A recipe for adding a little history to your Thanksgiving tradition

I love Thanksgiving. It’s a lot of work and we have no family here in Maine to celebrate with, but our little family has developed some Thanksgiving traditions that are fun and important to us. While I’m a big believer in telling children the truth about our history, I’ve found myself hesitant to deliver to my boys the whole truth about Thanksgiving, especially, right around the holiday. After all, we need a little happy. It’s been a tough November for us.

Now, not telling my boys the truth has led to some problems over the years. Both of them still seem to hold a grudge about that whole Santa Claus thing, and, as a college teacher for nearly 20 years, I used to see how grumpy students would get when they would learn a more realistic version of history in college than their oversimplified textbooks provided them with in high school.

So I try to be aware of truth telling, but I’m also dead set against ruining Thanksgiving. So I walk a fine line and have found a way to add a little bit of history to our family traditions through the foods I make for this hopeful holiday.

The version of Thanksgiving I learned in school involved Pilgrims with buckles on their shoes, belts, and hats being saved by the Native Americans. The Pilgrims with their buckles were so thankful that they invited the Native Americans to dinner, and everyone was happy. The end.

So I do let my boys know things weren’t that simple. I’m an advocate for talking to children about the truth of Native American history. You’ll see it more in current children’s literature, and I’ve read some blog posts about being more open and honest about the holiday. However, I’m definitely of the mindset that talking about genocide at Thanksgiving is just too much of a downer.

So I focus on the food. It’s both fun and educational to talk about what historians believe was most likely served at the first Thanksgiving.

While turkey may not have been on the menu, some kind of wild bird was, so it seems like the turkey is certainly close enough to accurate, right? But it’s fun to teach about the other foods that were served. According to historians, berries, onions, beans, and carrots were likely on the menu. Also (and this is probably the greatest departure for most of us), they probably served a lot of seafood.

Since I’m kind of a fan to sticking to the turkey and not having to prepare some fish as well at Thanksgiving, I focus on the corn as Thanksgiving tradition and fact.

corn harvest

image credit: Aaron Burden, Unsplash, https://unsplash.com/@aaronburden

According to historians, corn was likely served but not in the way we think. It was likely ground up into meal and made into a porridge like substance, which was then sweetened with molasses. We call this (or something close to it) today “Indian Pudding” or “Hasty Pudding.”

And it’s yummy! Please find my favorite version of the recipe below complete with my own recipe for the homemade whipped cream to go on top. This recipe is simple enough to make with your kiddos and can lead to a great conversation about Thanksgiving, history, and digging deeper to find truths. But we’ll just keep it to pudding for now!

Indian Pudding (adapted from foodandwine.com)


2 cups milk

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup molasses

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

1/3 cup cornmeal

1 teaspoon ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

Pudding directions:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, mix together the cornmeal, ginger, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

In a sauce pan, mix the milk, cream, molasses, and brown sugar. Bring it to a simmer over medium-high heat and stir it occasionally.

Add your dry mixture to your wet mixture and mix. Pour into an 8 X 8 baking dish and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, stir, and then cook about 20 minutes more. The pudding will look wobbly, but it will set up more as it cools. It should cool at least 20 minutes.

Whipped Cream


2 cups heavy cream

4 Tablespoons sugar

Whipped cream directions:

Pour your heavy cream and sugar into a mixing bowl and use a mixer to mix until your whipped cream is fluffy. If you don’t have a mixer, you can use a whisk, but you’ll have to whisk until your arm falls off and then some. I’ve done it this way before. It’s still good, and you do burn a lot of calories.

Serve the Indian Pudding warm with the cool cream on top, and if you have a sweet tooth like me, add a double scoop of that cream!

I hope you enjoy adding a little history to your Thanksgiving tradition.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Crystal Sands

About Crystal Sands

I am a former academic and award winning writing teacher turned hobby farmer/homeschooling mom/freelancer. In 2015, after too many years of working too many hours, I decided to change my life. This blog shares my stories related to making the change and simplifying my life–a process that began when we finally got our first chickens. In this blog, I will share my experiences learning how to hobby farm on a small place in Maine, become more self-sufficient, live frugally, live peacefully, and have more time for love. I hope you will join me on this journey by following my blog and following me on Twitter @CrystalDSands.