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The First Thanksgiving Feast


A Thanksgiving dinner centered 
around roast turkey includes, 
clockwise from left: giblet gravy, 
Indian pudding, pumpkin soup 
and cranberry-maple sauce -- 
all based on foods of American Indians. 


Going native for your holiday feast 
November 14, 2001 Posted: 05:55:02 AM PST


Thanksgiving has evolved over the centuries, and that includes the occasional surprise. 

Popcorn, for example. 

There were no forks on that first Thanksgiving table in 1621. The Pilgrims and Indians shared cups and spoons and used their knives and fingers to eat. 

There was no cranberry sauce, and historians seriously doubt that turkey was served. 

When the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, they were greeted by a barren, inhospitable landscape . They settled into American Indian villages that had become ghost towns because of smallpox. 

Had it not been for Squanto, the lone surviving Pautuxet Indian, the Pilgrims would have starved to death. Squanto gave them corn and taught them how to plant it the Indian way: four kernels of corn in a mound of earth along with the head of a fish. 

One year later, the Pilgrims had their first meager harvest and set aside a day of thanksgiving. 

Chief Massasoit was invited to the feast, and he brought with him 90 fellow Wampanoags, their faces and bodies painted for the celebration. 

That first Thanksgiving began as a breakfast and ended with a surprise. 

Historians say the menu included roast venison, duck, stuffed goose, lobsters, clams, bass, watercress, leeks, corn, plums and dried fruit. A wine made from wild grapes was served. 

The surprise came when the Indians disappeared into the woods and returned with a bushel of popped corn, a wondrous new food for the Pilgrims. 

The familiar image of Pilgrims and Indians feasting on turkey for that first Thanksgiving is now believed to be a myth. Turkeys did not become customary Thanksgiving fare until the 1860s. 

Our debt to the American Indian is great. Many foods and classic American dishes are of American Indian origin. It was the Indian who gave us the tomato and the potato. 

American Indians from five distinct areas gave us foods and recipes we still use today: 

From the Southwest, the Pueblos, Papago and Hopi grew peppers and beans, which they transformed into chili, soups, salads and barbecue sauces. 

From the Northwest, the Tlingit, Kwakiutl and Salish tribes steamed, broiled and simmered seafood from the Pacific. 

From the vast Plains, the Dakota and Cheyenne Indians roasted buffalo. 

From the South, the Powhatan and Cherokee tribes became famous for their soups, stews and corn bread. 

From the East, the Narragansett, Penobscot and Iroquois steamed dinners in earthen pits, creating the first clambakes. 

More than half the foods we eat today are foods the Indians cultivated: avocados, sweet potatoes, pineapples, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, pumpkin, squash and corn. 

In "Spirit of the Harvest: North American Indian Cooking" (1992, Stewart, Tabori & Chang), authors Beverly Cox and Martin Jacobs offer recipes that demonstrate how the foods of yesteryear have a place on today's table. From that cookbook comes this menu, which would have pleased Indian and Pilgrim alike, as well as their 21st-century descendants.


Happy Thanksgiving from Spike & Jamie


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