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History of The Thanksgiving Harvest Festival Part 2

Metacomet of Pokanoket, Sachem of the Wampanoag Nation, circa 1676 (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)
By Claire Cullen

Traditional harvest festivals have always revolved around food and family because they bring together all of the harvest workers to enjoy the fruits of their labors. The celebration is a chance to feast on the surplus food while it is still fresh. Many of the dishes we eat at Thanksgiving today are based around the crops that would have been harvested in late Fall in New England, particularly the maize or corn that the local Wampanoag people had taught the Europeans to cultivate, although the meal they sat down to in 1621 would have been slightly different from our own:

·         wild turkey would have been one among a selection of meats, mainly wildfowl such as duck, goose, swan, and perhaps even the now-extinct Passenger pigeon, with venison provided by the Wampanoag hunters, and lots of fish and shellfish from the bay

·         cranberries were probably eaten, but not as sauce, and without the luxury of sugar to sweeten them, along with other fruits and berries, gathered and dried over the summer

·         pumpkin was almost certainly eaten, but probably not in a pie due to the scarcity of flour and butter, and certainly not in the pureed, sweetened pies that we know today

·         South American potatoes and Caribbean sweet potatoes were unknown, so Jerusalem artichokes or even water lily roots might have been eaten instead

·         other vegetables or "herbs" such as carrots, turnips, parsnips and spinach were taken from the European-style gardens, with plenty of maize grown using Wampanoag techniques and used in both European style breads and Wampanoag stews

As we sit down with friends and family to our very similar meals today, we can use Thanksgiving as a chance to think about seasonal eating and how closely our ancestors' lives were linked to the land.

*Claire Cullen is a Free Lance Writer

History of the Thanksgiving Harvest Festival Series: http://www.foodasalens.com/search?q=History+of+The+Thanksgiving+Harvest+Festival+

Turkey Stories With Recipes: http://www.foodasalens.com/search?q=Turkey

Pie Stories With Recipes: http://www.foodasalens.com/search?q=Pie

The Thanksgiving Harvest Festival Part 3

History of The Thanksgiving Harvest Festival Part 1