Written by Hannah Austin, Outreach and Communications Intern

While we all have our favorite dishes we’ve come to love, the thanksgiving menu we know today has a long history, and many of these show stopping recipes were in fact not on the table in 1621. Our only source of information on the original turkey day menu comes from historical documents, specifically a letter from Edward Winslow, an English leader who attended the first harvest celebration between the Pilgrims and Wampanoag at Plymouth Colony in 1621. According to Edward, the three day feast included: deer, wild turkeys, corn, ducks, shellfish, chestnuts, beans, pumpkins, and squashes. Data gathered from other historians has helped fill in the gaps as to what else was served at the first Thanksgiving. Notably though, pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and rolls were missing from the table given that these items weren’t available to the pilgrims at the time. 

So how did those items make it onto the thanksgiving table we’ve come to know today? The thanksgiving table we’re familiar with originated in the mid-19th century thanks to Sarah Joseph Hale. She campaigned for Thanksgiving to be an annual event and when Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving to be a national holiday, she published a dozen cookbooks on thanksgiving recipes for women to cook during that time. And in these books are several of the recipes we know today including potatoes, roast turkey and dressing, and even the infamous pumpkin pie.  

Classic Dishes

  1. Here’s a great biscuit recipe using an in-season vegetable (pumpkin) and sage!
  2. The classic thanksgiving bird recipe can be found here. 
  3. Vegetarians and Vegans rejoice! Here’s an alternative recipe to turkey that uses plant-based proteins including seitan! 

Source: The Hidden Veggies (Vegan Turkey)

Vegetable Side Dishes

  1. Want to switch up the sides? Make this bake using in-season delicata squash paired with a tahini sauce!
  2. Use another fall favorite veggie (butternut squash) for this thanksgiving side dish. 
  3. Don’t forget the green beans! Use this recipe to make Garlicky Green Beans with slivered almonds. 

Source: Minimalist Baker (Butternut Squash Bake)


  1. Find a recipe for the one and only sweet potato pie here!
  2. No time for a pumpkin pie? Here’s a no-bake pumpkin cheesecake recipe that’s sure to be a new favorite! 
  3. Make this simple 3-ingredient Apple Pie Cake-Mix Cake. 

Source: Cooking Classy (Sweet Potato Pie)


Gambino, M. (2011, November 21). What Was on the Menu at the First Thanksgiving? Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/what-was-on-the-menu-at-the-first-thanksgiving-511554/

History.com Editors. (2020, November 16). What Was Eaten at the First Thanksgiving Meal? History.com. https://www.history.com/topics/thanksgiving/first-thanksgiving-meal 


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