WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and while every family has traditional foods on their menu, there are certain dishes we almost always associate with Thanksgiving.

While the origins of our yearly feast have always been a mixture of reality, speculation, and legend, we can say for sure that Thanksgiving almost always includes turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin.

Well, kind of. Let’s explore the origins of three of our most popular Thanksgiving items:


The wild turkey is wholly American. The bird existed nowhere else except in North America. There were a few unsuccessful attempts to introduce the large bird to Brittan in the 18th century.

There are some indications that the Maya may have even raised the birds domestically. They were also significant to many Native American tribes, especially eastern tribes. Although, turns out that story that Ben Franklin was so enamored with the turkey that he wanted it to be the National Bird is just a myth.

We can say for sure that turkey was at the first Thanksgiving, though, right? Well, it’s pretty complicated.

First, the first Thanksgiving wasn’t really labeled a “Thanksgiving.” We can say with certainty that there was a three-day feast involving the Plymouth colonists and Native Americans. Harvest festivals have existed for centuries, with just about every culture having some form of celebration in the Fall centered around the harvest.

For what is often cited as the first Thanksgiving in America, we know that the Native Americans brought deer meat and that several men from the colony went out hunting for “fowl” for the feast. So, it could have been turkey, or it could have been wild duck, or geese, or any bird for that matter.

So, why has turkey winged its way to the top of the menu? Well, for starters, it’s a large bird that can feed a single family. Secondly, there were a lot of them, as many as 10 million, when Northern Europeans began settling in North America. Though the bird was nearly endangered at the turn of the 20th century due to overhunting, industrialization, and selective breeding, which has kept bird populations robust and helped keep costs relatively low.

When did turkey cement itself as the go-to main dish for Thanksgiving? Well, that’s not an easy date to pin down at all. Thanksgiving was first recognized officially in 1789 when George Washington proclaimed Thursday, Nov. 26, as a”Day of Publick Thanksgivin.”

Former President Abraham Lincoln declared in 1863 that the holiday would regularly fall on the last Thursday of each year. Prior to that, Thanksgiving wasn’t a fixed holiday that often changed each year.

Sometime in the early to mid-1800s, turkey took off as the favored fowl for the Thanksgiving feast. That’s likely due to Sarah Josepha-Hale, the poet, editor, and author behind “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

She devoted a whole chapter to a “New England Thanksgiving” meal with turkey at its center. She also lobbied for the holiday to be a fixed day, finally convincing Lincoln to do so.


Love it or hate it, it’s been a part of Thanksgiving for a very long time. That’s because stuffing has been around for a very long time. In fact, it’s been around so long that it’s in the first published cookbook that can be found.

The first written mention of it is in a Roman recipe book dating back to sometime between 1 BCE and 1 CE. Although most people today would probably not find it too appetizing since it not only included vegetables and herbs but nuts, grains, and organ meats like liver and brains.

Humans began domesticating birds thousands of years before, so it’s likely stuffing has even older origins. Over the centuries, different ingredients would be added and subtracted based on cultures and what was available.

In America, stuffing would have likely involved vegetables, herbs, spices, tree nuts, possibly some grains, and other meats like sausage. At the first Thanksgiving, it’s even possible the birds were stuffed with things like clams, mussels, and small fish, which were readily available to the Plymouth colonists.

As time went on, stuffing became more than just a seasoned filling for birds, but a side dish all its own. The introduction of a branded boxed form of “instant” stuffing in the 1970s has probably helped increase its popularity.

Pumpkin pie

It can be said with certainty that there was no pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. There may very well have been pumpkin, but they might not have even called it that. Back then, squash and pumpkin were considered the same thing since they were native to North America.

Indigenous Americans had been growing pumpkins for thousands of years by the time Europeans arrived. Pumpkin certainly could have been served at the first Thanksgiving feast. However, it wouldn’t look anything like a pie.

Early recipes called for the pumpkin to be hollowed out, then filled with milk, spices, honey, and pieces of the pumpkin, and then placed into a fire to cook, forming a sort of sweetened stew. The first pumpkin pie recipe appears to be not American but French.

François Pierre de la Varenne, who is considered one of the fathers of modern French cooking, released what was considered a groundbreaking cookbook in 1651 called “Le Vrai Cuisinier François,” which has a recipe for “Tarte la Citrouille” or pumpkin pie.

Several versions of Pumpkin pie appear in English cookbooks in the later 1600s. An American version of pumpkin pie wouldn’t appear until the first book of American recipes, “American Cookery” by Amelia Simmons, was released in 1796. The dessert became popular in the northeast, eventually spreading throughout the United States as the Thanksgiving holiday gained popularity.