Aka: Could There be No Turkey, No Potato, No Pie on Thanksgiving?
Over the last 20 years or so there has been allot of talk about the roots of North American society. What we now know to be true about our Thanksgiving or “Turkey-Day” is much different than what our parents were brought up to understand. And while there’s allot of political discussion to be had — we won’t get into that right now. Let’s Talk Turkey!
As it turns out, there actually was a Thanksgiving feast back in the Pilgrim’s day, but that wasn’t unusual. For centuries societies celebrated the bringing in of a harvest. We do know that the Pilgrims enjoyed a special meal — and it’s likely that they were giving “thanks” for the abundance of their harvest. But the meal that Pilgrims enjoyed on that day — what we now call Thanksgiving day is much different than what the Pilgrims ate. And it’s much different than what our Fore-Fathers later dined upon. In fact, what we now consider to be a Traditional Thanksgiving Day meal did not come about until after the Civil War.
Here’s a list of about 10 items that they ate or didn’t eat but we currently (traditionally) eat..
1.) NO TURKEY! They didn’t have Turkey! (Well, actually this isn’t entirely true.) They did have Fowl, and it was a bird that we (now-a-days) call a Turkey. But back then…the species was not yet called a Turkey. Get it? Not to be too confusing here, but they also called other birds, like Duck, Quail, or Pheasant, “Fowl.” So you can see how things may have gotten confused in your high school history book. And just to be clear. It was likely that they celebrated their end-of-harvest feast with other meats.
2.) SEA FOOD! Yep, it’s highly likely that the Pilgrims ate Lobster as a main course during their celebratory meal. And, just to hammer home the notion herein — we are talking about the Feast that we all know as “Thanksgiving.” Sea Food on Turkey Day sounds crazy to me too, but it’s a free country, so whatever floats your boat — or in the Pilgrims case…Whatever they caught on a boat that was afloat.
3.) NO MASHED POTATO! That’s right, the Pilgrims did not have the Potato. That vegetable was not in the region at this time. (Think: Ireland…the great Potato Famine of 1845.)
4.) SQUASH! Blech, Yech…to this day, I cannot eat this stuff. But hey, I realize allot of you love Squash and yes the Pilgrims did have many varieties (like what we now call Pumpkin) and they must have enjoyed this along with the rest of their seasonal harvest.
5.) CARROTS! Ever see a Bunny with glasses? Well the Pilgrims didn’t need glasses either because they ate plenty of Carrots. (But on the rare occasion that they had poor eyesight, it is possible that if they did cross paths with Christopher Columbus, then they may have been able to procure a pair of Italian spectacles.)
6.) NO PUMPKIN PIE! The Pilgrims enjoyed the Winter Squash or “Pumpkin” but they did NOT HAVE PIE! They couldn’t have, because to make Pumpkin Pie you need Sugar and Butter. And they had neither. In fact, Pumpkin Pie was not enjoyed as part of the traditional Thanksgiving meal until a lady named Sarah Josepha Hale brought it to the attention of President Lincoln. In 1831, the nation was in unrest from Civil War.
Sarah introduced the idea of bringing the nation together to Lincoln. She proposed that families eat a meal with Pumpkin Pie and Fowl. The healing power of Pie was introduced.
7.) CRANBERRY COINCIDENCE! By pure coincidence, the introduction of Cranberry sauce came into being from a recipe that Civil War troops concocted. They boiled Cranberry’s in a pot, and the syrupy mixture was on it’s way to becoming a popular side-dish. Fast forward to what we now associate with Cranberry sauce. The thick, gelled, canned Cranberry sauce was not invented until 1921.
8.) POTATO BAKE! In the 1700’s Sweet Potatoes were baked with Milk, Eggs, and spices like Nutmeg. But the “Candied” Sweet Potato bake as we know it today was not yet popular because Sugar was very expensive.
SIDENOTE: Classic meals like Green Bean casserole eventually became popular because they could be made with inexpensive ingredients. But the recipe most of us are familiar with did not become a household staple until Campbell Soup introduced the recipe in 1955.BUT THERE’S MORE ABOUT SWEET POTATO BAKES…
9.) MARSH-MELLOW-MUSH! Dishes like the classic Sweet Potato topped with Marshmallow’s didn’t arrive until in 1922-ish. Manufactures like the King Arthur Flour Company produced recipe books in order to promote their products. And some time around 1930 Chicago’s Cracker Jack marketed the use of their sugary Marshmallow treats in a cooking book. While most of the recipes were obscure, one stands the test of time: The traditional baked combo of Sweet Potato topped with Marshmallow.
TEN…) TURKEY? When did Fowl become Turkey? Believe it or not, it’s associated with the country of Turkey. While the Turks have been around for centuries, it wasn’t until after the first World War that the nation was named the Republic of Turkey. But we need to backtrack a bit here. Years before the “Republic” — Turkish Traders are known to have sold Fowl to West Africans and eventually the European market. The British coined the bird “Turkey” and later when the British settlers arrived in Massachusetts, they spotted a bird that looked very similar to the one they were familiar with. It took some time, but eventually the North American Fowl was to be known as a Turkey.
Eleven-ish.) TURKEY MAKES ME TIRED! It’s a little known fact that the chemical called Tryptophan is not what makes you feel tired after you eat your Turkey Day dinner. Nope, you’re likely tired because of the festivities. In fact, there’s more Tryptophan in Chicken Breast. And you can find Tryptophan in Eggs and most other Poultry. A poultry-point…but someone had to do it. Cheers! (c) Dean Lachiusa 2020.