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What was eaten at the first Thanksgiving? The answer may surprise you.
No one really knows exactly how turkey became a Thanksgiving staple in America. 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 successful 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. It led to a pretty crazy menu by modern standards for this National Holiday that is now traditionally held on the last Thursday in November.
Here's a list of seven animals the Plymouth Colony settlers and Native Americans chowed down on at the first Thanksgiving.
The Wampanoag people invited by the Pilgrims killed five deer to present to the colonists, so we know venison was on the 1621 Thanksgiving dinner menu. If you need an excuse to go deer hunting in late November, you can claim it's for a historically-accurate meal.
Thanksgiving turkey takes a backseat to another bird at the first harvest festival. Colonists like Edward Winslow described 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.
4. Bald Eagle
Yes, according to some sources, despite being an American legend, the national bird-to-be was eaten by the Pilgrims and Native Americans. 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 holiday 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 Massachusetts 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.
If you really want to have an extra delicious Thanksgiving meal, and stay more true to the historical records, try adding one or more of these to your green beans, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. We have come a long way since those early settlers sailed over on the Mayflower and had their first harvest celebration with the native people haven't we? Once was enough and the United States forever had a National Thanksgiving tradition on the fourth Thursday of every November to look forward to.