The 1621 Thanksgiving Remembered.--

On Thanksgiving, I thought I would link to two posts from earlier years on the 1621 Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims' attitudes toward food in the New World.

In 2004, I posted an account of the Massachusetts Pilgrims' first Thanksgiving in 1621.

We set the last spring some twenty acres of Indian corn, and sowed some six acres of barley and peas, and according to the manner of the Indians, we manured our ground with herrings or rather shads, which we have in great abundance, and take with great ease at our doors. Our corn [i.e., wheat] did prove well, and God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn, and our barley indifferent good, but our peas not worth the gathering, for we feared they were too late sown, they came up very well, and blossomed, but the sun parched them in the blossom.

Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after have a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the company almost a week, at which time amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain, and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

Last Thanksgiving (2006), I pointed out the gross misinformation in a 2005 New York Times op-ed on our anachronistic views of the food served at the first Thanksgiving.

Professor James McWilliams in the 2005 New York Times:

They Held Their Noses, and Ate

No contemporary American holiday is as deeply steeped in culinary tradition as Thanksgiving. Not only is the day centered on a feast, but it's also a feast with a narrowly proscribed list of foods - usually some combination of turkey, corn, cranberries, squash and pumpkin pie. Decorated with these dishes, the Thanksgiving table has become a secular altar upon which we worship America's pioneering character, a place to show reverence for the rugged Pilgrims who came to Plymouth in peace, sat with the Indians as equals and indulged in the New World's cornucopia with gusto.

But you might call this comfort food for a comfort myth.

The native American food that the Pilgrims supposedly enjoyed would have offended the palate of any self-respecting English colonist — the colonial minister Charles Woodmason called it "exceedingly filthy and most execrable." Our comfort food, in short, was the bane of the settlers' culinary existence.

But the colonial minister Charles Woodmason quoted by McWilliams was not a Pilgrim writing in the 1620s. Woodmason was a famously prejudiced Anglican missionary to backcountry Carolina, describing the habits of Irish and Scots-Irish settlers in his diary during 1766-68, over 140 years after the Pilgrim's Thanksgiving. Woodmason was not complaining about the food the Pilgrims ate, but rather the very different foods favored in rural Carolina.

For much more detail on both issues, you can read the original posts.

My favorite Thanksgiving food is a sage sausage dressing that my mother and sisters make. And then there's the wine . . . .

here is a good one, too
11.22.2007 11:30am
I've always felt that the culinary traditions of Thanksgiving isn't just what the first feasters ate, but also those foods that were uniquely found in North America. That list includes cranberries, pumpkin, corn, and others.

And the Turkey of course is perfect. It is native to North America and its size and fleshiness makes it the perfect bird for a feast.
11.22.2007 11:37am
Bender (mail):
Might you post the recipe for the sage sausage dressing. It sounds intriguing.
11.22.2007 11:55am
Tony Tutins (mail):
I learned from John Gould, a columnist for the Christian Science Monitor for 60 years, that the Pilgrims were exceedingly lucky to have met the English-speaking Squanto, who taught them such things about the New World as how to plant and fertilize corn. Although accounts vary, Squanto had been kidnapped and taken to England where he spent a couple of years.
11.22.2007 11:56am
Milhouse (www):
The turkey is native to America, but the Pilgrims didn't know that, and brought their own with them from Europe.
11.22.2007 12:42pm
James Lindgren (mail):

You forced me to make it (it's very simple) and this time I used a measuring spoon.

You probably want to at least double this recipe. You'd be surprised how little stuffing a loaf of bread makes. BTW, left-over dressing tastes great fried up the next morning.

Grandma Ruth's Sage Sausage Dressing

1 loaf white sliced bread (preferred brand: Pepperidge Farm)
1 medium onion
1 lb. sausage (preferred brand: Bob Evans Original Recipe, 2d choice: Jones)
1 tsp. dried sage (you can use a bit more if you wish)
1 tbsp. butter
salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
approx. 1/2 cup water (or broth)

1. Cut the bread into squares and place them on a cookie sheet in a cool to moderate oven for 10-15 minutes to dry them somewhat.

2. Chop the medium onion and sautee it in the butter.

3. After about two minutes (before the onion is done), add the sausage, turn up the heat, and stir the mixture as it cooks.

4. When the sausage is thoroughly cooked but just beginning to brown, remove it from the heat and combine all ingredients except the water.

5. While stirring the dressing, gradually add the water (or broth) until the stuffing begins to clump together. You don't want it either too separate or too solid. Depending on how dry the bread is, use about 1/4 to 1 cup of water or broth.

6. Then bake the dressing uncovered in a lightly greased casserole dish for at least 20 minutes. If you have a choice of temperatures, pick somewhere between 300 and 375 degrees.

Jim Lindgren
11.22.2007 1:04pm
The Oracle of Syracuse:
Professor McWilliams must have been raised in a very different Thansgiving tradition than the one with which I am familiar. Far from being "proscribed," at my grandma's house "some combination of turkey, corn, cranberries, squash and pumpkin pie" were the staples of the Thanksgiving meal.
11.22.2007 7:32pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):
All of it cooked by the five surviving adult women of the colony.

Squanto was not only a Christian, English-speaking native of the deserted (because of disease) village the Pilgrims found, he may have been (involuntarily) to Europe twice. Once to England and once to Spain. Quite a coincidence.

The first native to approach the Pilgrims after their first brutal Winter was not Squanto but a friend who was a member of Massasoit's tribe with who Squanto was living. He spoke English too. His immortal first words were, "Have you any beer?" They hadn't but he accepted rum instead.
11.22.2007 11:03pm