How To Celebrate Thanksgiving Like It's 1621

On the 397th anniversary of Thanksgiving it's time to celebrate like our forefathers (three day celebration optional). That's right, the first Thanksgiving was 397 years ago in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621, it lasted three days and celebrated the bountiful harvest that year. The pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians gathered for a harvest celebration that is regarded as the "first Thanksgiving". The menu was mostly similar to the modern day Thanksgiving, but with some slight differences. So grab your cornucopias and celebrate like a real pilgrim!



While no exact menu exists from the first Thanksgiving celebration, it is very likely that wild turkey was served at the first feast, as they were common in the area. Bread based stuffing was not available yet, so herbs, onions or nuts were likely added for more flavor. Below is a recipe for traditional turkey but with herb based stuffing instead, pilgrim style.


1 (17-pound) whole fresh turkey, rinsed well and patted dry

1 1/4 stick unsalted butter, slightly softened

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 large carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces

3 large stalks celery, cut into 1-inch pieces

2 large onions, quartered

8 cups homemade chicken stock, divided


  1. For the turkey: Remove the turkey from the refrigerator 1 hour before roasting.
  2. Combine the butter, sage, rosemary, thyme, and parsley in a food processor and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
  4. Season the cavity of the turkey with salt and pepper and fill the cavity with half of the carrots, celery, and onion. Rub the entire turkey with herb butter and season liberally with salt and pepper.
  5. Put 4 cups of the chicken stock in a medium saucepan and keep warm over low heat.
  6. Place the remaining vegetables on the bottom of a large roasting pan. Put the turkey on top of the vegetables, put in the oven, and roast in the oven until lightly golden brown, 45 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F and continue roasting, basting with the warm chicken stock every 15 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thigh registers 160 degrees F, about 2 to 2 1/4 hours longer. Remove the turkey from the oven, transfer to baking sheet and tent loosely with foil, and let rest 20 minutes before slicing.


Fruits and Vegetables

Thanksgiving vegetables remain mostly the same, with the differences being the pilgrims ate what they could from local forests, chestnuts and walnuts were staples. Another difference between traditional and modern Thanksgiving celebrations is the way food was prepared. Corn was plentiful but was removed from the cob and turned into cornmeal, then boiled and served as porridge sweetened with molasses. Cranberries were at the feast, but not in the way we know them. Sugar was scarce so sauces and relishes could not be made, and boiling was not common until about fifty years later. One notable item that was missing from the original Thanksgiving was potatoes, which hadn't yet been introduced from South America. Below is a recipe for a traditional Thanksgiving item, squash, done New England style with maple and lemon.


  • 1 1/4 lbs butternut squash, peeled and diced 3/4-inch
  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil or coconut oil
  • 2 1/2 tbsp pure maple syrup
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. In a large bowl, toss the butternut squash with oil, maple, salt and fresh ground pepper. Place in a baking dish, cover with foil and roast in the center of the oven for 25 minutes.
  3. Remove foil, turn the squash and bake an addition 15 minutes, or until fork tender (time will vary depending on the size you cut the squash).


Pumpkin Pie

Unfortunately ovens had not yet been constructed so pumpkin pie was not served at the first Thanksgiving. Which is just unfortunate.


Hopefully this helps you get a little more into the traditional Thanksgiving spirit, and if it doesn't here's a link to Amazon that will put your festivity way over the top, for this Pilgrim Hat. Happy Thanksgiving!

Recipe Links

Herb Roasted Turkey

Maple Roasted Squash