Thanksgiving 1621

What many of us in America have grown up believing about Thanksgiving, may not be altogether correct.

We know that in 1939 Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared Thanksgiving for the next-to-the-last Thursday in November. Two years later, in 1941, Congress permanently established the holiday as the fourth Thursday in the month.

But as James W. Baker states in his book, Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday, “despite disagreements over the details” the 3-day event in Plymouth in the fall of 1621 was “the historical birth of the American Thanksgiving holiday.”

One place that tries to sort out the myth from reality, is a place I would someday like to visit. Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, MA.

According to 1621 A New Look At Thanksgiving written by Catherine O’Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac with Plimoth Plantation, when the Wampanoag People brought food to a three day feast with the English settlers, who were living on Wampanoag land, in 1621, they probably brought with them food from the sea. Mussels. Clams. Fish. From the fields they probably brought deer and fowl, possibly turkey. From the ground they probably brought “sukahtash”; corn and beans, berries, nuts, squash, and pumpkins.

The English had gone “fowling”, and may have brought ducks, geese, and swans. They may have brought turkeys, as well.

While there were cranberries and pumpkins available, there was no cranberry sauce, and no pumpkin pies. There wasn’t any sugar for those two dishes, and sweets weren’t that common. Potatoes were not grown in New England at the time, so no mashed pots and gravy.

For Thanksgiving dinner at our home, we have a “traditional” meal of turkey with the fixings, pecan, and pumpkin pie. With whipped creme. Yum. No clams or venison for us. Although, my Aunt Jeanette made the best barbeque venison, took me years to agree to try it, I have to admit. Had trouble getting past visions of Disney’s Bambi.

Here is a recipe for a traditional Wampanoag dish – Nasaump. It consists of dried corn pounded in a mortar, and boiled in plain water to a thick porridge. Usually fruits, such as strawberries, raspberries, or blueberries were added. Another variation included clam broth (No, thank you.) with native herbs – green onions, wild garlic.

  • 1 qt water
  • 1 1/2 C coarse grits or hominy
  • Options:
  • 1 C clam broth and 1/2 C chopped green onions OR
  • 1 C fresh strawberries, raspberries, or blueberries
  • I would think you could substitute dried fruits if you didn’t have fresh.


Bring the water to a boil in a large pot. Gradually add the hominy, stirring until it comes back to a boil. Turn down the heat to low and cook very gently for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and allow to stand one-half to one hour. Before serving, reheat over medium heat, stirring. (If you are adding clam broth and green onions, or fruit, you can do so at this point.) The dish can also be reheated in a covered, buttered baking dish in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. You may need to add a bit more water.

There you go. A real traditional Thanksgiving dish. Let’s see how many of you take this to the next church pot luck!

If you do make Nasaump, I’d love to hear about it. I’m thinking of giving it a go. Maybe.

From our house to yours, may you enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving. Count your blessings, big and small. May each day be a day of thanks, not just a once a year, on the fourth Thursday in November, thing.

Cheer on your favorite team, and be a good sport if they lose. As to which team is better, Pilot and I differ. Hopefully, I won’t be forced to be a good sport.

I wish you well.



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