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Learn about pilgrim meals & table manners, eating style of pilgrims and Wampanoags and Thanksgiving feast table manners for pilgrims.

Pilgrim Meals & Table Manners

The Harvest Feast observed by the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag Indians in the year 1621 is acknowledged as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations. So much renowned is this feast that people consider it as a sign of cooperation and interaction between the English colonists and the Native Americans. However, prior to this, a number of celebrations have been observed by groups of indigenous Americans, commemorating the harvest season and giving thanks for a successful bounty of crops. Many of these groups, including the Pueblo, Cherokee and Creek, organized harvest festivals which included ceremonial dances, feasts and other such activities.

Although today, Thanksgiving meal is mainly centered on the turkey, this was not the case at the time of the pilgrimís meal. Rather, they included different types of meat in their Thanksgiving meal. At the same time, a large number of spices, like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, pepper, and dried fruit, were used in the sauces for meats. Even vegetables did not play a large part in the feasts of the seventeenth century, unlike the Thanksgiving feats of today. This is because, depending on the time of year, many of vegetables weren't even available. The best way to cook things at that time was to roast them, by turning the spit for hours.

During the time of the pilgrims i.e. the 17th century, the biggest meal of the Thanksgiving Day was eaten at noon and it was known as 'dinner' or simply 'noon-meat'. Housewives used to spend their mornings cooking this elaborate meal. Suppers used to be a smaller meal that was eaten at the end of the day. Leftovers from noon-meat of the previous day took care of the breakfast in the pilgrim household. According to the custom in colonists' homes, in those days, children and servants used to wait on adults as they sat down to eat. The food eaten by Wampanoag Indians and the colonists was quite similar to each other, but they had very different eating patterns.

Wapanoags used to eat whenever they were hungry and one could find pots cooking in their homes throughout the day. On the other hand, colonists had a fixed timetable for eating their meals, such as breakfast, dinner and supper. The eating pattern of the Pilgrims also differed. They used spoons, knives and fingers to eat and did not have access to forks. At the same time, they used to wipe their hands on large cloth napkins that were also used by them to pick up hot morsels of food. On the harvest feast, salt was placed on the table to sprinkle on the food, but pepper, though it was being used in cooking, had still not made it to the tabletop.

In those days, the food was served according to the social standing of a person. The best food and dishes were placed near the most important people in the gathering. People did not sample all the dishes on the table, rather preferred to eat only what was closest to them. Similarly, meals were not served individually and the food was just served onto the table and then people had to pick up the food from there and eat it. There were no courses of food and all types of food were placed on the table at the same time and people could choose what they want to eat first and what to eat next. Even if there were two courses, both of them would contain everything, including meat dishes, puddings and sweets.