Pilgrims and Jello Molds

Earlier this week I walked past one of my favorite stores, the Bibelot, in northeast Minneapolis. I saw that the shop has its winter holidays products on display already. Part of me said, “Yay! Christmas ornaments!” Because I don’t have enough of those, you know. But another part of me said, “Wait, what about Thanksgiving?!”

I’m not in favor of skipping any holiday, even ones that don’t come with ornaments. But several people I know don’t regard Thanksgiving as one of the more enjoyable holidays. Some see it as the start of the seasonal tug-of-war between sides of families. Others simply don’t like Thanksgiving food.

A fellow editor gave me a magazine story yesterday about food trends. The article made some interesting points about the link between food and nostalgia. That prompted a brief discussion of kitschy holiday favorites. I love them. I also want certain things to be made exactly how my mother made them, no matter how many food writers tell me that Mom was wrong. So while I understand the value of trying the new recipe for mango-pomegranate chutney, I want to make sure someone’s bringing the black cherry Jello with cranberries and walnuts.

The article also discussed how we love to think of ourselves as constantly moving forward on food trends when all we’re actually doing is cycling around. The first Thanksgiving may be an extreme example of that. As Laura Waxman tells us in Why Did the Pilgrims Come to the New World?, the first Thanksgiving was a strict exercise in locally grown, organic fare. The pilgrims and the Wampanoags dined on corn, roasted fowl (wild turkey, duck, and geese), and venison. The food was most likely cooked according to Native American methods, using traditional herbs and spices. Dinner was also served al fresco, around fire pits.


Recreating the first Thanksgiving menu sounds intriguing except for one thing: the pilgrims and the Wampanoags did not have sugar. Thus, no dessert. I would have to break with historical accuracy on that point.