How has Thanksgiving evolved for you? Is it Norman Rockwell traditional, political, locavore, or perhaps a blend? Whatever your approach, the Wampanoag native people have touched all of our menus. The Wampanoag, or People of the First Light, are credited with welcoming the Mayflower pilgrims. When the pilgrims’ crops of barley and peas failed, the Wampanoag showed them how to plant the Three Sisters—corn, beans, and squash—by first fertilizing the soil, then staggering the three types of seeds into a thriving companionship harvest. Not only did this triumvirate save the lives of the Mayflower pilgrims (the descendants of whom are estimated to be in the tens of millions—as many as 10 percent of the current U.S. population), it also became the core of our national diet.
The indigenous peoples showed newcomers many of the gifts that Mother Earth’s North American soil could grow. From the pilgrims’ first landing to the westward expansion, our cuisine has been enriched by corn, squash, beans, sweet potatoes, cranberries, blueberries, wild rice, pecans, persimmons, strawberries, chilies, and maple syrup, just to name a few. Organizations like Slow Food, Seed Savers, and the numerous farmers who grow heritage crops (some of which you can learn about through The FruitGuys) have been working at keeping this history alive and edible.
The Wampanoag celebrated many thanksgivings throughout the year, including a midwinter ceremony, a maple dance, a planting feast, a strawberry festival, a green corn celebration, and a harvest festival. At each festival, as with many other native nations, there was always an expression of gratitude. By paying attention to the food we eat—where it comes from, how it was grown, and how it ends up on our table—we can say, with them: Taubot neanawayean ohke: “Thank you for Mother Earth.”
Heidi Lewis writes about farms, bees, and fruit from her home in Sonoma County, CA. She's been with The FruitGuys since they were FruitKids.