You may be surprised to learn just what was on the menu during that “First Thanksgiving” between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag People at Plymouth Colony. The main menu featured waterfowl, venison, lobster, clams, berries, fruit, pumpkin, and squash. Pilgrim William Bradford noted that, “besides waterfowl, there was a great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many.”
Many of the foods included in that first feast have moved on to become staples at modern-day Thanksgiving meals. Keep in mind that there was a time in the past whereby lobster was so plentiful but considered food fit for prisoners only. Yes, you read that right!
Early feasts of the Order of Good Cheer, a French-Canadian predecessor to our modern Thanksgiving, featured a potluck dinner with freshly-hunted fowl, game, and fish that were hunted and shared by both French Canadians and local natives. In fact, Canada celebrates Thanksgiving too but it is not a really big deal as it is in our country. Canada’s Thanksgiving also falls on the second Monday in October — the same day as American Columbus Day. American Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday in November as we all know. Most likely Canada’s celebration occurs because Canada is farther north and the harvest comes earlier.
The use of the turkey in the United States for the holiday actually precedes Abraham Lincoln’s nationalization of the holiday in 1863. Alexander Hamilton proclaimed that no “Citizen of the United States should refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day.” Benjamin Franklin had high regard for the wild turkey as an American icon (he wanted it to be our national symbol as opposed to the eagle).
By 1857, turkey had become part of the traditional dinner in New England.
The turkey is also symbolic for the holiday in that when it eats the bird scratches back. This symbolizes the spirit of the day in that people gather and reminisce meaning that you “think back.”
Enjoy your holiday and be safe driving!
There are both large and small wild cranberries that can grow in Pennsylvania. They are edible and very delicious by the way. Cranberries can be found in wet, acidic soils, often in bogs and and swampy spots, in pine barrens, and along coastal areas in the eastern United States.
“Porcupine Pat” McKinney is environmental education coordinator for the Schuylkill Conservation District and provides programming for people of all ages with an emphasis on schools, public programming and nature center development. “Porcupine Pat” hails from Marion, Ohio and has a BS with Distinction in Natural Resources – Environmental Interpretation from Ohio State. He is a recipient of the prestigious Sandy Cochran Award for Excellence in Natural Resources Education from the PA Forestry Association, the Schuylkill Pride Award, and the PAEE “Outstanding Environmental Educator Award.”