Remembering the First Thanksgiving
For one day in late November, families around the country put work aside and without the aid of gifts, glitter and trees, gather around a table of plenty and pause to give thanks.
Today's tables are replete with nearly every possible side dish and dessert imaginable. But it was not always the case. In fact, the first Thanksgiving in 1621 at Plymouth Plantation was not so bountiful. The pilgrims' crops that year were not what you would call over abundant. In fact, if it had not been for the gifts brought by the guests - the native Americans - the first Thanksgiving would have been what we now call an entertaining disaster.
Upon his arrival at the plantation, Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoag tribe, immediately sent his men out to hunt for food. Their venture resulted in five deer, game birds, eel, leeks, wild mushrooms, groundnuts, dried berries, wild plums, watercress, and a variety of other greens. Corn bread and succotash rounded out the menu for our country's first Thanksgiving. The three-day event would be a success after all!
Early methods of cooking were primitive, which probably accounted for the length of the meal. Meats and vegetables had to be cooked over an open hearth, the only existing heat source, while grains had to be pulverized with a mortar and pestle.
Despite the length and breadth of the menu, turkey appeared nowhere on it! Instead, the meats of choice were venison and wild game birds. It was not until the late 1800s that turkey took over the Thanksgiving table.
For many years Thanksgiving remaining mostly confined to New England where it began. But gradually as colonist and New Englanders moved out of the area and into other parts of the country, the traditiona of giving thanks each autumn for another harvest, spread.
In 1863 it had become such a tradition that President Abraham Lincoln declared it a national holiday. Upon his proclamation, a 24-hour cease fire was declared in the still raging Civil War. It was the only one in the entire four year bloody conflict.
Since its early origins Thanksgiving dinner has come to include a variety of regional dishes in addition to the old standards. What meal would be complete without cranberries in some form, pumpkin pie and of course - turkey? Eel, let's face it, is not making a rousing comeback. I just hope I don't live to eat those words...Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Here's my favorite recipe for cranberry relish. Enjoy!
- 1 C. sugar
- 1 C. water
- 1 pacakge lemon gelatin
- 4 C. fresh cranberries
- 2 large unpeeled, cored apples
- 1 unpeeled orange, seeded and chopped
- 1 C. pecans, toasted
In a small saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and stir in the gelatin until it dissolves. Chill until the mixture is the consistency of unbeaten egg whites. Meanwhile, put all of the other ingredients in a food processor and pulse until it is minced. Combine the gelatin with the remaining ingredients - blending well. Can be served in a molded form (just be sure to spray it well!) or in a bowl. Chill until the relish firms.