When it comes to Thanksgiving dinner, most would consider the roasted turkey as the centerpiece of the table. Served with a variety of traditional sides that range from mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, and cranberry sauce to not so traditional sides like red curry mashed potatoes, or fall harvest roasted pear and kale salad. Depending on what part of the country you are from, there is always a delicious array of the most festive foods.
Have you ever wondered why we serve turkey, or pumpkin pie? Here is a breakdown of why we eat what we eat on Thanksgiving.
Although the first Thanksgiving celebration in 1621 by the Pilgrims of Plymouth did not mention eating turkey, they did mention wild fowl for the meal, which could have been ducks or geese. It was not until later that Americans started incorporating wild turkey into their meal. By 1863 Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday and the turkey in all its scrumptious splendor, gained traction as it’s centerpiece.
Long before Stove Top stuffing was introduced in 1972, the practice of stuffing fowl with onions and herbs before roasting was more common. Because stoves were not widely available until the 18th century, birds were roasted over an open fire on a skewer. This made it difficult to cook side dishes, as a result they would place day old bread into the turkey. The juices would rehydrate the bread creating a delicious side dish while also preventing the bread from going to waste.
Potatoes were introduced to North America shortly after 1621, but they did not become part of America’s agricultural society until 1719. Before potatoes, people would eat other plant roots, such as turnips. No one really knows how they became a modern Thanksgiving tradition.
Indigenous to New England, cranberries were most certainly consumed in one form or another prior to the first Thanksgiving. Because sugar was a rare luxury and there were insufficient sugar stores, the method of
preparing the cranberries boiled with sugar, was not discovered until the late 17th century. By 1800, cranberry sauce made its way to most Thanksgiving menus.
The origin of the pumpkin pie dates all the way back to 1621 when the early American settlers of Plimoth Plantation settled in southern New England. They would hollow out the shell, add milk, honey and spices and then bake it in hot ash. In 1651, Francois Pierre la Varenne, a famous French chef added the pumpkin pie that included the pastry to his cookbook. It was then called Tourte of Pumpkin. By the 1670’s recipes for a “pumpion” pie had appeared in several cookbooks favorited by the Queen. By 1796, the pumpkin pie became an American tradition and recipes were added to the first American cookbook written and published in America by Amelia Simmons. It is now an American tradition and served in many American households as well as all over the world.
Thanksgiving dinner is the largest eating event in the United States. People eat more on Thanksgiving than any other day of the year. So, whether you go for the sweet potato casserole, macaroni and cheese or bacon infused Brussel sprouts, be sure to always save some room for the pumpkin pie!