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Re-create an Authentic First Thanksgiving Feast

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.


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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.


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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 celebrations after.

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 delicious! 


  • 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 mace/nutmeg. 
  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 frequently.
  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:

Plimoth Plantation
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

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.

Bon Appétit! 

What Really Happened in Colonial Times? 

Get the facts!  Find out with these great sale prices - up to 50% off -



Terri Johnson

Knowledge Quest, Inc.



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