By 1916, United States citizens were referring to Thanksgiving Day as Turkey Day, but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, the Pilgrims might not have eaten turkey at all. According to historians, the Pilgrims ate wildfowl, corn, and venison. Turkey first claimed its place as the Thanksgiving bird in the 1700s when Founding Father Alexander Hamilton stated, “No Citizen of the United States should refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day.”
As for stuffing, the Pilgrims lacked access to flour or ovens, so bread-based stuffing was not on the first Thanksgiving meal menu. However, the history of stuffing was around and dates back to the Roman Empire, where the recipe appears in the Roman cookbook De re Coquinaria. Although stuffing large birds was common in the Pilgrims era. Today, Americans rarely cook large birds except on Thanksgiving and stuffing is not often prepared without turkey.
Cranberries are native to North America and were eaten by Native Americans along with pumpkins long before the first Thanksgiving. Cranberries became a crucial part of the New England harvest once the settlers began eating them in the mid-1600s. Cranberry sauce was not referenced for another 50 years in historical records, sealing their role in the Thanksgiving celebrations in 1864, when Ulysses S. Grant ordered cranberries to be served to soldiers as part of their holiday meal. A company now known as Ocean Spray began canning and selling cranberry sauce in 1912.
You might be interested (or reminded) to learn that neither white potatoes nor sweet potatoes were part of the first Thanksgiving dinner because they hadn’t arrived yet in North America. White potatoes are native to South America and sweet potatoes are native to the Carribean. Sweet potatoes were actually brought to the United States from Europe and became very popular in the south—humid growing conditions suited the orange potato and were often substituted for pumpkin pie. Sweet potato casseroles were introduced to marshmallows in 1917 by Angelus Marshmallows in a book intended to promote marshmallows as an everyday cooking ingredient. Although marshmallows didn’t catch on with other dishes the pairing of the sweet pototo and marshmallows were immortalized as a Thanksgiving favorite.
Turkeys and pumpkins are native to North America. However it was unlikely to have been baked into a pie because the Pilgrims did not even have access to ovens and probably ate boiled pumpkin. Recipes for pumpkin pie appeared in English cookbooks around 1670 and in American cookbooks in 1670. They didn’t appear in French cookbooks until 1951. Pumpkin pie is a popular way to conclude a delicious Thanksgiving dinner with a sweet dessert.