Clearly, the “first Thanksgiving” dinner was a lot different than our current iterations of a Thanksgiving meal. And I’m not even talking about how it’s been centuries since you could wear a ruff around your neck and get taken seriously. The food was different as well. Obviously store-bought Stove Top stuffing and canned cranberry sauce were nowhere to be found. Heck, even whether the Pilgrims and Native Americans ate something as simple as turkey is up for debate.
The Pilgrims didn’t leave behind any printed menus. Instead, according to History.com, “the Pilgrim chronicler Edward Winslow noted in his journal that the colony’s governor, William Bradford, sent four men on a ‘fowling’ mission in preparation for the three-day event.” Though wild turkeys were common in the area, those fowlers could have also come back with “birds we know the colonists regularly consumed, such as ducks, geese and swans.” So don’t ever let anyone give you guff for serving up swan on Thanksgiving night!
Another thing Pilgrims and Native Americans didn’t have was any sort of modern equivalent of pumpkin pie. “The fledgling colony lacked the butter and wheat flour necessary for making pie crust,” History.com writes. “Moreover, settlers hadn’t yet constructed an oven for baking.”
So what did Pilgrims have? Well, as you can see in the video above from the YouTube channel How Does It Grow, it’s believed that the settlers improvised by filling hollowed-out baked pumpkins with custard. So if you really want to kick it old school for your Thanksgiving dinner this year, host Nicole Jolly runs through the relatively simple instructions on making this “pie in a pumpkin” as she calls it – a true pumpkin pie throwback.
That said, I’m guessing if they had butter and wheat flour and ovens, the Pilgrims probably would have made some pie crusts because a pie crust is far more delicious than an overcooked squash. Maybe it would actually be doing more to honor the first Thanksgiving by serving the dessert they probably would have preferred to eat. People in the 17th century weren’t dumb; they just didn’t have technology working in their favor yet.