Thanksgiving approaches. Thanksgiving that started out in this country as a celebration of survival through unimagined hardship. Unimagined hardship through which survival meant help from strangers. Strangers from a culture that seemed foreign beyond imagination.

Thanksgiving that started out as a celebration that became an annual feast. Then an annual day of celebration. Then a few days of celebration. Now a holiday celebration that marks the beginning of even more holiday celebrations.

This evolution of one meal shared in thanks between new friends began as a celebration of Native American dishes. There was no other cuisine available. We seem to forget about that in today’s frenzy to overdress the big bird and present the perfect pumpkin pie.

It might be a refreshing change of pace this year to stop a moment and consider the origins of those beloved “family” recipes. Think back to the Native American dishes that inspired them 400 years ago.

As you ponder the historical Native American dishes that inspired your signature Thanksgiving dishes, they might even taste better and give you all the more cause to be thankful.

Like, why turkey? Why not a cow? Or is it because a turkey feeds a bigger crowd than a chicken does? Why is because there were no Native American dishes that called for these animals. In fact, these animals weren’t known in this country, on either the farm of the dinner table, until the European settlers brought these animals from foreign shores.

The turkey is the only breed of poultry that is native to the Western Hemisphere. The only poultry available for traditional Native American dishes.

And that cornbread stuffing served alongside the turkey? Corn, or maize, actually, was used in many Native American dishes. Think corn chowder, succotash, and tortillas.

And before you dive into your turkey and cornbread dressing, you might ask if someone would kindly pass the ibimi, please. Oops! That would be the cranberry sauce. Native American dishes featuring ibimi, bitter berry, have been popular autumn treats for centuries.

And save room for plenty of pumpkin pie. This versatile gourd has been enjoyed for thousands of years in Native American dishes cooked from North to South America, long, long before Johnny Appleseed introduced the makings for what’s now considered America’s signature dessert.

Before you chow down and pig out, stop a moment to give thanks for today’s traditional favorites that got their start as much-loved, utterly delicious, Native American dishes, beginning in days long before even the Pilgrims had reason to say thanks.

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