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The Tradition of Thanksgiving Foods

See our favorite Thanksgiving recipes and tips for entertaining here

It may not be what you expected - the very first Thanksgivings were entirely different from what we know today

While the Pilgrims were certainly glad to have survived their first winter - thanks to the friendly, local Native Americans - that first Thanksgiving celebration was nothing like it is today. In 1621, and for three days in October, a celebration of the harvest was held. Puritans and immigrants had landed the year before with few resources for tilling the land or feeding themselves.

No one is sure of what that feast might have been, but there are many guesses. Lobster, venison, corn (maize), cranberries, and watercress top the list of possibilities. It was never intended to become an annual feast and Thanksgiving was to travel through a convoluted path of date changes and food selection before it settled into the third Thursday in November.

Harvest celebrations have been held since ancient times, so the act itself was nothing new. While truly romantic in nature, the notion that Pilgrims and Native Americans created Thanksgiving might be a bit of a stretch.

As decades passed, there was much lobbying to make the day official. However, governors of each state were left to their own devices whether to declare it at all. As people moved across the country from New England, they carried the annual celebration along. It was refuted in the South as a "Yankee" festival.

At the turn of the 19th Century, fireplace cooking was generally replaced with the invention of the Dutch oven. This opened up an entirely new aspect of creating a special meal. More states recognized the importance of giving thanks and gathering family around. Over time, it ranged from being a religious occasion (the Pilgrims) to a political one (the War). When rations were funneled to the troops, Thanksgiving meals became sparse. At the end of the war, the choices were ramped up and the day again became a festive one.

So, what has transcended to now be a "traditional" Thanksgiving will vary from region to region. Those who partake of a "Yankee" feast will still enjoy turkey. They might also add chestnut dressing, mincemeat pie, apple butter, roasted fall vegetables, cranberry sauce, and a currant or gooseberry jelly.

Additionally, each family will have its traditions. Ours includes rolls, mashed potatoes and gravy, baked sweet potato, cranberry sauce, and a broccoli cheese casserole. Some years, we cut corners and buy canned sauce and packaged rolls.

The intent of understanding the origins of Thanksgiving is to also understand that it can be anything you wish!


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