Guest Blog by Samantha La Manna
Most Americans throughout the country grow up learning that Thanksgiving is the, “turkey and mashed potato” holiday. Four-year-olds spend the month of November making hand traced turkeys or preparing costumes for the sacred Thanksgiving play.
However, America’s “beloved” harvest holiday isn’t actually based off of the first feast between the English and Wampanoag Indians.Today’s traditional Thanksgiving menu is actually about 200 years younger than the one presented at Plymouth Plantation in 1621. It wasn’t until Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation in 1863 that Thanksgiving was to be acknowledged as a national holiday.
Edward Winslow, a Mayflower passenger and an attendee at the first meal, left behind one of the only remaining documentations of what was really eaten at the first table. None of the things we know and love, sweet-potato casserole, pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, gravy, rolls, or stuffing, existed at the table. Instead, the meal was mainly made up of waterfowl, like geese and duck, deer, dried berries, acorns, walnuts, chestnuts, squash, beans, Indian corn, herbs and lots of seafood!
An excerpt from part of Winslow’s writing describes the abundance of seafood at Plymouth:
“Our bay is full of lobsters all the summer and affordeth variety of other fish; in September we can take a hogshead of eels in a night with small labor, and can dig them out of their beds all the winter. We have mussels... at our doors. Oysters we have none near, but we can have them brought by the Indians when we will”
Massachusetts is known for being highly abundant in bass, clams, mussels, oysters and lobsters. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the Pilgrims and Native Americans took advantage of such plentiful resources in order to feed their people over the 3 day long feast. Some historians believe bivalves made up the majority of seafood consumed because they were easily accessible.
Although Winslow’s writing didn’t go in depth about food preparation there was some indication that seafood was served either dried, smoked or stuffed with herbs and onions. The “seethed” mussel dish here, is a regenerated dish based of the original recipe from Thomas Dawson’s The Second Part of the Good Huswives, 1597. This dish is something the pilgrims would have eaten as soon as they landed on Cape Cod.
At today's modern Thanksgiving feasts most families would never think to include seafood. This is a missed opportunity, seeing as how November is when we start to notice a transition into winter fish. This transition period is one of the most delicious times for seafood as they prepare for colder months and tend to be a little more meaty and succulent. Oysters for instance are fuller bodied because they’re finished reproducing for the season and are fattening up for the long winter ahead. Shellfish in general tend to be higher quality in the colder periods.
Shellfish such as oysters or clams are easy to include at the Thanksgiving table. There are so many different ways to enjoy them: fried, stuffed with bacon and herbs, plain with lemon slices or as Bloody Mary shooters (even the oyster hater is sure to love them).
Crustaceans such as lobster and crab are also delicious sea creatures to add to the table. Whether you decide to course out your dinner with lobster/crab bisque or want to make a sweet-savory corn pudding with lobster chunks or crab meat and scallions on top. Lobster and crab can make any basic side or main dish special.
If you’re not a shellfish lover (or allergic) try adding many of our delicious local fish into your meal by cooking a whole fish in the oven or fryer such as Blackfish (tautog) or Arcadian Red. The pilgrims also were known to stuff whole fish and roast them over open fire, which would also make a wonderful addition to the modern table.
Monkfish is another local popular fish to add to your Thanksgiving Feast. To some, Monkfish is comparable to lobster in flavor so it can be used as a substitute for those allergic to shellfish. It is an extremely versatile fish and can be cooked just about anyway. If it’s your first time working with Monkfish I would suggest getting it pre-filleted. Monk can come across a little intimidating at first, because of its huge head and slimy skin but what it lacks in beauty it makes up for with delicousnes.
Our local waters are full of amazing seafood, why not incorporate it into our modern day Thanksgiving feast?