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The Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner: Where Did It Come From?

By Rachel Levi; For The Clock
On November 17, 2016

The Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner: Where Did It Come From?

Rachel Levi

For The Clock 

Who doesn’t love thanksgiving? A time we are able to take a break from school and gather with our families we so seldom get to see in college. Thanksgiving allows us to take a break from our hectic lives and spend time spreading love and gratitude with our loved ones.

But wait. There is something about thanksgiving that probably excites all of us way more than a break from school or seeing our family. Does it even have to be said? OK. The food. Everyone gets excited at the prospect of turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and pumpkin pie. But, how did this become tradition? And what exactly did they eat at the first Thanksgiving, anyway?

A Smithsonian Magazine article from 2011 written by Megan Gambino titled “What Was on the Menu at the First Thanksgiving?” Gambino explored the possibilities of the Thanksgiving feast of the Wampanoag tribe. This tribe was apparently the first to partake in this celebration of giving thanks, and their menus were not even close to what our families traditionally serve today.

According to the Smithsonian Magazine article, turkey was not always the main course of thanksgiving meals. Instead, Gambino suggests it was a small bird, like a pigeon, spitroasted, over a fire. Not quite the same thing as a giant store-bought turkey, raised simply for the purpose of consumption, bathed in spices and oils and stuffed with flavorful breads and vegetables.

The article also suggests their meal included wildfowl, venison, eels, and shellfish such as lobster, clams, and mussels. While the Wampanoag tribe’s meals weren’t as diverse and abundant as ours may be today, they were still known, according to Gambino, to have had access to large varieties of food, and had a remarkably balanced and diverse diet.

A large portion of their food came from means of hunting and agriculture, where they grew corn and beans. Many of us remember learning about Thanksgiving as children, and are familiar with the stories of the native tribes teaching the Pilgrims to garden. A celebration in England, around the same time, would have featured many pies, meat, fish, turkey, and fruit tarts. But mostly meat pie, and surprisingly, no pumpkin pie. Gambino continues to talk about the fact that potatoes originated in South Africa and sweet potatoes in the Caribbean, and that it would be 50 years until the creation of cranberry sauce.

Thanksgiving has evolved to what it is today thanks to Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of a popular woman’s magazine during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. According to Gambino’s article, in 1827 Hale ushered the establishment of the Thanksgiving holiday to unite the country during the Civil War. She went on to create recipes, menus and cookbooks to celebrate the new national holiday, thus sparking the tradition of the Thanksgiving feast we know today. history/what-was-on-the-menu-at- the-first-thanksgiving-511554/?no-ist 

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