FOOD: The Thanksgiving Meal

By Deborah George


There are many accounts of the Pilgrims’s voyage to America.  One such narrative is that on September 6, 1620, a ship carrying 102 passengers left England. These passengers spent 66 days on that ship just to reach a place where they could enjoy greater economic, cultural and religious opportunities.  After that uncomfortable and perilous journey, the passengers landed near the tip of Cape Cod. This was not where they intended to go. Instead of going further south, the passengers ended up north of Cape Cod because of rough seas. Finally, on December 25,1620, the passengers decided to build their colony on the site of Plymouth, Massachusetts The name of this ship was The Mayflower. Its passengers were the Pilgrims, who came to the New World for freedom.

Legend has it that the Pilgrims might have starved if it weren’t for help from Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe, and another tribe of Native Americans, the Wampanoag. In November 1621, the Pilgrims and the Native Americans reportedly shared a harvest festival that we now call the “First Thanksgiving.” This festival lasted for three days.

Thanksgiving didn’t become a national holiday until 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln designated the last Thursday of November for this holiday. Thanksgiving is still a well-loved annual event throughout the United States. Thanksgiving is centered on food and family. Over the years many different cultures and traditions of American families have changed the Thanksgiving menu.

How The Pilgrims Probably Celebrated Thanksgiving

There is no historical record that clearly states what the Pilgrims ate on this day. Ducks and deer were probably the main source of meat. The Pilgrim men, and the men from the Wampanoag tribe, would have hunted for both the deer and ducks. The  women would have roasted the duck and deer and made the side dishes. Historians suggest that many of the dishes may have contained Native American spices and cooking methods. The meal would be completed with side dishes made from crops that they had cultivated or foraged. This Thanksgiving did not have pies, cakes or other types of desserts.

The New Menu

Today, diverse cultural foods combined with the traditional food of the holiday make for an exotic dinner palette. For many families, the different foods that are incorporated are based on the family’s country of origin. The star of the meal, the turkey, may be stuffed with chorizo and peppers. Instead of turkey, some families replace it with ham or paella, a seafood dish. Some Hispanic families incorporate the Thanksgiving meal with rice and beans. Dominicans add mangu and tostones. Cuban families may add flan and croquetas. People from Peru may add ceviche and empanadas. Puerto Ricans include empanadillas and rice y guandules. Just like the Hispanic families, Asian American families also have an interesting take on the Thanksgiving meal. Indians bring biryani and the traditional food from the different states of India. Families from Philippines may add lumpia. Asians may also add their style of cooking and mix it with the traditional holiday foods.


​Overall, cultural contributions  from people all over the U.S. have changed the way that Thanksgiving meals are prepared. These dishes have made both the Thanksgiving meal and the holiday itself more vibrant and colorful. Thanksgiving is a holiday where you remember what you are thankful for. I, for one, am thankful for my family, my friends and the many wonderful, delicious dishes served on Thanksgiving Day.






, , , , ,