Thankful for the Local Harvest

In 1621, the Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians came together in a feast to celebrate the first autumn harvest. Today this is known as Thanksgiving. However, it wasn’t until 1863, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving would occur every November. He did this hoping that it would help to reunite a torn nation in a time of tumultuous war.

The modern Thanksgiving is symbolized by foods spread across the table. But what foods were available at the original meal? In 1621, they would have had a somewhat similar menu to what many of us prepare today, but theirs was based solely off of their local harvest. The Pilgrims had to work to get their food and learn how to garden in a new country; for them, this harvest meant life and prosperity.

In Harrisonburg, we have the perfect opportunity to honor Thanksgiving similarly through a celebration of our local harvest available at the Harrisonburg Farmers Market. Celebrating the foods that the harvest has provided gives new meaning to the idea of Thanksgiving, especially when the food you give thanks for is fresh and farmed only a few miles from your table.

Historians know for sure that they would have had corn at the first Thanksgiving, which would have been provided by the Wampanoag Indians, and a selection of wildfowl. However, the turkey at that time was not the centerpiece of the meal as it is today. They are believed to have had shellfish, venison, and other wild game. The Pilgrims also grew a selection of pumpkins, squashes and beans.

At the Harrisonburg Farmers Market, many vendors provide these same ingredients.

Butternut Squash, among other types of squash, could have been present at the first Thanksgiving. These squash are provided by Woods Edge Farm.
Photo by Kari Owens.

Celebration Winter Squash, like these from Elk Run Farm, are decorative and a great way to add some festive spirit to your Thanksgiving table.
Photo by Kari Owens.

Sweet potatoes would not have been one of the staple items for the Pilgrims. However, today they are used in Thanksgiving pies, pastries, and casseroles among many other dishes.
Photo by Kari Owens.

Although green bean casserole would not have been around at the time of the first feast, beans may have been  grown in the gardens of the Pilgrims.
Photo by Kari Owens.

The Pilgrims would not have had bread to stuff their birds or turkeys, but instead would have used herbs and onions. This sage provided by Woods Edge Farm.
Photo by Kari Owens.

Mashed potatoes is a favorite meal item for many. Get your potatoes from the Farmers Market!
Photo by Kari Owens.

Unlike the Pilgrims, we have desserts to finish off our meal like the quintessential pumpkin pie or a sweet apple tart. (If you have room for dessert, that is!)

To find out more about the vendors at the Harrisonburg Farmers Market and what tasty treats they have for you to make the most out of your Thanksgiving celebration, please visit their website or head to the Turner Pavilion this coming Saturday and Tuesday from 7:00am-1:00pm.

For more information about the original Thanksgiving meal, check out this History Channel video.  And for further reading, check out how the Smithsonian Magazine uses historical letters to determine the first Thanksgiving’s meal items!

Kari Owens is the Promotions Intern at Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance and a senior Media Arts & Design major and Creative Writing minor at James Madison University.


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