What is the first type of food you think of when Thanksgiving draws near? Most of you will probably say, “Turkey.” This bird has been gracing the dinner table since the beginning of the holiday in 1863, and earlier. But where did the tradition of eating turkey for Thanksgiving dinner originate?
Turkeys are Native to North America
The wild turkey was a staple in the Native American diet. It was introduced to the early Pilgrim settlers by the Wampanoag tribe after they arrived in 1620. Many of the Pilgrims were dying from the journey; besides barley, their seeds didn’t produce usable crop. However, the Natives assisted these settlers by introducing them to foods such as corn and squash, and they showed the foreigners how to hunt and fish.
The First Thanksgiving Feast
The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621, for which the Native Americans were invited as guests of honor. It became an official United States holiday on October 3, 1863 via President Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation. The last Thursday in November was thus declared Thanksgiving Day.
By 1916, this holiday was largely referred to in writings as Turkey Day, thanks to the popularity of this bird at the traditional feast. Now turkey is most commonly associated with Thanksgiving and Christmas, making winter the prime season for turkey farmers.
Stuffing in Thanksgiving History
It is unlikely that the Pilgrims served stuffing at their feasts; many of the traditional Thanksgiving foods were brought to the table in more recent years. Stuffing is a seasoned mix of vegetables, starches, and sometimes eggs that are cooked in the body cavity of an animal. The French have likely made the most prolific use of stuffing throughout the ages, but the dish is a global one. Since there are so many variations of the recipe, it would be impossible to estimate a number of stuffing recipes to this day.
Pumpkin Pie in Thanksgiving History
Native Americans did use pumpkins as food long before the settlers arrived, although there was probably no pumpkin pie at the first Thanksgiving dinner table. Pumpkin pie was originally made by cutting the top off, removing the seeds, and filling the body with honey, milk, and spices, then heating it in hot ashes. The actual pies were originally made with pumpkin in the crust, not in the filling of the dessert.
While stuffing and pumpkin pie may be only a few of the traditional foods at today’s Thanksgiving table, turkey is undoubtedly the most popular. It is also likely the oldest traditional food item, originating at the beginning of this holiday’s history. What are some traditional Thanksgiving foods you will find at your dinner table this year?
Thanksgiving Turkey History, About.com
The History Stuffing
A Brief History of Pumpkin Pie