No Turkey At First Thanksgiving? Here’s What Was On The Menu

Even though turkey seems to be a required feature of the average Thanksgiving meal today, this particular bird was definitely not on the menu for the very first Thanksgiving celebration.

Keep in mind that the first Thanksgiving meal did not necessarily happen when the Pilgrims and the Native Americans first met each other and shared a meal together. History reports that the official first Thanksgiving did not occur until later in 1621.

First Thanksgiving
First Thanksgiving menu had no turkey on it.

More than One Meal

This celebration was not even designed to be one very large meal, which is what it has become in the nearly four centuries that have passed since then.

That first Thanksgiving was actually planned to be more of a three-day festival instead of a one-night feast. The three-day festival consisted of hunting, eating and various forms of entertainment because they wanted to celebrate the first successful harvest.

What’s For Dinner?

For the first Thanksgiving, the Indians killed five deer to offer to the colonists as gifts. Therefore, even though turkey was not on the menu, venison was more than likely one of the most popular items available.

Two more dishes that seem to be required items today at the average Thanksgiving table are pumpkin pie and numerous potato dishes (i.e. sweet potato pie, mashed potatoes, potato salad, etc.). However, these items had not even been introduced to New England yet, so they were not featured on the first Thanksgiving menu either.

What about cranberries? Cranberries were more than likely added to the first Thanksgiving menu, but in their natural berry form – not as a sauce.

Don’t Forget the Veggies

Since the historical celebration was designed to focus on their first successful autumn harvest, the Pilgrims were more than likely very excited about having the chance to enjoy many of the foods they were able to reap with the assistance of the Native Americans. A variety of vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, lettuce, onions and spinach likely made an appearance.

Corn is one of those menu additions that has become a timeless classic – especially since it is still enjoyed today. There was an abundance of corn available during that first harvest, so it was likely added to the first Thanksgiving menu as well with one minor difference. Instead of eating it straight from the cob, the people removed it from the cob so that the corn could be turned into cornmeal, boiled and pounded into porridge.

Clearly, a lot of things have changed since the first Thanksgiving was celebrated more than four hundred years ago.