Thanksgiving.  And rightfully so.  The original Thanksgiving feast was a harvest festival.  Those who immigrated to the New World gave thanks for their crops and all the food that they had that would help them to survive the coming winter.

As you probably know, the original Thanksgiving was much different than what many of us now celebrate in this country.  First, the harvest festival was most likely held in October, not November, as it is now.  And it was probably a 3-day celebration filled with eating, games and overall fellowship.  I could go for that!

Today, when we picture our holiday table, we think of turkey, stuffing, sweet and mashed potatoes and a load of other yummy dishes.  Most of these things that we eat today, though, either weren't available in the 1620's or were too expensive to eat.  So it was those ingredients that were abundant in early Massachusetts that were on the table.

Since so many of the early settlers lived along the coastline, the menu of the first Thanksgiving would have been full of seafood.  Cod, eel, lobster, oysters and mussels would have been abundant.  The deep woods would have provided venison, duck and wild turkey.  Being a fall festival, the bulk of the food would have been fruits and vegetables that were either cultivated or available wild--things like corn (thanks to the Native Americans), parsnips, turnips, collard greens, spinach, pumpkin, squash, dried beans, dried blueberries, grapes and nuts.  Cranberries would have been used as ingredients in dishes to provide tartness, not as a cranberry sauce since sugar was too expensive for the colonists to afford.  (So there probably were no pies or cakes either.)

Some of our traditional dishes weren't served because the main ingredients wouldn't show up for many years.  White potatoes, for example, were virtually unknown to the English at that time.  Sweet potatoes were imported to England from Spain and only the very wealthy would afford them.

Even though our modern Thanksgiving menu might not resemble the original very much, the spirit of the celebration is very much the same--fellowship, thankfulness, family and friends.  So whatever ends up on your holiday table--enjoy!

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