12 Foods That the Pilgrims Might Have Actually Been Eating
Less pumpkin pie, more boiled eel.
Your Thanksgiving dinner may look even less like "the First Thanksgiving," shared by the pilgrims and Wampanoag at Plymouth Colony in 1621, than you may have guessed. You don't need to make turducken or a vegan turkey substitute to eat a meal that would have been entirely unrecognizable to 17th-century folks. In fact, even today's Thanksgiving staples like pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce would have been unrecognizable in 1600s America.
So what were the pilgrims eating? Apparently the First Thanksgiving, a three-day harvest celebration, would have included things like venison, fowl and may have even included eel and lobster. Here are some recipes from the 17th century—although "recipe" is a pretty generous word for these few-sentence-long cooking instructions—to see how they were really feasting back then. (It's worth noting that some of the more America-specific foods, like corn-based dishes, won't be included, because the first American cookbook wasn't published until 1796.)
Yep, the first Thanksgiving may have included a fair amount of eel. This 1670 recipe for boiled eel includes nutmeg, lemon, and berries. (Food historian Kathleen Wall told Smithsonian Magazine that eel was likely involved in the famous feast. "“They were drying shellfish and smoking other sorts of fish,” she added.) If you want a more 2017-friendly eel recipe, check out this Japanese-style eel and rice bowl.
Turkey is pretty much the only fowl we eat for Thanksgiving now, but the pilgrims' entrées may have included ducks and geese. A 17th century duck stew may have included onion, thyme and anchovies. Learn how to roast a duck here.
The fowl options may have even included swan. This swan pudding recipe from 1615 (scroll down to "A Swanne or Goose Pudding") includes oatmeal, coriander, and rose water.
For a bunch of salad recipes, which include spinach and cabbage, among other things, scroll down to "Section V: The best way of making all manner of Sallets" in this 1685 cookbook, "The ACCOMPLISHT COOK, or, The whole Art and Mystery of COOKERY, fitted for all Degrees and Qualities."
Cream of cabbage
This 1658 cream of cabbage recipe involves stroking the cabbage with a feather soaked in rosewater. For those of us who don't have bird feathers and rosewater lying around, this 2011 recipe for cabbage with parsley cream should be almost as good.
Cornbread stuffing may not have been a thing, but they definitely would have had bread at the table. This 17th-century recipe makes the bread with lemon, ginger and basil.
What's any major feast without booze? This 1677 ale recipe says that you should put twelve raisins in every bottle.