The image most Americans have of the food at the first Thanksgiving is similar to Jane G. Austin’s 19th century description: a long table laden with stew, clam chowder, turnips, oysters, venison, ale and root beer, hasty pudding, and of course a turkey, only stuffed with beechnuts instead of bread.
Only problem is that Jane G. Austin was writing a novel and took a lot of liberties, says Andrew F Smith in his book Eating History. But Austin’s account was taken for truth and adopted into school curricula.
So what was the first Thanksgiving table in 1621 really like?
The 1922 book History of the Pilgrims and Puritans by Joseph Dillaway Sawyer quotes Edward Winslow, who describes a feast that lasted three days. Four of the 55 settlers killed fowl, and the 90 Native American guests got five deer.
The menu probably had turkey, venison, corn (also called maize), and ale, Smith says. In A Thousand Years over a Hot Stove, Laura Schenone adds cod and perhaps a pudding made from goat’s milk.
And just in case you might be feeling overwhelmed with all the preparations for your feast, the task of feeding 145 people for three days fell to the Mayflower’s four surviving married women and their helpers, five teenage girls and a maidservant. These women were the true heroes of the holiday.