A Grateful Feast, Then and Now

In 1621, a small group of pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts, gathered with the native Wampanoag people to celebrate a successful harvest. They could not have imagined the legacy they were creating for Americans who came after them.

Giving thanks was part of the Wampanoag tradition, as well as the Pilgrims. After many hardships and hard labor, the pilgrims invited the Wampanoag to join them in feasting and sports in an outpouring of gratitude for the bounty they received. There is surprisingly little recorded about this historic event, but it does seem clear that, like our Thanksgiving today, there was a copious amount of food, and the revelry went on for days.

There is a first-hand record, written by E.W. Winslow, to a friend in England that gives us some idea of their menu. He writes that the men brought in large amounts of fowl, like duck and geese. William Bradford, the Plymouth Colony governor, reports that “there was a great store of wild turkeys.” We can believe with a degree of confidence, that the pilgrims and the Wampanoag ate turkey on that first Thanksgiving, and most likely, venison and a variety of fish. Cranberries, herbs and onions were used to stuff the meat and fish.

But many of the foods we most associate with Thanksgiving were missing.  Potatoes probably were not served, but rather turnips and Jerusalem artichokes. There probably were pumpkins, but no pie. The pilgrims didn’t have access to butter, milk or flour for baking.

The traditional Thanksgiving menu of today is about 200 years younger than the original celebration. Over time, as European farming methods were used, early settlers grew the crops they missed from home. When farm animals and dairy products became available, many of the foods we now associate with Thanksgiving were regularly prepared. Modern menus are a combination of the bounty our ancestors found and what they brought with them.

My recipe for Sausage and Fruit Stuffing combines the traditional foods used by the Pilgrims and modern ingredients. It can be prepared up to two days in advance and refrigerated, allowing the flavors to meld and leaving one less thing to do on the day of your Thanksgiving feast!



1 pound mild sage breakfast sausage

4 tablespoons butter

3 cups sliced green onions, white and pale green parts

2 Granny Smith apples, cored and chopped

1 cup chopped celery with leaves

2 tablespoons poultry seasoning

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons ground black pepper

1 cup dried cranberries, rehydrated in boiling water for 15 minutes and drained

6 cups dried bread cubes (croutons)

1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves

2 to 3 cups chicken stock, juices from the turkey or a combination of the two

1. Preheat the oven to 375 F.

2. Saute the sausage in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat until cooked through, crumbling coarsely with the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer sausage and drippings to a large bowl. Melt butter in the same skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, apples, celery, poultry seasoning, salt and pepper to the skillet and saute until soft, about 8 minutes. Mix in the drained cranberries.

3. Add the mixture to the sausage, then mix in the croutons and parsley. Next add the chicken broth or the juices from the turkey a little at a time until the stuffing is very moist. Be sure not to overdo it; it shouldn’t be mushy. Place in a casserole dish. (The stuffing can be made to this point two days before Thanksgiving, refrigerated.)

4. Bake, uncovered, in a 14-inch oval or 9-by-13-inch rectangular casserole dish for 20 to 30 minutes, until the top is crispy and the center piping hot. Remove from oven and serve immediately. Makes 8-10 servings.

Angela Shelf Medearis website is www.divapro.com. Read Gina Harlow’s blog about food and gardening at www.peachesandprosciutto.com.

(c) 2014 King Features Synd., Inc., and Angela Shelf Medearis

 By Angela Shelf Medearis and Gina Harlow