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Traditional Thanksgiving Food - Evolution Of The Thanksgiving Menu

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Thanksgiving meal

Thanksgiving has always been a day to look forward to and this time it is no different. But do you know that the traditional thanksgiving food is different from the modern thanksgiving meal you enjoy every year? It was never really such a grand affair? Surprised? Here are some snippets on the Traditional Thanksgiving Food and food customs that you will enjoy.


First Thanksgiving Feast

  • The First Thanksgiving, is said to have been held in 1621 between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag at Plymouth Colony. A solemn and religious affair, they would have managed with what little food they had in hand and thanksgiving was not considered a grand affair then.

  • The first thanksgiving meal is said to have had waterfowl, venison as the main attraction. The importance given to turkey was a later development. There was also fish like cod fish, other seafood like lobster and clams included in the menu, which seems to be strangely done away with today!

  • Vegetables like beans, assorted vegetables such as peas, onions, radishes, lettuce, Indian corn and pumpkin were used. Wheat and Corn Bread along with dried fruits and simple fruits like berries, pumpkin, and squash were also a part of the traditional thanksgiving food.

  • The dessert would have been pumpkin pudding where the pumpkin was boiled or stewed or stewed dried fruits, but they wouldn’t have been put into a crust because of the lack of an oven.

  • There was definitely no cranberry sauce or mashed potatoes with dollops of butter. Though they had cranberries, they didn’t have sugar but only honey and maple syrup and they still didn’t have potatoes.

Thanksgiving meal developments


Further Developments in the Traditional Thanksgiving Menu

  • Later on rabbit, beans, chestnuts, hickory nuts, onions, leeks, dried fruits, maple syrup and honey, radishes, cabbage, carrots, eggs, and possibly goat cheese was added to the traditional thanksgiving menu.

  • It was only later that turkey became the centrepiece of the Thanksgiving dinner. In 1863, after Lincoln nationalized the holiday, Alexander Hamilton proclaimed that no "Citizen of the United States should refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day."

  • The meat and poultry, just like today's thanksgiving meals, would have been roasted but without an oven, it was done on a spit over a fire.

  • The Thanksgiving meal has traditionally been held early evening, sometime shortly after dusk.

Thanksgiving meal modern


Modern Day Thanksgiving menu

  • In the present day, turkey, cranberries, and pumpkin have come to be accepted as the traditional Thanksgiving foods.

  • A modern thanksgiving meal is based on the centrepiece, the turkey. A traditional roasted turkey is stuffed with a bread-based stuffing and flavoured with the traditional herb, Sage and mixed with chopped celery, carrots, and onions. Oysters, apples, chestnuts, raisins, sausages or the turkey's giblets are also used as stuffing. The stuffing used can change from place to place, for example, rice is used instead of bread in Canada. Deep-fried turkey is also being used nowadays.

  • The side dishes in a modern day Thanksgiving meal includes cranberry sauce, stuffing or dressing and gravy. Other dishes include winter squash, yams, mashed potatoes, rice, dumplings, corn on the cob or hominy, devilled eggs, green beans or green bean casserole, sauerkraut, peas and carrots, bread rolls, cornbread or biscuits, rutabagas or turnips and maybe a salad.

  • Pies are the most favourite forms of desserts on Thanksgiving.  Apple pie, mincemeat pie, sweet potato pie, pumpkin pie, chocolate meringue pie and pecan pie are the most popular pies.

  • There is always a simple beverage or set of beverages served with traditional meal and they often vary from household to household.  Spirits or cocktails are served before the main meal and on the menu there will be either unfermented Apple cider or wine. Non-alcoholic beverages are also prepared for children. Pitchers of sweetened iced tea are a common beverage in the South.



  • Goose and duck, are the traditional European centrepieces while the Dungeness crab is used in the West Coast of the US. In Alaska it is whale meat.

  • Turducken also came into fashion recently. It has turkey, duck and chicken nested within each other and then cooked together.


Image Credit: flickr

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