What would a PhD in Biblical Studies from Oxford eat
at the First Thanksgiving meal?
Its a windy and rainy afternoon in the late summer of 1621. With his preliminary research tightly wrapped in his suitcase, our imaginary friend takes a break from his studies at Oxford to board a ship that would take him to visit his uncle who lives in the Plymouth area. What would he find at the First Thanksgiving meal?
[NOTE: The best existing account of the Pilgrims’ harvest feast comes from colonist Edward Winslow, author of Mourt’s Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth.]
While there were wild turkeys in the Plymouth area, Winslow’s first-hand account of the First Thanksgiving included no explicit mention of turkey. He does mention the Pilgrims gathering “wild fowl” for the meal. This more likely meant ducks or geese.
No Cranberry Sauce:
Making cranberry sauce requires sugar. Sugar was a rare luxury at the time of First Thanksgiving. So while cranberries were available, the partakers of this first feast most likely did not have cranberry sauce. What’s more, it’s not even entirely clear that cranberry sauce had been invented yet.
White potatoes were virtually unknown in England at the time of the Thanksgiving feast, they were only raised by specialized botanists at the time and were not a part of the English diet. Sweet potatoes were, in the early 1600’s, imported into England from Spain and were used only by the ultra wealthy for their purported aphrodisiac properties.
No Pumpkin Pie:
Two key things were missing. Butter and oven. The Pilgrims probably lacked the butter and flour needed to make a pie crust. It’s not clear that they even had an oven in which they could have baked a pumpkin pie.
So what would our bidding PhD in Biblical studies from Oxford eat?
The original menu included: venison, duck, fish, lobsters, eel, mussels, oysters, Corn, parsnips, collards, turnips, spinach, onions, dried beans, dried blueberries, grapes, nuts, English cheese pie, cornbread and pumpkin pudding.
What would our PhD in Biblical studies from Oxford experience at 1621 Thanksgiving Meal celebration?
The celebration lasted for three days, not one, and consisted of intermittent feasting and entertainment (games and shooting of muskets). There were no forks at the time – just knives and spoons, and plates were wooden. It was most likely held in October, not November. There is no evidence that the Indians (Wampanoag) were explicitly invited. It was not called “Thanksgiving”. It was a “harvest festival”.
“By the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.” – Edward Winslow – December, 11, 1621