The quality of soil is directly related to the availability and the quality of the food we eat.
Soil, and organic soil amendments in particular, played a huge part –not only in the menu of the First Thanksgiving but also in the ultimate survival of the first white settlers to the USA.
The first Thanksgiving in the USA took place in November 1621—just about a year after the Pilgrims landed in Mid-December of 1620 at what they would call Plymouth Harbor, on the western side of Cape Cod Bay.
Accounts vary regarding the exact number of survivors that first winter, but all estimates are that about 50% of the original 102 English settlers died during that first winter, as a result of poor nutrition and housing that proved inadequate in the harsh weather.
The Menu of the First Feast
[There were no Jell-O Cool Whip Desserts.]
The first Thanksgiving dinner lasted for three days. Based on various sources the following dishes were likely on the menu as they were mentioned in a letter from Edward Winslow, a colonial leader in a letter he wrote:
Venison – The Native American guest brought along five deer.
Goose and Duck – Migratory geese and duck were plentiful in the area during fall.
Fish – in the fall striped bass, bluefish and cod were abundant in local waters
Turkey – In a 1621 letter, Bradford commented on the “great sotre of wild turkeys” that the colonist hunted.
Lobster and mussels – There was also a local abundance of these aquatic animals
Stew – The colonists like to make what they called “pottages” in which various meats and vegetables were tossed in
Beer – The Pilgrims liked beer which they brought with them on the Mayflower. The 1621 harvest had yielded a crop of barley, which made it possible for the colonists to make their own home brew.
Cornbread – The colonists had just harvested their first corn crop. This was Indian corn which was dried and pounded into cornmeal for baking—the sweet corn that we eat today.
Pumpkin – There were not pies but it’s likely they served stewed pumpkin or bread made from pumpkin and corn meal.
Squash – This vegetable was likely either boiled or roasted.
Without the Native Americans there likely would have been no vegetables at this first Thanksgiving—and without vegetables, more settlers would likely have died from scurvy.
Soils in the coastal area of Plymouth Colony are shallow, sandy and stony. These coastal soils are not deep and sit on top of hard bedrock. The Native Americans in the area taught the colonists to plant fish in the ground with the kernels of corn and other seeds such as squash. This decaying organic matter enriched the poor soil and enabled them to grow healthy crops of vegetables.