Thanksgiving then and now

There is little official record of the first Thanksgiving celebration. We know that it occurred after the first successful corn harvest by the Plymouth colonists in the year 1621. Governor William Bradford called for the first celebration and the fest lasted for 3 days. The colonists had learned to cultivate corn thanks to their relationship with a member of the Pawtuxet Tribe of Native Americans known as Squanto. Squanto contributed mightily to the survival of the colonists; teaching them how to catch fish, harvest sap from maple trees, and helping them to forge a relationship with the local Wampanoag tribe that would endure for over five decades.

The menu that was enjoyed during the first Thanksgiving contained some ingredients that have stood the test of time – and others that seem quite strange. Historians believe that the colonists prepared a variety of meats including fowl, deer, and seafood. A four man ‘fowling’ mission likely yielded a variety of birds including the ubiquitous turkey, but also ducks, geese, and swan. Most of the proteins served at the first Thanksgiving came from the ocean. Colonists harvested mussels, clams, and oysters. They caught bass, lobsters and seals. Local vegetables that probably appeared on the first Thanksgiving table included: onions, beans, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, carrots and perhaps peas. Records show that the first corn harvest was plentiful, so undoubtedly corn was served at the first Thanksgiving. In those days, the corn was removed from the cob and pressed into cornmeal then made into a porridge often sweetened with molasses. Fruits indigenous to region included grapes, plums, raspberries, gooseberries, and (of course) cranberries. While the colonists were certainly familiar with cranberries – that first Thanksgiving meal did not include cranberry sauce as the sugar supplies brought over on the Mayflower were depleted by the fall of 1621.

But what about pumpkin pie?

With the dwindling supply of sugar and a complete absence in the colony of butter and wheat flour, the colonists did not have the necessary ingredients to make pie crust. However, both the colonists and the Wampanoag tribe regularly consumed hard winter squash – like pumpkin. According to some accounts, English settlers in the Americas improvised a pumpkin ‘pie’ by filling a hollowed-out squash with milk, eggs, honey or molasses and spices then roasting it on a bed of hot ashes. So, the original pumpkin pie was more akin to crème brulee!

Though the menu and the times have certainly changed, the sentiment remains consistent from 1621 to 2017. Thanksgiving is a time to gather with your community and celebrate a bountiful harvest (whether literal or metaphorical) around a table laden with delicious food!

At the Fallon Food Hub, we celebrate the abundant crops raised by farmers in Churchill County! We are ready to supply you for your Thanksgiving feast – with locally raised hard winter squash, tomatoes, salad greens, sprouts, potatoes, carrots, and more!

As is fitting for the season – we are grateful to and thankful for our local farmers and ranchers who tend to their crops and watch over their flocks with a loving eye and careful hand!

Upcoming Events at the Fallon Food Hub

Shop Small Saturday: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday

Value Added Producers Grant Workshop & Organics Seminar: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 7

Register online at:

Cover Crop Seminar – USDA Plant Materials Center: 7 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 13

Kelli Kelly is the interim executive director of the Fallon Food Hub.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment