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Why We Eat What We Eat – Stories Behind Traditional Thanksgiving Foods

rfduck / vegan-baking / bibbit / jeffreyww, Flickr

 

If you're like most Americans, your Thanksgiving dinner table will include at least a few basic items — turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and the like. But have you ever thought about why we eat those foods on Thanksgiving? Or, for that matter, why turkey is called “turkey”?

In order to answer these hard-hitting questions and maybe even give you some interesting small-talk for the table, here are the stories behind the traditional Thanksgiving foods.


Turkey

 
 

Wild turkeys, which Native Americans called “peru,” were a staple of the locals when the pilgrims arrived in 1620, and were therefore reportedly present on the table at the first Thanksgiving. The birds were eventually taken to Europe, where some mistook them for Turkey's guinea fowl — and that's how a turkey came to be called… well, a turkey.

 
bibbit, Flickr
bibbit, Flickr

Stuffing

 
 

Stuffing has been eaten since the time of the ancient Romans, and maybe even longer than that. And the name? In Europe during the Middle Ages, stuffing was called “farce,” derived from the French word farcir, which means “to stuff.”

 
rfduck, Flickr
rfduck, Flickr

Cranberry Sauce

 
 

Cranberries — dubbed “craneberries” by the first English settlers because the fruit's flowers resembled the head of a crane — were beloved by Native Americans, who felt the tart red berries had healthful properties and often preserved them with dried meat to ensure they could still be eaten during the long New England winters.

 
vegan-baking, Flickr
vegan-baking, Flickr

Sweet Potatoes

 
 

Columbus brought this tasty root vegetable to the New World from the island of St. Thomas, with Virginia growing the first US crop in 1648. Marshmallows weren't routinely added until the 1920s, but today, many of us can't imagine a sweet potato casserole without them.

 
jefaspics, Flickr
jefaspics, Flickr

Corn

 
 

A favorite of the Native Americans, corn is ripe and at its sweetest in November — making it an obvious choice for traditional Thanksgiving tables.

 
bibbit, Flickr
bibbit, Flickr

Pumpkin Pie

 
 

Pumpkin dates back 9,000 years to ancient Mexico, but was cultivated for centuries by Native Americans, who roasted and boiled it. Since pilgrims didn't have ovens to bake crusts, they probably didn't have pumpkin pie at the first Thanksgiving — but it is thought they had a spiced, stewed pumpkin mixture.

 
jeffreyww, Flickr
jeffreyww, Flickr
Photo by Aaron Savage
Photo by Aaron Savage
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