News

Thanksgiving Features Native American Foods

Many of the traditional foods eaten at Thanksgiving dinner have Native American roots but have been spiced up

Thanksgiving holiday has its origins in the early 17th century when European settlers shared a meal of thanks with Native Americans after a successful fall harvest
Thanksgiving holiday has its origins in the early 17th century when European settlers shared a meal of thanks with Native Americans after a successful fall harvest
Jeff Swicord

Each year, Americans gather with families and friends on the fourth Thursday of November to celebrate Thanksgiving.   The celebration usually includes a meal of turkey, sweet potatoes, squash, cornbread, cranberries, and pumpkin pie.  The first Thanksgiving meal in North America is thought to have taken place in 1621 as European settlers gathered with Native Americans to give thanks for a successful fall harvest. Many Americans believe Thanksgiving was created by the early European settlers. 

Executive Chef Richard Hetzler is an expert on Native American foods.

He's on a team that put together the cafeteria's menu at the Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C.  The team spent several months researching Native American foods going back centuries.

Their menu features foods from five different regions across the U.S.

We stopped by to talk with him about the role Native Americans played in early Thanksgiving celebrations.

"I think the biggest thing is that it was truly to give thanks.  It was an end of the year food harvest that people used.  They weren't going to be able to eat that well for the rest of the year because you were going into the winter months," Hetzler said.

Today on Thanksgiving, family and friends gather for a traditional turkey dinner.

But the holiday has its origins in the early 17th century when European settlers shared a meal of thanks with Native Americans after a successful fall harvest.

Although Thanksgiving is not a Native American holiday, Chef Hetzler points out that Native Americans taught the European settlers how to trap, gather, and preserve the food that allowed them to survive in North America.  Many historians believe the settlers would not have survived those early years without help from Native Americans.

"I think my take on Thanksgiving is it was Native Americans that brought together a bounty of feast for everybody to have," Hetzler explains. "And they would use the items that they would have had available to them."

Hetzler says a wide array of Native American foods would have been present at the first Thanksgiving. "This is our Three Sister Salad. It has everything they would have had, the beans, the corn, the squash.  I would imagine that that would have been on the table.  The turkey definitely would have been on the table.  Right now, the corn bread definitely would have been there," he said.

At the Museum of the American Indian, Chef Hetzler has tried to take the bland ingredients in Native American foods and adapt them to the modern palate. "The original corn bread recipes that we could find were very dense.  There is really no leavening in them," he said. "And essentially, I mean it made sense for what Native Americans did, they needed to take food and pack it with them."

Hetzler says one of the most important things settlers learned from Native Americans was how to preserve vegetables and meats so they would last through the winter.

"A lot of those vegetables could have been dried out.  So they would have cut them and laid them out in the sun.  And then they would have reconstituted them in soups and things of that nature.  So they were very good at preserving.  They also did a lot with salt," he added. "They were one of the first people to use salt to actually cure, cook, and preserve food."

But the friendship between the settlers and the Native Americans did not last long.  Eventually, European settlers drove the Native Americans off their lands.  And the settlers lost touch with many Native American foods... except on Thanksgiving.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outragei
X
Henry Ridgwell
September 04, 2015 11:36 AM
The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outrage

The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Russians Observe 11th Anniversary of Beslan School Attack

This week, Russians have been observing the 11th anniversary of the attack by Islamic militants on a school in Russia's North Caucasus region that killed more than 330 hostages, including 186 children. The three-day siege and massacre that started on September 1, 2004 took place in Beslan, a town in the republic of North Ossetia, and is one of the bloodiest terrorist acts ever in Russia. VOA's Mike Richman reports.
Video

Video Native Americans Debate: Father Serra, Saint or Sinner?

Pope Francis will canonize an 18th century missionary to Spanish California during a papal visit to the United States this month.  But some Native Americans have criticized the elevation to sainthood of the missionary priest, Junipero Serra. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video China Announces Troop Cuts at WWII Parade

Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday announced plans to cut the world’s largest military force by 300,000 troops. The announcement was made during a massive military parade to commemorate victory over Japan in World War II. The event was shunned by most Western leaders and for some is raising fresh concerns about China’s military ambitions. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.

VOA Blogs