You Won't Believe What The Pilgrims Really Ate On Thanksgiving Slideshow

You Won't Believe What The Pilgrims Actually Ate on Thanksgiving

When it comes time to set the Thanksgiving table, it's all about traditions, both familial and national. There has to be a turkey, there has to be cranberry sauce and stuffing, and for dessert there has to be a pumpkin pie. For many families, the meal also includes beloved family recipes, like grandma's Stromboli or lasagna. But amid all the gluttony, one question often gets overlooked: What exactly did the Pilgrims eat during the actual first Thanksgiving?


As close as they were to the water, it's a given that they would have done some fishing for the feast. Cod, bass, lobsters, eels, and clams were all most likely on the first Thanksgiving table. 

Wild Fowl

The main component of the meal was the fowl, just like today. Wild turkeys were indeed served (most likely roasted then boiled, or the other way around), probably along with goose, duck, crane, swan, partridge, eagles, and passenger pigeon. Because this was a multiple-day affair, birds roasted (over an open fire because there was no oven) on the first day were often turned into a soup, stew, or porridge the next. 


We know that the natives contributed five deer, so venison was the main red meat of the feast. Seals were most likely also served. 


Wheat and corn were both plentiful, so round loaves of cornbread and a type of sourdough called cheate bread were cooked. The corn was most likely also turned into a porridge. 


Stewed and spiced pumpkins were served, along with peas, beans, onions, radishes, carrots, watercress, sunchokes, and spinach. 


Plums, grapes, cranberries, and currants were all thought to be on the menu. Many of these were dried and used in sauces. 


Walnuts, chestnuts, acorns, and beechnuts all most likely found their way into dishes served at the feast. 

Herbs and Seasonings

The natives were experts at making foods taste good, and there were plenty of native herbs and seasonings at their disposal, including cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and black pepper.

What There Wasn’t

Because sugar supplies were very low, very little was actually served in the way of dessert (no pies!). Potatoes weren't yet cultivated in the region, so there were no mashed potatoes (white or sweet). And while it's nice to think of the Pilgrims downing tankards of beer with their feast, they most likely only had a couple of gallons left by this point as well, so they probably just drank water. 

If you're looking for some vintage Thanksgiving dishes to serve this year, click here for 15 great recipes.