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Professor At Washington And Lee Gives Students Taste Of Real Thanksgiving

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The modern American Thanksgiving turkey probably wasn't on pilgrims' plates centuries ago.
The modern American Thanksgiving turkey probably wasn't on pilgrims' plates centuries ago.

As you plan this year's Thanksgiving dinner, you might want to consider what the Pilgrims really ate. One Washington and Lee University professor wanted to give her students a taste.

Before heading home for the holidays, anthropologist Allison Bell invited her students to dine on what research shows the pilgrims actually ate.

"It's not even clear that there was turkey at the first Thanksgiving in 1621," Bell says. "Probably geese and duck would have been something that they encountered more easily than wild turkey."

Potatoes were also absent, and sweet potatoes were unknown to the masses in England and Massachusetts.

"Sweet potatoes were considered a delicacy at the time," Bell says. "They were even possibly considered an aphrodisiac."

Pumpkin pie was not on the menu, but eel and other seafoods were likely served. The meal prepared by Washington and Lee's executive chef featured of steamed mussels, roast duck and game hen, venison, lima beans, parsnips, carrots and black eyed peas. Students gave it rave reviews.

"Turkey and gravy and mashed potatoes — I'll eat them, but they're not my favorite," says one student. "I really prefer the venisons and the mussels and the duck."

"The parsnips were really good. I'd never had parsnips before, but they tasted like a cross between carrots and potatoes," says another student. "The mussels were really good. I'm going to petition at my house to like have mussels at Thanksgiving now."

And some got a kick out of eating pilgrim style. Forks were a new luxury in England at the time, so the first feast was likely consumed with spoons.


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