I hope that you had a nice Thanksgiving Holiday and got to supply at least one of the dishes with something you grew, or harvested yourself! The growing part is pretty easy. If you grew onions, beans, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, carrots and perhaps peas, winter squash (pumpkins) or corn, you probably enjoyed the same side dishes as the Pilgrims did. Potatoes were probably not present, having just been introduced to Europe from South America, 50 years or so earlier. If you harvest wild nuts or berries such as hickory, walnuts or beech nuts, they also were likely present as were American chestnuts, nanny berries, cranberries, blueberries, plums, gooseberries, raspberries and grapes. Not all these items are native to North America of course. The pilgrims brought seeds with them as most immigrants do and grew crops. Refined sugar was not available to sweeten cranberries for sauce, and the corn was probably in the form of cornmeal, not sweet corn. Honey bees were not introduced to North America until a year after that first Thanksgiving, in 1622, so it is unlikely that honey was used as a sweetener. There may have been maple sugar though.
As far as protein is concerned, turkey and venison were almost certainly present, as were other birds, including geese, ducks, pigeons, and swans. Some historians believe that seafood provided most of the protein for that meal. Mussels, clams and lobsters were abundant in the bays, fish could have been dried or freshly caught and eels were also harvested most of the winter. Table salt as we know it today was probably not available, but it is possible that sea salt was made by evaporating sea water. Black pepper was not available either. I cannot imagine eating many of these items without salt to season them! Of course the Native Americans utilized many local wild foods such as ground nuts, dried Jack in the pulpit corms and dried swamp cabbage. I think it is safe to say that the first Thanksgiving was certainly a feast in all aspects!
My own vegetable garden was quite abundant this year as I look back, with some notable successes and only a few failures. I had my best crop of bell peppers ever, with both “New Ace” and “Lady Bell” producing almost equal, bumper crops. A total of only seven plants (cut worm got the eighth one) yielded more than 50 full size fruit. I tried cutting the surplus into strips and flash freezing them, but the taste and texture of the frozen peppers when thawed, was pretty terrible. They were slimy and bitter even when I cooked them in a stew.
My 2019 potato crop was disappointing. I harvested my best potatoes from plants that “volunteered” from the 2018 garden. I never seem to dig all the potatoes in any given year, so I hope I missed some this year also. I planted sweet corn, but it only came up spotty and a second planting was not much better. I did not harvest any ears from the stunted plants at all. Sweet corn is perhaps my favorite vegetable, but the local growers do a much better job and I was content to buy it from roadside stands. I did not grow any summer squash or zucchini, due to space constraints and fear of squash bugs. It has been several years since I grew these, so perhaps next year I will try a hill or two. I planted seeds from leftover, 2018, spaghetti squash and despite the fact that these seeds were not exactly the same as their hybrid parents, they yielded an abundance of tasty fruit, I think I gave away more than a dozen and kept as many myself. My cucumber crop (Marketmore) was excellent and I made an abundance of pickles that I am enjoying now!
I suspect that at least some of my favorite tomato transplants (Big Beef) were either mislabeled at the garden center, or the seed they grew was mislabeled. I grow this variety every year and I am pretty certain that some of my eight plants were NOT Big Beef. I will take this matter up with the garden center next spring. The “Sweet Spanish” onion crop was excellent and all three bean varieties, (Golden Butterwax, Royal Purple Burgundy, and Blue Lake) did very well. “Jade Cross” Brussels sprouts also did very well. My experiment in multi cropping, beets, turnips and carrots seems to have failed, as the nasty tasting and quick growing turnips dominated the others, but I mulched the sparse carrot crop, after pulling the turnips, heavily with straw in hopes that I may harvest some next spring.
Last, but almost most importantly, my garlic (Rioja, Music, Vietnamese, Persian) and my asparagus (Jersey Giant) were outstanding!
Reach Bob Beyfuss at email@example.com.