The Real Thanksgiving: The 10 Best Native American Harvest Dishes

Everybody got along.
Everybody got along.
Library of Congress

In 1620, a group of religious extremists set sail from Plymouth, England, on a ship called the Mayflower. The pilgrims basically wanted to set up a theocracy in the New World, and found a couple of British investors to foot the bill. So off they went, hoping that their slice of paradise -- pretty much an IRL version of The Scarlet Letter -- waited for them somewhere on the Hudson River.

Long before their journey, the settlers ignored a couple of things: for example, that Native Indians already had a civilization on that land and stuff. They also didn't know about the 1995 film adaption of Hawthorne's novel, which is a shame, because Demi Moore is really great in the movie.

Anyway, some two months later, the 102 faithful landed near Cape Cod -- markedly far from their original destination. This might or might not have made their whole land-grab scheme illegal under British law, but whatever. They drafted a social contract on ship, the Mayflower compact. The document promised that the colony's leaders would keep shit together, and that the new settlements would protect everyone's rights to work like slaves and pray like zealots.

A handful ventured to shore, but throughout the winter the majority stayed on board, where they "suffered from exposure, scurvy and outbreaks of contagious disease." Thankfully, the land-lubbing adventurers befriended U.S. natives, who taught them how to farm sustainably and live peaceably among them.

JK! The explorers stumbled upon American Indian graves, which they looted. But it was totally cool, because the burial sites had caches of ceremonial corn, which helped keep them alive.

This wouldn't be the last time that Native Americans saved the pilgrims' asses: When the rest of them left the ship in March, a Pawtuxet tribesman basically taught the inept puritans how not to die. Squanto, who bizarrely still trusted white people after they'd sold him into slavery years earlier, showed the pilgrims how to sow corn, drain maple sap, ID poisonous plants, and fish, according to historians.

Skip to November 1621. The harvest came through, so the colony's governor called for a celebratory feast. He invited American Indian elders to join the festivities. These patriarchs reportedly brought five deer, being total badasses and all. The breaking of bread -- which lasted three days -- marks the first Thanksgiving.

Other than venison, nobody really knows for certain what got served -- just that there probably weren't any pies, because the Anglo immigrants had run out of sugar rations long before the repast. They also didn't have an oven. Historians do think that shellfish and wild fowl abounded, but no word on whether turkey made the bill of fare.

In the spirit of the holiday (whatever that means), we've decided to highlight truly traditional American cookery with this week's list. In no particular order ...

Sponsor Content


All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >