No turkey. No cranberries. Not even any pumpkin pie.

Although wild turkey (the animal, not Uncle Johnny’s whiskey) was available to hunters in the American northeast in the early 17th century, many historians say it wasn’t likely to have been on the table for the first Thanksgiving meal. According to Edward Winslow’s account, Governor Bradford sent four men on a fowling expedition and they later returned with enough bird to feed the colony for almost a week. This feathered fare likely consisted of ducks and geese, experts say, maybe with some swan and pigeons [source: Gambino].


For their part, the Wampanoag guests brought along five deer. Of course, there was also corn, since the Native Americans — Squanto in particular — had recently shown their new neighbors how to grown the local crop [source: Gambino].

Meanwhile, the sweet delicious cranberry sauce that many of us look forward to come Thanksgiving would have required sugar, which wasn’t generally available until 50 years later. And while pies weren’t unknown at this time, these early European settlers had no access to butter or wheat flour to make a flaky crust [sources: Krulwich, Gambino].

Sobaheg, a Wampanoag dish consisting of stewed corn, roots, beans, squash and meat, may have been served. Other locally available foods, such as clams, lobsters, cod, eel, onions, carrots, turnips and various greens may also have been among the original Thanksgiving dishes [sources: Krulwich, Gambino].

Sarah Josepha Hale wasn’t present at that first celebration, but she had a lot to say about the foods we have come to associate with the holiday. The editor of a popular early-19th century women’s magazine, Hale printed Thanksgiving menus and recipes in her publication that we now consider traditional Thanksgiving fare, like roast turkey and mashed potatoes [sources: Krulwich, Gambino].

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