It’s November, and we’re supposed to write about gratitude.
If I were a virtuous author, I’d be writing about how thankful I am for something related to TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD. (Which would make an excellent Christmas present.) (Available wherever books are sold.) *Angry Marketing God subsides.*
Being an evil and lazy author who happens to be immersed in 17th century New England for a book in progress, I’m going to write about the first Thanksgiving. This will be upsetting in many ways. For example, the Pilgrims weren’t called that. They did not have black clothing or silver shoe-buckles. They had never heard of cranberry sauce or mashed potato.
Herewith, a series of disappointments:
1. If the English refugees who arrived in southeastern Massachusetts in 1620 called themselves anything, it would have been the Godly, to distinguish themselves from followers of the Church of England, which they considered corrupt and ungodly. After a hard winter and a slightly better growing season, in the fall of 1621 William Bradford, the Plimoth Colony’s governor, sent four men out to shoot various fowl for a harvest celebration. The neighboring Wampanoags heard about the party and offered some freshly killed deer. The English invited their neighbors to join them, and there ensued three days (some say a week) of feasting and game-playing.
2. We can be grateful this was a harvest feast, not a “thanksgiving.” That would have been a religious observance, probably involving a fast. Bummer.
3. Relations between the English and the Wampanoags were friendly at the time, but they eventually decayed, bigtime. When drafting paragraph number 1, I mistakenly typed “invaded their neighbors” rather than “invited.” This is what’s known as a Freudian Slip. Modern-day Wampanoags tend not to celebrate Thanksgiving.
3. In addition to the venison, the menu probably included ducks, geese and swans. There may have been turkey, but not necessarily. The cranberry was used more as a tart addition to some other dish—cranberry sauce came into being about 50 years later, when sugar was more readily available. Sweet and white potatoes, meanwhile, had only made it to Europe from the Andes decades before—if the Plimoth folks knew about them at all, they would have been a rich man’s food. The English would have had parsnips, carrots, and turnips for root vegetables, while the Wampanoags would have cooked Jerusalem artichokes, groundnuts, sweet flag, Indian turnip, and water lily.
4. Pumpkins were around in some form, but there was no pie because nobody had crust ingredients. Later on, when butter and wheat flour were available, English cooks would have cut up the pumpkins like apples, and fried them before putting them in crust. (Apples are not native to the Americas, by the way—Europeans brought them later in the century.)
5. Instead of football, there probably was Blind Man’s Bluff and the Pin Game, a Wampanoag invention like horseshoes.
No word on who got stuck with the dishes.