Ingredients For A (R)eel Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is here and people all over the U.S. are preparing to celebrate in their own unique ways. Some gather with family, while others draw the shades and relax. No matter how you celebrate, there are a few things that will probably make an appearance (in some form) at your Thanksgiving feast: turkey, cranberry sauce, cornbread stuffing, and mashed potatoes.

But these “traditional” foods are modern Thanksgiving paraphenalia. They’re somewhat different from the ingredients that would have graced the First Thanksgiving table.

Here are some of the foods the Indians probably shared with the starving and sickly Pilgrims so many years ago.

Eel: Today, the NY Times celebrated this early American staple, and reprinted a telling section from “Mourt’s Relation,” mostly written by a Plymouth resident, Edward Winslow: “Squanto went at noon to fish for eels. At night he came home with as many as he could well lift in one hand, which our people were glad of. They were fat and sweet. He trod them out with his feet, and so caught them with his hands without any other instrument.”

The article went on to point out that the fish proved essential to the endurance of the Pilgrims, and it is fitting that a river near Plymouth Colony was named Eel River.

Venison: The story goes that the Wampanoags also helped in supplementing the food supplies by contributing five deer they had killed and probably other supplies out of courtesy.

Turkey: Unlike many of the other traditional Thanksgiving dishes, this one is probably accurate. Winslow’s account tells us that General Bradford sent four of his soldiers to hunt for wild fowls, and they returned with such a large number with them that it could feed the whole village for a week. Since the wild turkey was quite prevalent during that time, it probably made an appearance at the feast after being roaster for hours over an open fire.

Lobster and Fish: The first Pilgrim colony was set up close to the water’s edge, right where they had landed. Marine life in the ocean would have been one of the most convenient sources of food (if they could catch it). Since it would still be a while before industry began polluting the ocean, this seafood was actually safe to eat!

What About The Veggies? These days, we can’t imagine a Thanksgiving Feast without mashed potatoes, candied yams, and green bean casserole. Unfortunately, potatoes were unavailable in those days and butter and oil were scarce. It’s likely that stewed pumpkin, squashes, onions, hickory nuts, and leeks did make an appearance though.

No matter what you eat, or how you celebrate… Happy Thanksgiving!

Image Credit: letterstorob


Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

Sumit jamadar
Sumit jamadar7 years ago


David N.
David N7 years ago

Interesting! We have straied away from the original foods. However, it's not really about the food. It's about giving thanks.

Jami Winn
Jami Winn7 years ago

i eat corn dogs nothing fancy takes way too long to cook

Jack Setson
Jack Setson7 years ago

I would love to hold a Thanksgiving celebration that showcased foods like this!

Malana A.
Malana Ashlie7 years ago

I'm an expat living in Honduras. I like the Thanksgiving holiday as a day set aside for being grateful.It can be difficult in a 24/7 society to set aside time to REALLY acknowledge and be in a state of gratitude for the abundance in our lives.

Being accepted outsiders (token gringos) living in a typical Honduran community was a taste of what it might have been like for our 'illegal immigrant' founding fathers. At least an interesting shift in perspective.

We made 'Stone Soup' ( the story is on Wikipedia) and shared with neighbors and Volunteers; about 50 folks. Everyone contributes one thing to the soup and everyone shares the reward. "es rico".

Sheri P.
Sheri P7 years ago

EWWWW! Not a vegetarian-friendly menu back then...

Yannick Avola
Past Member 7 years ago


Julianna D.
Juliana D7 years ago


Melissah Chadwick
Melissah C7 years ago