Low in fat, high in protein and an inexpensive source of iron, zinc, potassium and B vitamins, turkey makes a healthy addition to a person’s diet. Turkey also tends to be the star of the show on Thanksgiving and other holidays. Even though turkey can be a delicious addition to any holiday table, some people prefer to buck Thanksgiving tradition from time to time and divert focus from the golden gobbler.
Even though turkey may be synonymous with Thanksgiving, hosts and hostesses should not shy away from serving something different. In fact, turkey may not even have been on the menu for the first Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving dates back to New England in November 1621, when newly arrived Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians gathered for an autumn harvest celebration. It’s reported that pilgrims went on a “fowling” mission in preparation for the three-day feast. Although wild turkey was plentiful in the region, ducks, geese, passenger pigeons, and swans were commonly consumed. Historians at Smithsonian say documents refer to wildfowl and venison as foods appearing at the first Thanksgiving, but turkey was not mentioned.
Home chefs can take a cue from those first pilgrims and choose less traditional offerings this Thanksgiving. The following are some ideas that are reminiscent of the first Thanksgiving.
- If the flavor is more palatable, don’t hesitate to select another bird to grace the Thanksgiving table, such as a goose or even a chicken. Some people find turkey meat to be too dry, despite all of the different preparation methods. Chicken or goose may be more well-received and just as versatile.
- Don’t overlook the possibility of serving fish and other seafood. Colonists and the Wampanoag probably ate eel, lobster, clams, and mussels. Fish can be dried, smoked and preserved.
- Replace wheat-based recipes with those made from cornmeal, as maize was more likely available during colonial time than wheat.
- Forests provided chestnuts, beechnuts and walnuts, so a platter of nuts paired with cheese or fruit also can make a welcome addition to the table. Nuts also can be ground and used in baked goods or flavoring for Thanksgiving desserts.
- Pumpkin and squash were plentiful in colonial times, and this is why these gourds are often included in Thanksgiving meals and decor. The flesh of a pumpkin or squash can be turned into casseroles or used to make quiche.
- A traditional Thanksgiving meal for the early settlers would not have included potatoes. White potatoes originated in South America and sweet potatoes in the Caribbean. At the time of the first Thanksgiving, these would not yet have been introduced, as white potato patches in North America were not established in the region until 1719, according to the potato resource Potato Goodness.
- Because colonists did not have wheat flour and butter to make flaky tart crusts, pumpkin pie was not on the first Thanksgiving menu. In lieu of pumpkin pie, hosts can experiment with moist loaf breads or muffins made with pumpkin.
The average Thanksgiving dinner table today looks quite different from the one the Wampanoag Indians and Pilgrims gathered around centuries ago. Families can stick closer to history and tailor their meals for a touch of something different this year.