by Terri Johnson, author
(www.homeschoolingabcs.com) - dedicated to helping new homeschoolers gain the
confidence and the necessary skills to successfully teach their children at
Host an Authentic Thanksgiving
In a recent issue of Seasons at Home, we discussed the benefits of holding historical feasts in your home as part
of your family’s delightful and hands-on educational experience. You can read “Feasting on History” in the Summer
2008 issue of Seasons at Home magazine.
With the arrival of autumn and the cooling temperatures outside, our thoughts turn to holiday celebrations - the
gathering of family and friends around our hearth and home. The brilliant color display of the deciduous trees
reminds us that this is the time to express our thankfulness to the Lord for His goodness and the abundant harvest
of this past year.
In the year 1621, just 10 months after arriving at Plimouth, our pilgrim forefathers held a feast to celebrate
their successful harvest and the Lord’s goodness bestowed upon them. With only 53 surviving members of their colony
- about half of the number that left England the year before - these resilient men and women invited over 90
Wampanoag Indians to join them and threw an outdoor feast lasting 3 full days.
This feast may not have actually been called “Thanksgiving” because to these devoutly religious people, a day of
thanksgiving was a day of prayer and fasting, and would have been held at any time during the year when they felt
an extra day of thanks was called for. It was also a feast that was not repeated annually, so it can't even be
called the beginning of a tradition. At least, not yet…
It wasn’t until 1863, shortly after the battles of Vicksburg and Gettysburg, that our tradition began when Abraham
Lincoln declared a national holiday - a day of remembrance and Thanksgiving - to be observed on the last Thursday
of November. It has been an annual American tradition ever since. Even so, we will always reflect upon and observe
the 1621 feast as the very first Thanksgiving and it has become the model that we pattern our own Thanksgiving
So what was served at that very first Thanksgiving? Was it turkey and pumpkin pie? Well, yes and no… Turkey was
undoubtedly served, but it wasn’t the centerpiece at the table nor was it stuffed. It was accompanied by venison,
duck, geese and fish. Pumpkin may have been served, but certainly not in the form of a pie. Most likely, it would
have been stewed and not sweetened like we serve it today.
Here is a recipe that may have found its way onto that first Thanksgiving table. It is called Furmenty and it is a
pudding usually served at Harvest time in England. Furmenty is made from whole hulled wheat. Unusual, but
* 1 cup whole hulled wheat/wheat berries (available at many stores that sell bulk foods)
* 1 quart milk
* 1/4 cup sugar
* 1/2 tsp. salt
* 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
* 1/8 tsp. ground mace or a pinch of nutmeg
* 2 egg yolks
* 1/2 cup heavy cream
* additional sugar for sprinkling
1. Fill a large pot with 8 cups of water, bring a boil and add the wheat. Lower heat to simmer, cover, and continue
to cook for 3/4 hour, or until, soft. Drain off all the water and add the milk, sugar, salt, cinnamon and
2. Continue to simmer, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid is absorbed (20 to 30 minutes).
3. In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks and cream together and slowly stir 1/2 cup of the hot wheat mixture into the
yolk mixture. Then stir the yolk mixture into the pot, and continue cooking for another 5 minutes, stirring
4. Serve sprinkled with sugar.
To re-create the other foods that were most likely present at that first Thanksgiving, I would recommend that you
order the Thanksgiving Primer, a book that has been published by the Plimoth Plantation, a living museum recreating
17th century Plymouth. The museum’s goal is to create a better understanding of the life and times of both the
English colonists who settled there as well as their Native American neighbors, the Wampanoag. (Another source of
authentic Thanksgiving recipes is the book titled Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving Recipes and History from Pilgrims to
Pumpkin Pie also available from Plimoth Plantation. Amazon price is $22.50.)
Order the Thanksgiving Primer by writing to:
Attn: Mail Order Department
P.O. Box 1620
Plymouth, MA. 02362-1620
Include a check for $10.90.
Or you may order these titles from Vision Forum or Amazon.com.
Within the pages of the book, you will also learn how the colonists might have dressed in 1621. We conjure up
images of dowdy figures dressed head to toe in black with just a peek of white around the collar and cuffs. This
was not the case at all. There was a much wider range of colors worn than our modern image portrays - colors such
as red, yellow, purple, blue, brown and grey.
Clothing was fashioned primarily from wool and linen, with some leather pieces. Most of the garments worn by a
typical English commoner from this time period would be recognizable today, consisting of a long shirt, breeches,
knee-length stockings, coat and cape. Women wore shifts and petticoats as undergarments and gowns, waistcoats,
capes and aprons over the top. Most women wore a linen cap called a coif covering their hair while the men wore
varying styles of hats and caps, worn inside and out.
Although the 3 day feast of 1621 was more of a secular event and not a true day of Thanksgiving as they defined it,
the faith of our pilgrim forefather’s permeated their every day lives. They undoubtably would have said a prayer
before sitting down to their meal. Although the exact words are unknown, a typical “prayer before meate” would have
gone something like this:
O Lord our God and heavenly Father, which of Thy unspeakable mercy towards us, hast provided meate and drinke
for the nourishment of our weake bodies. Grant us peace to use them reverently, as from Thy hands, with thankful
hearts: let Thy blessing rest upon these Thy good creatures, to our comfort and sustentation: and grant we humbly
beseech Thee, good Lord, that as we doe hunger and thirst for this food of our bodies, so our soules may earnestly
long after the food of eternal life, through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, Amen
George Webb - Short direction for the daily exercise of the Christian London 1625.
The pilgrims would have sat on benches at cloth-covered tables. They ate with knives, possibly spoons, but without
forks. They would have used large linen napkins, about 3 feet square, for wiping their hands, which were used to
both serve and eat the meal. The individual dishes they used were called trenchers, which are small square or round
wooden plates. The food would have been brought to the table on serving dishes or platters and the trenchers used
as a place to cut food just before being consumed, much like the “reach and eat” style of eating that is still
common in the Near East today.
Enjoying an authentic first Thanksgiving will be a very worthwhile and memorable event for your entire family and
invited guests. I challenge you to take a stab at it and take many pictures throughout the process. What a
highlight for this fall season! Take the guesswork out by ordering a copy of the Thanksgiving Primer. This book
outlines everything you need to know about throwing your own 1621 Thanksgiving feast.