(Plus Mac & Cheese recipe with Parmesan from )
Plenty of stories about the original Thanksgiving float around at this time of year. I’m going with the Smithsonian’s story: Massasoit, the Grand Sachem of the Wampanoag Tribe received an invitation to thanksgiving from William Bradford, Governor of the Plymouth Colony in fall 1621.
The Pilgrims, who Bradford led, had fled England to avoid religious prosecution. To them “Thanksgiving” meant fasting and praying, so the original intent of the gathering might not have been a gourmet feast. But Native Americans had held Autumn Festivals for many years.
When Governor Bradford invited Massasoit, 90 warriors from combined tribes were meeting to form an alliance for mutual defense. Ousamequin, the warrior’s leader, had heard gunfire from the colony. (Colonists, not unlike future Americans, were celebrating by firing shotguns into the air.) The Tribe believed it meant a war had begun. But native leadership remained level-headed, thanks to the skill of translator Tisquantum. (Bradford called him “Squanto,” based on his community: Squantum.) After negotiating with Bradford, the Wampanoag agreed to attend thanksgiving.
Tisquantum had been kidnapped from the Patuxents on the coast of Cape Cod by explorer Thomas Hunt in 1614. Hunt took him to Spain, whereTisquantum was sold into slavery, but educated by monks. He escaped to England and learned English working for shipbuilder John Slanic, then returned to Plymouth. Upon his return, Tisquantum found his family and the entire tribe had died from Yellow Fever they caught from the European explorers. Alone, he joined the Pokankets.
After arriving on the Mayflower, forty-five of the 102 Pilgrims died of disease or starvation between 1619 and 1620. Maybe because of his own loss, Tisquantum agreed to share with the Pilgrims what he had learned about coastal farming, hunting, and fishing. He explained how to use a fish to fertilize the corn seed to improve the Pilgrim’s crops. His advice helped the Pilgrims to survive and become self-sufficient. This showed the true sense of community that could have marked a turnaround in Pilgrim-Native American relations. But as the colony grew, so too the need for additional land. Unfortunately, the value and scarcity of the rich land on the tip of Massachusetts created a desire to own it, which motivated the colony and later the growing nation’s efforts to push the Native Americans off the land.
1621: What Did the Warriors Bring?
Wampanoag warriors were fishermen and hunters, skills that ensured their tribe would have food. They came to the celebration loaded down with the fruits of their toil and the bounty of New England’s seacoast:
Venison, lobster, fish, wild fowl, clams, oysters, eel, corn, squash, maple syrup, and wild rice—a substantial feast. Maybe the warriors thought it was an “autumn festival!” It could easily take a three-day festival to consume such a feast. Over the centuries, the Native American tribes moved into the heartland,chasing buffalo and/or pushed west and south by federal policies. The tribes brought the foods they originally discovered on the coast that contribute to our Thanksgiving tables today: beans, potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkin, Chile peppers, and cacao, the basis of chocolate, another gift to us from Native Americans, is seen as an “essential” food by those craving sweets.
Did Anyone Say Pie?
Today most Americans take Thanksgiving pie for granted. If pie existed at all in 1621, it would come from a squash molded into a bowl and cooked over a fire. Move forward to 1863, when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the first official Thanksgiving before the end of the Civil War. For his celebration, Lincoln made sure The Excelsior Pie and Cake Bakery had set aside one of his favorite Pecan Pies with Molasses.* Now we have a full spectrum of fruit pies year round, through the magic of freezers and pre-made pie shells. I’m depending on pumpkin blended with the modern miracles of Cool Whip and cream cheese for a Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie! (See Plum Pudding Recipe below.
(President’s Cookbook, Poppy Camon and Patricia Brooks, 1968.)
Obviously, not Mac & Cheese in 1621, right? Well, the British came up with pasta made from breadcrumbs in the 1390s! They added a sauce made of stock and what they called chese ruayn, a hard cheese similar to brie. The result: a cross between macaroni and cheese and lasagne. But it wasn’t your mother’s or my daughter’s Mac & Cheese!
My update to Mac and Cheese couisine came on Wednesday’s National Public Radio’s “1A” discusson of 2021 Thanksgiving offerings. Stephen Satterfield, host of “High on the Hog” podcast, explained that the updated British recipe for Mac & Cheese came back across the Pond in 1789. Thomas Jefferson’s slave James Hemings (half-brother of Sally) trained to be a chef in Paris. He rose to head chef at the Hotel de Langeac before heading back to New York City when Jefferson became Secretary of State.
Englishwoman Elizabeth Raffald’s recipe “To Dress Macaroni with Parmesan Cheese,” brings together bechamel sauce, cheddar cheese,and pasta (see below) Published in 1769, it could be similar to what Hemings served to Jefferson’s guests.
I have my own favorite Mac & Three Cheese recipe my daughter fixes at Thanksgiving. Breadcrums on top bake up to an crunchy, brown crust. The treat lies below among the moist macaroni and the three flavors of cheese. Some things do get better with time!
Anything goes in 2021 after a year and a half Pandemic that separated families and friends, isolating Americans. Now we have an opportunity to cook whatever your heart desires for the people you love, related or not. Whether it’s turkey or tofurky, to stuff or not to stuff, pumpkin pie or candy cames, the script is your to write this year. Take a moment to read about America’s Native Americans. You can start with the link below:
Note: A six-foot tall stone marker and aging bronze plaque at Plymouth, Massachusetts, commemorates the meeting of the Wampanoag’s Massasoit and Plymouth Colony Governor Bradford. Fortunately, Tisquantum of the Patuxent tribes could translate.
The Experienced English Housekeeper, 1769
“To Dress Macaroni with Parmesan Cheese”
Boil four ounces of macaroni till it be quite tender and lay it on a sieve to drain. Then put it in a tossing pan with about a gill (a quarter of a pint) of good cream, a lump of butter rolled in flour, boit it five minutes. Pour it on a plate, lay all over it parmesan cheese toasted. Send it to the table on a warm plate, for it soon gets cold.
Plum Pudding Native American Traditional Recipe
Wild plums, sugar, cornstarch
Wash plums, put in a pot. Cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook until the plums split and fruit comes away from the seeds. Cool and strain juice and put juice in pot and boil. Make a paste with cornstarch and hot water. Used about e tablespoons cornstarch to ¼ cup hot water. Stir until lumps disappear. Slowly add paste to boiling juice to thicken pudding. Add cornstarch if needed. Remove from heat and add sugar to taste.