Then: revisiting the feasts of yore

Roundup: Talking About History

Put away your Pilgrim hat. Sit down, Squanto. Set sail, Mayflower.

Step off Plymouth Rock and follow me to southern Virginia's James River, home of the Berkeley Plantation, when history says a few dozen men celebrated their arrival in the New World in 1619 -- the first true Thanksgiving.

That is, if their neighbors in Jamestown, just down the river, didn't throw some kind of party after establishing the first American settlement 399 years ago. Or if you don't count the celebrations of French Huguenot colonists in what is now Florida, in 1564, or Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and his men in what is now Texas, in 1541.

Or maybe we're all wrong.

"The first Thanksgiving was probably celebrated by native people thousands of years before Europeans arrived. We seem to have this Eurocentrist stance," said Kathleen Curtin, a food historian with the Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Mass, the Pilgrims' home. (Plimoth/Plymouth, like Jamestown/Jamestowne, was among many early settlements with multiple spellings.)

Not only has our comprehension of the holiday's history been a little loose, so has our understanding of the traditional meal.

"Historically, almost none of the foods we have on the table for the purpose of garnishing the turkey would have been there," said John Gonzales, author of "The Colonial Williamsburg Tavern Cookbook" (Crown, $21) and "Holiday Fare" (CWF, $19.95) and the former executive chef at Colonial Williamsburg's taverns, a few miles inland from the Jamestown settlement. "The entire season of thanks was built around the harvest -- putting things up to store or preserve through winter, brining and pickling, hunting and getting the deer while they're still heavy from the season."...
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