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Converted from paper version of the Broad Ripple Gazette (v07n23)
Right in my Own Backyard - A Thanksgiving Feast Reflection - by Brandt Carter
posted: Nov. 12, 2010

Right in my Own Backyard header

A Thanksgiving Feast Reflection

The showy, colorful leaves of autumn are gone, gardens are now dormant, and we turn our attention to the celebration of Thanksgiving. We trace this tradition back to 1621 when the colonists in Plymouth and the Wampanoag Indians shared a harvest feast and gave thanks for the growing season and bountiful game. While this tradition continued for two centuries, it was not until 1863 that citizens and our government finally proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day in November.
Having long wondered what that first feast was like, I did some research. Most historians agree it was nothing like today's turkey, dressing, and pumpkin pie fare. If you want to be authentic at this year's Thanksgiving feast, try foods like cod, eel, clams, lobster, wild turkey, goose, duck, swan, and partridge. Any fowl in those days was fair game. Pilgrims also could have shared venison and seal. Their side dishes were prepared with wheat flour and Indian corn. Sugar was probably not available. Vegetables would have included pumpkin, peas, beans, onions, lettuce, radishes, parsnips, carrots, and garlic. Their feast would have been topped off with plums, grapes, walnuts, chestnuts, acorns, and dried currants.
Looking at the conjectured menu of the first Thanksgiving, I realized that today's "standard" of turkey, dressing, cranberries, and sweet potatoes with desserts of pumpkin and mince meat pies evolved through the decades. I myself have witnessed a change in the way green beans figure into Thanksgiving spreads. As a youngster, I remember green beans stewed for hours with onion and bacon in my grandmother's kitchen. They arrived on the buffet table faded but were still quite tasty. Once cream of mushroom soup landed on grocery shelves, green bean casseroles topped with fried onions rings became the rage. Today's emphasis on healthy eating favors fresh green beans - preferably cooked al dente then drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with almonds.
The food we eat is indeed a celebration. Our Thanksgiving meal, whether around a family table or served as a non-profit Thanksgiving dinner event, is the time to give thanks for the harvest and express our gratitude for the blessings of another year. From a Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth in 1621, "And although it be not always so plentiful (deer and fowl) as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty." We, too, are a blessed people and have much to share and to celebrate. Happy Thanksgiving!

Brandt Carter, artist, herbalist, and naturalist, owns Backyard Birds at 2374 E. 54th Street. Visit her web site Email your bird questions to
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