Local residents compare their customs to the first Thanksgiving
By Kyle LoJacono
LAND O’ LAKES — Everyone has different foods traditional to their Thanksgiving table, but a few items are almost universal.
“We have turkeys a bunch of different ways,” said Harry Wright, founder of Hungry Harry’s Bar-B-Que. “We always have some smoked, some fried and some baked. I personally love the smoked ones because there is nothing better than eating a turkey right off the grill.”
Wright, 59, was born in Winter Haven and moved to Land O’ Lakes in 1984. He opened his original restaurant in Land O’ Lakes in 1985, which is located at 3116 Land O’ Lakes Blvd.
“Then we’ll have gravy, cranberry sauce, dressing, green bean casserole and pecan pie,” Wright continued. “We like to keep things simple and traditional.”
Suzin Carr, current Lutz Guv’na, said of her traditional Thanksgiving table, “We always have a baked turkey. I always have stuffing, mashed potatoes, homemade cranberry relish and pecan pie too. Those things need to be on the table, but the turkey is the most important thing.”
Turkey is what most seem to think of during Thanksgiving.
“I’m always up for trying something new, but to me, its turkey on Thanksgiving,” Zephyrhills Mayor Cliff McDuffie said. “To me that’s tradition, so that’s what I want each year. Spend time with family and have turkey.”
While most have turkeys on their mind during this holiday, these birds were not the centerpiece of the first Thanksgiving.
Many details are lost to time, but most believe the main course of the first Thanksgiving feast was five deer according to Kathleen Curtin, food historian at the Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts. The Pilgrims and the Wampanoag, the Native Americans in Plymouth, Mass., also ate wild fowl, such as swans, ducks and a few turkeys. The rest of the meal was mainly seafood, including lobsters, oysters, clams, eels, seals and fish. The first Thanksgiving took place in late September or early October of 1621 and lasted three days.
Some people have kept the tradition of serving seafood on Thanksgiving.
“We have oyster dressing each year for my wife, Sherry,” Wright said. “We always have that so maybe it comes from the first Thanksgiving. I couldn’t really say.”
Plants were not a main part of the feast, but dried fruit, corn, chestnuts and gooseberries were on the menu.
“While they did not dine on pumpkin pie, pumpkins were a staple in the diet of Native Americans,” said Betsy Crisp, Family and Consumer Sciences Agent for the Pasco County Extension in Dade City. “It is believed that colonists made the first pumpkin pie by slicing off the top of the pumpkin and scooping out the pulp and seeds. They then added milk, honey and spices and baked in the hot ashes of a fire.”
However, that early pumpkin dish did not start until years after the first Thanksgiving. In fact, the Pilgrims did not have any kind of pie because they had no milking cows and their supply of butter and flour had run out, according to Curtin. The Pilgrims also did not have mashed or sweet potatoes because Europeans believed them to be poisonous until years after 1621. Stuffing poultry also did not start until the 1700s.
“Our Thanksgiving is just like most people with turkey, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, but I like to think we are keeping the spirit of the Pilgrims in our traditions,” said Jeff Olsen, pastor of Grace Community Church in Wesley Chapel. “My family has a book that talks about the first Thanksgiving and how the Pilgrims put all their faith in God to provide and we do the same. I don’t know if we spend three days feasting like they did, but it is a weekend of celebration for my family.”
When asked if he might have a more original Thanksgiving dinner this year, Wright said, “No way. I have to have my traditional Thanksgiving dinner. That’s what my mom made for me and it is part of what makes Thanksgiving special. It may not be what the Pilgrims had, but it’s the best to me.”