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Illinois Country Living

David Robson Extension Educator, Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois

Yard & Garden

Still Giving Thanks
Food Supply and Thanksgiving Took Root in 1623

Sometime this month, hopefully on the fourth Thursday, many of us will bow our heads and pray that we won’t pop our pants as we fill up on turkey, cranberries, potatoes, and gravy. Lots of gravy. Gravy on the turkey. Gravy on the potatoes. Gravy on the dressing. Gravy on top of gravy. Mmmm.

Most Americans can be thankful for having food on the table, clothes on our bodies, electricity in our homes and a roof over our heads.

It was Governor Bradford of the tiny settlement at Plymouth, Mass., who proclaimed the first Thanksgiving Day. The proclamation read:

“Ye Pilgrims; in as much as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squash, and garden vegetables ... I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims do gather on Thursday, November ye 29th on the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three to listen and render Thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all these blessings.”

Short and sweet, though a little archaic in the writing. Still, it was understandable.

The beginnings of our present day crops were already evident on that first Thanksgiving, whether from the old country or the new world.

The pilgrims brought seeds of many European plants with them, but history says it was the New World corn that kept them alive that first winter. The harvesting of corn by the pilgrims was made possible by Squanto and the other friendly Indians in the area. That corn was an ancestor to the vegetable we cream or mix with crackers and bake. Yet, it was corn.

Peas were one of the regularly grown crops in Europe, especially in England. Breeding of peas had been extensive there and many varieties were available. The pilgrims introduced this crop to the New World and to the Indians.

It didn’t take the Indians long to realize the potential food source of the pea; it was soon planted all along eastern North America.

Both Pilgrims and Indians knew about beans, but each had different varieties. Trade off of beans occurred and bean hybrids followed. This paved the way for better varieties for all, with current breeders continuing the tradition of improving yields, protein content and pest resistance.

Squash and pumpkins, also native of the Americans, were abundant then as they are now. However, back in 1623, these foods were probably eaten raw and not made into pies covered with whipped cream.

We have come a long way since our beginnings. In 1623, virtually everyone was involved in producing enough food - grow your own or starve during the winter months. Today, only about 3 percent of the population produces food for everyone in our country and enough extra for export.

Efforts have occasionally been made to change the date of Thanksgiving and for two years (1939 and 1940) it was officially moved to the third Thursday of November. Because of the strong protest, Congressional Resolution in 1941 settled the issue by permanently making the fourth Thursday our Thanksgiving Day.

There’s much to be thankful for this year, including a great year for fruits and vegetables. Rain has been abundant over most of the state, resulting in green lush lawns and trees this past summer, though there were some floods that caused damage. Still, the year is ending with positive notes and the majority of plants in good condition.

Who knows what 2009 will hold, and for not being able to foresee that, we can also be thankful.



More Information:

David Robson is an Extension Educator, Horticulture, at the Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois Extension, P.O. Box 8199, Springfield, IL 62791. Telephone: 217-782-6515.


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