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It has been 401 years since the first Thanksgiving supper took place with the Wampanoag and Pilgrims. But there’s more to the story than most of us were taught in school.
It’s partially true that the generous Wampanoag, the Indigenous people living in Massachusetts and eastern Rhode Island, helped the religious-freedom seeking Europeans survive the brutal New England winter. That first three-day feast celebrated a bountiful harvest, but it was followed by years of colonization and an unfolding genocide of the Wampanoag people.
Since 1970, the fourth Thursday of November is considered a National Day of Mourning.
On Thursday, millions of Americans will sit at their dining room tables, surrounded by loved ones, ready to dive into some of traditional Thanksgiving dishes. But many of them have no idea about the roots of those recipes, the ingredients for which have been used in New England since long before the Pilgrims arrived.
Squash, corn, and beans: The “Three Sisters” were the principal crops of the Narragansett and Wampanoag people. In the Northeast in particular, tribes were planting these three together for at least 300 years before any Europeans arrived. They are high in nutritional value and planting them together had a minimal environmental impact. To make a misickquatash or succotash, the three are cooked together along with some type of protein.
Turkey: Long before the first Thanksgiving in 1621, turkeys were a large part of daily life for many tribes. The meat was used as food, of course, but the feathers were used in clothing and arrows, bones were used as tools. Recently, researchers found that turkeys were potentially domesticated by early tribes in what is now the southeastern part of the US. However, turkey likely wasn’t the main course for the earliest Thanksgivings. It was probably goose, duck, wild deer, or venison. Turkey became the star of the holiday in the late 1880s.
Cranberry sauce: Forget the sauce you might get from a can. Wojape is a traditional Native American sauce that uses cranberries (or any other kind of berries you can find). It’s sweetened with honey or maple syrup.
Pumpkin pie: Native tribes were growing pumpkins by 2,500 BCE. They were roasted on hot cinders, boiled to make sauces, or dried to make jerky strips or flour. While bakers in Medieval Europe stuffed pastries with sweet or savory fillings to make pies, pumpkins were not brought back to the continent from the Americas until the 1500s. Cookbooks from the 16th and 17th centuries recommended that the pumpkin be boiled in milk before placing it in a flour crust, and it was usually layered with apples and savory herbs like rosemary and thyme.
Want to change things up this Thanksgiving? The Boston Globe has a ton of recipes that are modern takes on the classics. Here are a few standouts:
- Need a refresher? Here’s how to cook a perfect turkey.
- Already a turkey expert? Roast turkey breast and thighs separately, sprinkled with the popular spice blend baharat.
- A meat-less alternative main: The vegetarians at your table will thank you with this butternut custard baked with mushrooms and leeks.
- Stuffing: Update your pan stuffing on Thanksgiving by mixing almonds, apricots, and dates into the croutons.
- A bright veggie: Charred broccoli with anchovy dressing.
- Potatoes: Skip Nana’s candied potatoes for these delectable fries with harissa mayo.
- Say ‘no’ to canned: Try this Indian-inspired cranberry chutney instead of your traditional sauce.
- A new dessert: Deliciously chocolatey and luxurious, this French silk pie for the Thanksgiving table is a show stopper.
- An old favorite: Combine three favorite New England ingredients in this maple-walnut pumpkin pie.
- Ran out of tupperware? Turn your Thanksgiving leftovers into turkey enchiladas.
If you have suggestions or need a recommendation, shoot me an email at Alexa.Gagosz@globe.com.
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