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No one knows if turkey was actually served at the first Thanksgiving. But venison definitely was on the menu.
Edward Winslow, who was there, kept a journal which gives us the only contemporary account of the event. Kathleen Curtin, food historian at the Plymouth Plantation historic site, adds helpful insights into the foods that actually were available to the Pilgrims and their Indian guests.
The Pilgrims did not have potatoes. (No sweet potatoes or yams, either.) Although pumpkins and other gourds were available, they had no oven, so pumpkin pie was out. The Indians did eat cranberries, but the Pilgrims did not have the sugar necessary to make cranberry sauce. The corn cultivated by the Indians does not pop. So none of those items could have been on the first Thanksgiving table.
Turkey is a "maybe." Wild turkey was a dietary staple of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians, but Winslow's journal records only the more generic "fowl." Any number of waterfowl and game birds available in the New England fall could have fulfilled that description.
But Winslow leaves no doubt that venison was served. It was the Indians, he said, who "went out and killed five deer which they brought to the plantation and bestowed upon our governor, and upon the captain, and others."