TNB Night Owl – Eat, Historical Style

Lobster Diner at Murphy's Restaurant, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Photo by Benson Kua.

This had to be expected.  The Night Owl gave most of a week to Halloween themes, Thanksgiving was going to get its due.

In this case, it’s menu.  Specifically, the original, old-school, original Thanksgiving menu.  With one caveat… nobody knows exactly what it was.

What historians, including food historians (yes, that’s a real thing) agree upon is not the exact menu, but rather some of the documented items which were present at the first Thanksgiving feast and some of the foods which were commonly eaten at the time.  From those, we can extrapolate.

Or, more accurately, we can let the Smithsonian extrapolate for us by interviewing Kathleen Wall, a culinarian from a living history museum in Plymouth, Mass.

Turkey was not the centerpiece of the meal, as it is today, explains Wall. Though it is possible the colonists and American Indians cooked wild turkey, she suspects that goose or duck was the wildfowl of choice. In her research, she has found that swan and passenger pigeons would have been available as well.

If you’ve forgotten to stock up on the traditional Thanksgiving passenger pigeon, you have an excuse.  They’ve been extinct for just over a hundred years.  Extinct, but apparently tasty.

Other things?  Corn, both as bread and as porridge.  Chestnuts, perhaps stuffed into the birds.  Some of the staple meals of the local native Americans, lobsters, clams, mussels, and eel.  And the keystone of the meal, venison.

No potatoes; both white potatoes and sweet potatoes were introduced to the American diet later.  No cranberry sauce; that was a good half-century from being invented.  The settlers knew how to make pastry but lacked the ingredients to do so, so there were no pies or tarts or cookies.

The first Thanksgiving was basically an early version of the Atkins Diet. One of the things the Pilgrims were thankful for might have been ketosis.

Question of the night: What foods do you look forward to, in a Thanksgiving meal?

About the opinions in this article…

Any opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this website or of the other authors/contributors who write for it.

About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.