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(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) An eel at The Living Planet Aquarium.
Kirby: Give thanks you won’t be eating Pilgrim fare

By Robert Kirby

| Tribune Columnist

First Published Nov 19 2012 03:31 pm • Last Updated Nov 20 2012 09:07 pm

I can’t wait for Thursday. My wife is cooking an eagle for dinner. And for those who don’t want eagle, she’s also roasting a haunch of harbor seal. Yum.

Unfortunately, there won’t be any mashed potatoes or candied yams. Instead we’ll be dining sumptuously on a field pumpkin beaten into an appetizing mush with a hammer and then flavored with grapes and wild onion juice.

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All of this is part of our "what real pilgrims ate" Thanksgiving, or our investigation into what our ancestors endured in order to bring us the gut-busting, hormone-laden and preservative-laced feast we normally have today.

Norman Rockwell imagery to the contrary, the pilgrims ate pretty much everything they could shoot, pick, beat to death and/or steal.

According to historians, this fare included eels, cranes, leeks, radishes, gourds, seaweed, clams, assorted cats and dogs and various forms of dirt.

Pilgrims were also perfectly willing to eat wild turkey. Early American turkeys were a spindly creature consisting almost entirely of feet and beaks. It wasn’t until the arrival of cosmetic surgeons that turkeys developed actual breasts.

Not all historians agree on this, of course, primarily because some of it I just made up. The point is that early pilgrims weren’t exactly choosey when it came to nourishment. They couldn’t afford to be.

Traditional Thanksgiving dishes were not part of the first Thanksgiving, which (as most authorities also don’t agree) degenerated into a drunken hatchet fight between a Native American called Squanto and a pilgrim named Ace.

Sorry. I figure that if the history of Thanksgiving is going to be misrepresented, it at least ought to be interesting.

The first Thanksgiving did not include yams, marshmallows, apple pie, eggs, chocolate, tomatoes, milk, potatoes, cranberry sauce, sugar, sweet corn, whipped cream or a television remote control.


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Note: Televised sports hadn’t become a Thanksgiving staple yet. That’s an historical fact.

As unfortunate as some of that may seem, the pilgrims did have something to be thankful for. Unlike many of us they didn’t have some crazy aunt who always brought a covered dish that smelled like she cooked a goat in Vaseline.

Don’t go feeling sorry for yourself. The pilgrims still had it worse. As shocking as it may seem, the original Thanksgiving was not celebrated with pie.

Nope. No pumpkin, apple, coconut cream or cherry pie. Pilgrims didn’t have sugar. I’m pretty sure they didn’t have coconuts, either.

I know what you’re thinking. "No pie? Then what the hell did the pilgrims have to be thankful for?"

The answer, of course, is that they were thankful for each other. If things got really bad, that’s who was next on the menu.

Mostly they were thankful for just being alive and able to chew. That’s what we need to focus on Thursday

Even if you’re being served the more traditional eagle instead of turkey, be thankful for what you have.

All you have to do is look around the room during dinner to realize that Thanksgiving is a time for serious reflection on the things that give your life its true meaning.

And by this I mean pie.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.



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