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8 Foods Served at the First Thanksgiving

Painting by J.L.M. Ferris of the first Thanksgiving ceremony with Native Americans and the Pilgrims in 1621. Undated illustration. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

The first Thanksgiving was a harvest festival shared by the Pilgrims and native Wampanoag people of what is today the southeastern area of the U.S. New England state of Massachusetts. The Pilgrims spent three days eating and celebrating their first successful harvest sometime during November of 1621. The Pilgrims celebrated their first harvest by shooting rifles into the air, which alerted the nearby Indians to investigate. The two groups then came together to peacefully share in the plentiful harvest. Which dishes from that first harvest festival might be found on your family’s Thanksgiving dinner table?

Here are 8 foods served at the first Thanksgiving:

  1. Turkey

Of course, the bird we think of on Turkey Day had a place on the table. Turkeys were plentiful in the area around the Plymouth Colony and likely a common meal. Turkey became the main course at Thanksgivings in New England by the 1700’s.

  1. Venison

Deer were, and still are, numerous in the area. The native Wampanoag people brought five deer they had hunted for the feast. They gave the deer to the Pilgrims and contributed to the meal so there was enough food for all.

3 & 4. Duck and Goose

There were plenty of ducks and geese in New England. Waterfowl like these live by rivers and lakes. Both birds were likely cooked for the harvest celebration along with other wild fowl (hint: turkey).

  1. Fish

The Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts, was on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean; there were many lakes and rivers in the nearby area. Fishing was a common practice because the Pilgrims lived so close to plentiful water sources.

  1. Maize

When the Pilgrims arrived on the Mayflower with little food that winter in 1620, the Wampanoag helped them plant maize (corn) the following spring. A great harvest followed, and corn became a staple crop. A traditional Native American food called nasaump, corn porridge, was made for the feast.

7 & 8. Pumpkin and Squash

An American favorite — pumpkin pie — is a little different from the stewed pompion (pumpkin) dish made for the celebration. Pompion became a “standing dish,” everyday food. Squash and pumpkin had been common food sources for the indigenous people long before the Pilgrims settled there.


Image Caption: The Pilgrims founded Plymouth Colony in what is now Massachusetts in 1620. Indians who helped the Pilgrims were invited to a Thanksgiving feast in 1621, shown here.

Credit: An oil painting on canvas (about 1919) by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris; Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (Corbis/Bettmann)

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