Thanksgiving is just around the corner and I decided it was time to start going through all my holiday recipes and begin to plan the “the feast”! The recipes have been three generations in the making… treasured, yellowed handwritten recipes, on slips of paper of my grandmother’s, neatly penned ones on index cards from my mother and mine are a combination of pages from magazines “stolen” from various places (beauty shops, doctor’s offices, etc.) and now the internet. So, with my cup of Korakundah, I sat perusing the recipes and I began to wonder– did the Pilgrims enjoy a “cuppa” on that first Thanksgiving? So, I decided to do a little research…
This holiday feast dates back to 1621 when the recently arrived Pilgrims gathered with Wampanoag Indians in Plymouth in what is now Massachusetts to celebrate an abundant harvest. Various documents have survived which reference that first Thanksgiving meal and depending which resources you read, they mention that the Pilgrims killed enough fowl to last a week and that the Indians brought 5 deer to the celebration. There was also Indian corn which had been harvested. There is no mention of sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, bread, green beans or pumpkin pies. There is also no mention of what the participants drank. That raises an important question for us tea drinkers. Was there tea on the table that day?
If the Pilgrims had tea to drink in 1621, then there are two possibilities. Either they harvested the tea in Plymouth or the surrounding area, or they brought it with them from England. History tells us that the tea plant, Camellia sinensis, is a tropical/subtropical evergreen plant indigenous to southeast Asia, not to the northeastern United States. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that the Pilgrims would have found tea bushes to harvest in the autumn of 1621 or that they would have been able to cultivate them even if they had brought plants with them on board the Mayflower.
So, did the Pilgrims bring tea with them to the new world? A look at history reveals that the Dutch traders first introduced tea to England between 1644 and 1655, long after the first Thanksgiving meal. It is possible that the Pilgrims could have been exposed to tea during their approximate eleven year stay in Leiden in the Netherlands where they fled from England in 1608. The Dutch had enjoyed tea since about 1610. However, tea at that time was a luxury item that cost about $100 per pound. The Pilgrims would not have been able to afford such a luxury for daily drinking nor for bringing to the new world. In fact, a Dutch trader by the name of Peter Stuyvesant is credited with first bringing tea to America to the area of what now is New York in 1650, again long after the first Thanksgiving meal.
So, in the end, tea was probably not on the table. No one knows exactly what the Pilgrims drank at the first Thanksgiving back in 1621, since there is little written documentation chronicling the meal. However, all evidence points to the fact that the Pilgrims toasted survival and that first harvest in America with mugs of hard apple cider. Several species of apples grew native in the area making it likely that the Pilgrims brewed their own cider.
So, there you have it – hard cider! But for me, I’ll enjoy a cup of tea with my pumpkin pie, if you please!