Youve probably heard that Turkey may or may not have been on the menu when the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians sat down to their harvest feast in 1621.
Venison and wild fowl are the only two foods historians know for certain were consumed at the meal. And the men sent to capture fowl couldve snagged small, seasonal birds such as quail, pheasant and duck, instead of the harder-to-catch wild turkey.
So why do we make such a big deal out of the Thanksgiving turkey? Why doesn’t Grandma serve up venison on her best platter every November?
I did some googling. The pilgrims countrymen in England would dine on goose at special meals. Americans who later took up the tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving may have substituted one big bird for another, because wild turkeys were more abundant here than geese.
In addition, large birds were a lot more affordable than giving everyone steaks or butchering all the laying hens. This quote about how the turkey became popular at Thanksgiving, from an article by Michelle Tsai, explains it well:
Among the big birds, turkey was ideal for a fall feast. Turkeys born in the spring would spend about seven months eating insects and worms on the farm, growing to about 10 pounds by Thanksgiving. They were cheaper than geese, which were more difficult to raise, and cheaper by the pound than chickens.
Americans started eating turkey for Thanksgiving in the mid-1800s, after Godeys Ladys Book editor Sarah Josepha Hale began a campaign to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. At the time, the holiday was celebrated mostly in New England on a different day in each state.
Hale published editorials and wrote to several presidents. Finally, in 1863, Abraham Lincolnhoping to boost the war-weary country’s moralesupported legislation establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday.
Supposedly, Hale popularized a holiday menu of turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie. But nostalgic images of the Pilgrims and Indians sitting down to a huge feast didnt enter popular consciousness until later in the century.
Turns out the pilgrims and Wampanoag didnt eat pumpkin pie, sweet potatoes or cranberry sauce in 1621, either. Not much about our modern Thanksgiving has to do with how the Pilgrims actually celebrated their first harvestexcept the most important part, gathering with loved ones to be grateful for what we have.