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.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs