While most Americans consider turkey to be the most important part of Thanksgiving dinner, the Pilgrims actually enjoyed the fruits of their first harvest with lobster, mussels and venison meat. Learn more about the first Thanksgiving with Cape Porpoise Lobster Company and consider adding a new flavor to your family’s table this year with seafood dishes!
As shown in the video above, the original Thanksgiving wasn’t an evening long affair, but was actually a three day festival to celebrate the success of the settler’s first harvest in 1621. The Thanksgiving celebration that we imagine – with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie – wasn’t held until many years later. The settlers of New England probably never imagined that their harvest festival would become as popular as it is!
It wasn’t until 1789 that President George Washington announced the first national Thanksgiving holiday, a day that didn’t become popular throughout the country until the 19th century. While the first Thanksgiving was very different that the meal we typically imagine, the celebration was shared between the Plymouth Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians, who had introduced the settlers to the foods and farming techniques of North America. The 1621 harvest festival included fish, shellfish and local vegetables, along with meats like deer, duck and goose.
Abundant along the shores of New England, seafood like mussels and lobster was a staple in the Pilgrim’s diet. This has led historians to believe that these delicious foods had a place at the first Thanksgiving table. Fish of all kinds were dried and smoked by the settlers and mussels were often served with curd, a dairy product similar to cottage cheese.
During this time period, lobster was so plentiful that these crustaceans were said to wash ashore in piles and were gathered by hand. The lobster was used for food and fertilizer by the Native Americans, and their cooking methods are thought to have inspired the New England clambake method. Wrapped in seaweed and baked over hot rocks, lobsters were a primary part of the 17th century America diet.
According to a journal entry by Pilgrim Edward Winslow, the local Wampanoag tribe arrived with a gift of five deer. Four settlers were sent to hunt as well, bringing back enough fowl to feed the group for almost a week.
While wild turkey may have been caught for the festivities, historians believe that venison and smaller birds, like duck and goose claimed center stage. Spit-roasted, stuffed with onions and herbs, and then boiled, meat was probably served whole on the first day, and used to create a broth for the next. Meat pies were also a staple food, cooked much more frequently than the pumpkin varieties we think of as a Thanksgiving treat today.
Local vegetables including corn, beans, onions and carrots were served at the Thanksgiving festival in place of the potatoes we love to eat today. Neither white potatoes nor sweet potatoes had made their way to North America in the early 1600s, but Native Americans had taught Pilgrims how to harvest these other greens.
Another Thanksgiving favorite was probably included in the 1621 holiday, but in a slightly different form. Cranberry sauce did not come about until 50 years after the first Thanksgiving, but cranberries were probably gathered and served at the original table.
This Thanksgiving, consider adding some old traditions to your table with lobster, mussel and more! There are many ways to incorporate seafood into your holiday traditions, from your appetizers to the main course. Some delicious appetizer ideas include lobster stuffed squash and creamy seafood chowder. Serve lobster as the main course or stuff your turkey with herbed oyster stuffing for a taste of the ocean. View our recipe ideas here.
Regardless of what seafood fare you incorporate into your Thanksgiving dinner this year, visit Cape Porpoise Lobster Company for a fresh, quality meal. With next day shipping included, you can add the flavors of Maine to your table, no matter where in the United States you live. Visit us online or call 1-800-967-4268 to place your Thanksgiving order today!