The Forgotten Thanksgiving Main Dish: Exploring Alternatives to Turkey

Thanksgiving is synonymous with turkey. The image of a golden-brown, perfectly roasted turkey gracing the center of a festive table is deeply ingrained in our cultural consciousness. However, turkey wasn’t always the star of the show. In fact, early Thanksgiving feasts were much more likely to feature other proteins. So, what were these alternatives, and why did turkey take the top spot? Let’s delve into the history of Thanksgiving and explore some forgotten main dishes.

The History of Thanksgiving Dishes

The first Thanksgiving, celebrated in 1621, was a three-day feast shared by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe. According to historical accounts, the menu was quite different from what we’re accustomed to today. While wildfowl was mentioned, it’s not specified whether turkey was included. Instead, venison, or deer meat, was the main protein, generously provided by the Wampanoag guests.

Why Did Turkey Become the Main Dish?

So, how did turkey become the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal? There are a few theories. One is practicality: turkeys are large birds that can feed a lot of people, and they don’t serve a purpose like laying eggs or producing milk, like chickens or cows. Another theory is that turkey was popularized by writings of Sarah Josepha Hale, who campaigned for Thanksgiving to become a national holiday and often wrote about roast turkey.

Exploring Alternative Main Dishes

While turkey is now the traditional choice, there’s no rule that says it has to be the main dish at your Thanksgiving feast. Here are a few alternatives that were likely present at early Thanksgiving celebrations:

  • Venison: As mentioned earlier, venison was the star of the first Thanksgiving. If you’re feeling adventurous, a venison roast could be a historical (and tasty) alternative to turkey.
  • Duck or Goose: Both of these birds were likely present at the 1621 feast. They’re smaller than turkeys, making them a good choice for smaller gatherings.
  • Fish and Shellfish: The first Thanksgiving was held in coastal Massachusetts, so it’s likely that seafood played a significant role in the meal. Lobster, clams, and fish could all be considered for a non-traditional main dish.

Thanksgiving is about coming together and expressing gratitude. Whether you’re serving turkey, venison, or lobster, the most important thing is to enjoy the meal with loved ones. So, why not start a new tradition and explore some of these forgotten Thanksgiving main dishes?