Kathleen Wall, culinarian (that's her real title!) at the living history museum of Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, MA, has made it her mission to figure out what was served at the first Thanksgiving in 1621. Here's what she has discovered:
Thanksgiving wasn't easy. If you think your turkey dinner is a lot of work, try re-creating the first one: You'd have to feed 140 people over three days with no electricity. The replica 17th century kitchen where Wall cooks is dark and smoky, so much so that she can barely see the food and just has to smell when it's ready.
Pilgrim bread is a mystery. Bread was part of the first Thanksgiving, but the nature of this bread has been a nagging question. Wheat flour was scarce, so colonists would have pounded flour from maize and mixed it with water. "Every time I try to bake their bread, I end up with porridge," she says.
The first bird was?boiled? Colonists boiled everything, including geese and salads, and used the cooking liquid for soups and sauces. They might have boiled the first Thanksgiving turkey, too, but turkey was not the main event—deer was. Why no venison on today's Thanksgiving tables? "Marketing," Wall says. "Turkeys have better sales reps. And there's the whole Bambi thing."
Photograph by Keller + Keller