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The Thanksgiving Meal: Why We Eat What We Eat

Thanksgiving brings with it a chance to appreciate all of life’s blessings, including everyone’s favorite meal: Thanksgiving dinner. But do you know why we eat what we eat on Thanksgiving? Let’s take a closer look at the evolution of this settler celebration into the modern-day meal we know and love today.

Thanksgiving meal

Part-old, part-new, all-delicious.

The Stand-Bys

The very first Thanksgiving dinner was shared between the Native American Wampanoag tribe and the pilgrims at Plymouth in the fall of 1621 in commemoration of the settlers’ survival through their first year in New England. But not all of the foods we enjoy now were enjoyed at that historic table.

Let’s start with the big one: turkey. While deer and some type of fowl were definitely served on that fateful day, historians tell us that turkey may or may not have earned a spot at that first Thanksgiving table.

In fact, while long enjoyed by the Native Americans, turkey was new to the pilgrims at the time. Eventually, it did make its way across the Atlantic to Europe via Turkey — thereby earning its name. (What did the Native Americans call this tasty bird until then? “Peru”.)

Stuffing, however, was anything but new to the pilgrims, dating back at least as far as the ancient Romans. Today, “stuffing” refers to a filling mixture of bread, vegetables, spices and sometimes meat packed into the turkey, while “dressing” consists of the same ingredients but is baked outside the pan. The many types of stuffing people enjoy across the country derive from regional influences. For example, in the South, cornbread dressing is a staple on tables, while Italian-Americans often incorporate sausage into their stuffings.

While cranberries — long-used by the Native Americans for both food and medicinal purposes — were indeed part of the diet of the original settlers, they didn’t actually gain mass popularity until their commercialization years later. And although they may have been eaten at the first Thanksgiving, cranberry sauce was missing for one simple reason: sugar was a luxury at the time.

The New Additions

One surprising add-on to the original meal? Sweet potatoes. While Christopher Columbus brought these to the New World on his voyage, many Americans are surprised to learn that they were not cultivated in the U.S. until more than 20 years after that first celebration. So not only were sweet potatoes not present at the feast, but the settlers didn’t even know what they were. (Also missing by proxy? The always-popular marshmallow topping.)

Think the pilgrims were eating your favorite green bean casserole when they first broke bread with the Native Americans? Think again. This fried onion-topped side dish didn’t come onto the scene until 1955 when Campbell’s invented it to promote their soups.

And while pie may be a highlight of your celebration, it was very much missing from the first Thanksgiving feast. Not only were the pilgrims missing ovens, but they were also short on the butter and sugar needed for pie crusts. They did, however, use their ingenuity to create other dishes with pumpkin and pecan — both ingredients commonly used by Native Americans.

While there are many gaps in our knowledge about that first Thanksgiving, we do know that when the pilgrims and Native Americans sat down together to enjoy that first feast, they didn’t know that it was the beginning of a tradition that would last for hundreds of years. In fact, according to a report from The Washington Post, Americans didn’t start sharing the classic Thanksgiving meal until the mid-1800s when an entering magazine editor introduced the meal as part of the national celebration of thanks.

Make Your Own Tradition With Gourmet Food Delivery

One way your own Thanksgiving meal can evolve his year? Gourmet food delivery. From turkeys to pie and everything in between, today’s mail order options offer up maximum flavor with minimal effort. Whether you choose several a la carte appetizers and sides or order up an entire Cajun Turkey Dinner for 8 including a Cajun fried turkey (and giblets), mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, Louisiana crab cakes, crawfish etouffee, New Orleans Style bread pudding, and world-famous “Geaux Juice” juice you’ve never had a Thanksgiving dinner so easy or delicious.

Thanksgiving meal

Why choose one pie when you can choose 12?

And while the pilgrims may not have had pie, it’s now non-negotiable for most of today’s holiday meals. What is negotiable? The type you pick — an oft-agonizing decision. Enter the Hill Country Pie Cups Variety 12-Pack featuring an assortment of flavors guaranteed to end your meal in sweet style.

Why not make gourmet food delivery part of you Thanksgiving tradition this year? After all, less time in the kitchen and more time with friends and family is something truly worthy of appreciation during the holidays. Shop our complete selection of foods for the season to start making the most of your celebration of thanks.