The classic idea of Thanksgiving includes turkey, pumpkin, cranberries and potatoes, but this stuff is a pretty sharp deviation from the original feast. When the holiday was accidentally created in the 1600s, the menu looked very different. If you want to create a really traditional meal, you’re going to need some creative ideas.
A Quick History of the Holiday
Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday that was born of a feast shared by colonists from Plymouth and local Native Americans. This first celebration was three days long, not just one. It took 200 years for Thanksgiving to become an official event, when Abraham Lincoln declared that it was a national celebration. Congress didn’t agree that it should be a holiday until long after Lincoln’s death, in 1941.
Now, it takes approximately 46 million turkeys to create the annual event. It’s become the official bird of the holiday, so much so that Thanksgiving is often called Turkey Day. A survey from the National Turkey Federation shows that almost 90 percent of all Americans eat turkey at Thanksgiving.
But if your Thanksgiving is going to be really, really authentic, the first thing you’ll have to ditch is the big bird.
Turkey’s Not on the Menu
At the feast that became the basis for Thanksgiving, they probably didn’t have turkey. Deer was the entree for the feast, roasted over an open flame. Every part of the animal was eaten and enjoyed, and many had to be hunted in order to keep everyone fed for the duration of the celebration.
Other roasted meats were provided where available, but we’re talking rabbits and squirrels more than birds. If turkey was eaten, it was a wild variety that would taste far different from today’s cultivated birds. Shellfish was also a big part of that first feast. Wild vegetables and greens that could be gathered were used to flavor main dishes and create side dishes.
One item that was eaten at the original feast is still a big part of the tradition today. Corn was certainly present at that first feast, and that means you might want to include it in yours as well. Whether roasted, creamed or baked into bread, corn is a tasty seasonal flavor that’s perfect for Thanksgiving.
Stuffing was not part of that first feast, though it’s become an integral part of the holiday in modern times. Pumpkins may have been available, but certainly not the creamy pumpkin pie that’s become such a big part of the holiday. At a really traditional feast, you wouldn’t include these items.
Maybe Let’s Not Be So Traditional
The great thing about Thanksgiving is its ability to change. Throughout the centuries, the holiday has evolved. Many favorite dishes are enjoyed regionally, as Thanksgiving is about enjoying the fall harvest. Cranberries, traditional fare from the northeast, have found their way to Thanksgiving tables all around the United States. Sweet potatoes, southern cuisine, have also become a big part of the holiday in many households.
Use Thanksgiving as an opportunity to create your own traditions, and find ways to integrate that original feast into your holiday. Traditions can be changed and still be honored at the same time.