As we get ready to prepare for the big feast this Thursday (by the way, LACMA is closed on Thanksgiving Day but open normal hours on Friday) it’s interesting to note what foods were served at the original feast in 1621 between the Plymouth colony and the Wampanoag tribe.
Using images from the departments of LACMA’s permanent collection, here’s a pictorial look at what would (and would not) have been eaten in Plymouth almost four hundred years ago:
George Fuller, Girl with Turkeys, circa 1883-1884, gift of William T. Cresmer
Pablo Picasso, The Turkey, 1936, gift of The Ahmanson Foundation
Wild turkeys were abundant in the area, but they may not have been the focus of the meal. Other types of poultry were also caught and served . . .
Korea, Lidded Ewer with Willows, Reeds, and Waterfowl, Goryeo dynasty (918-1392), 13th-14th century, Anonymous gift
In addition to poultry, venison was also served as one of the main courses.
China, Kneeling Deer, Tang dynasty, 618-906, gift of Carl Holmes
Living off the East Coast, seafood was definitely a main food staple! Fish, lobster, shellfish, and other bounty caught from the ocean were also a part of the main meal.
Republic of the Fiji Islands, Breast Ornament (civa vonovono), circa 1850, whale ivory, pearl shell, and fiber, purchased with funds provided by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation with additional funding by Jane and Terry Semel, the David Bohnett Foundation, Camilla Chandler Frost, Gayle and Edward P. Roski and The Ahmanson Foundation
These are just a sampling of the vegetables and nuts that would have been included at the Thanksgiving table.
Japan, Okimono in the Form of a Rat on a Corn Cob, late 19th century, gift of Allan and Maxine Kurtzman
Mexico, Colima, Squash Vessel, 200 B.C. - A.D. 500, The Proctor Stafford Collection, purchased with funds provided by Mr. and Mrs. Allan C. Balch
William Merritt Chase, Just Onions (Onions; Still Life), 1912, Signed lower left: WM. M. Chase, Mary D. Keeler Bequest Egypt
These are just a sampling of the vegetables and nuts that would have been included at the Thanksgiving table. But take a look what wouldn’t have been served because potatoes didn’t become popular in North America until the 1700s after colonists had brought them over from Europe, which explorers had brought back from South America.
Cranberries may have been present in the North America around 1621, but there was no written records found to prove that they were served at the meal.
Harold Edgerton, Cranberry Juice into Milk, 1960, printed 1985, gift of the Harold and Esther Edgerton Family Foundation
All of us at LACMA wish you a happy and safe Thanksgiving holiday!
Devi Noor, Curatorial Administrator, American Art