What was eaten at the first Thanksgiving? The answer may surprise you.
No one really knows exactly how turkey became a Thansksgiving staple. While the Pilgrims probably had the now-traditional bird, it wasn’t the centerpiece of their famous meal, and those who participated in the first feast of the holiday had something much different on their plates.
The first Thanksgiving feast, which likely took place mid-October 1621, was a celebration of a bountiful harvest. The Pilgrims invited local Indians and created a great feast out of just about everything they could fish from the sea or hunt in the forest, which led to a pretty crazy menu by modern standards.
Here’s a list of seven animals the Pilgrims chowed down on at the first Thanksgiving.
The Wampanoag Indians invited by the Pilgrims killed five deer to present to the colonists, so we know venison was on the 1621 menu. If you need an excuse to go deer hunting in late November, you can claim it’s for a historically-accurate meal.
The colonists describe eating “waterfowl” at the meal, which was likely ducks or geese. However, birds served at the meal could’ve also been swan or the now-extinct passenger pigeon. Some modern sportsmen might still prefer waterfowl in place of turkey for their holiday meal.
3. Heath Hen
This grouse was very common in the Plymouth area, which means it’s very likely they were among the birds that were described being present at the meal. They were plentiful and fed on the ground, making them relatively easy to catch and kill, a quality that unfortunately led to their species’ disappearance. So, sorry, can’t replicate this one for your Thanksgiving feast ever again.
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4. Bald Eagle
Yes, according to some sources, despite Thanskgiving being an American legend, the national bird-to-be was eaten by the Pilgrims. Try that at your family’s meal today and you could be looking at jail time for your unpatriotic hunger. Still, one can’t help but wonder what they taste like…
The First Thanksgiving meal was a little fancier than you imagined. Lobster was likely served up to revelers in 1621. According to lore, Pilgrims first learned about the scary-looking crustacean from the Native Americans, because really, who could look at this thing for the first time, and expect it to be edible? The lobster is a part of some New England Thanksgivings to this day.
The slippery fish was present in New England rivers, and was likely caught and served up for the Pilgrims and their guests. Squanto, the famed Patuxet native who helped the Pilgrims survive, is said to have taught them how to catch the fatty and nutritious eel, which could sustain them through the cold winter. It’s hard to imagine being thankful for this kind of meal today, but our American forefathers definitely were.
7. Atlantic Cod
The cod was so common around New England that it helped name the Massachussets cape in which it swam, so Pilgrims were able to easily fish it from the surrounding waters. That was, after Squanto helped them. Their Indian guide also had to teach the terribly inept Pilgrims how to not only catch the fish, but how to use it as fertilizer for crops.
Do you have any unconventional food or even wild game on your Thanksgiving table every year?