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Thanksgiving Feast, Children's Play, & Authentic Recipes

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I am a Christian. I was an 8th-grade American History teacher. I am currently a freelance writer, public speaker, & homeschooling mom of 9.

Our Thanksgiving Presentation

Our Thanksgiving Presentation

This is the end of the unit activity for a 4 week hands-on unit on Early American Settlers. Eat a feast (complete with authentic dishes), perform a fun Thanksgiving play, and sing a Psalm just as the Pilgrims did. Even if you're not looking for a Thanksgiving performance, you can at least enjoy the extensive list of authentic Thanksgiving recipes!


Order of Events

1) First we feasted. Everyone brought either 2 side dishes or a side dish and a dessert. I made the turkey, some sides, and some desserts. Those who wanted to could make a potentially authentic Thanksgiving dish. (I posted those recipes below.) Our authentic dishes included venison, peas pottage, stewed savories, cornbread and dried plum tart. They were all good!

2) Next we introduce what we've done during this unit.

3) Finally the children performed, "The Pilgrims Go Marching" and ended by singing Psalm 23, one of the many Psalms the pilgrims would have sung during a celebration like this.

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Image credit:

Costume Ideas

Each child came dressed as a stereotypical pilgrim as much as possible.

1) Boys: black sweat shirts and sweat pants pulled up to the knee, white stockings or long white socks, white cuffs, black shoes with foil-covered buckles

2) Girls: Dark dresses with collars tucked on the inside, white tights, white cuffs, black shoes with foil-covered buckles

3) We used the white collars and pilgrims hats & bonnets we'd made at a previously. We also have the Native American vests and headbands we made previously as well.

The Book We Used for the Performance: The Pilgrims Go Marching


"The Pilgrims Are Marching" Performance

For our performance we acted out "The Pilgrims Are Marching" by Carol Greene.

We have two toddlers. B and L each wore a ship picture around their necks. B's ship was labeled "Speedwell" and L's ship was labeled "Mayflower." B's mom and L's mom started walking their daughters across the room and then B's mom said, "Oh no! I have a leak!" and they all turned around and went back.

Then another mom led the singing of "The Pilgrims go marching one by one" as L's mom let her, "The Mayflower," across the room followed by the children marching and singing along with the chorus ("Away! Away" and the ending line of "to the land of the brave and the free.")

One of the moms who was sitting in the audience held up the chorus lines that changed each page. The kids marched back and forth across the room from one room to the other. They'd drop their previous prop and then we'd hand them the next prop as they marched across the room again singing and acting out what they were supposed to be doing. Meanwhile, the child playing Johnny B. would act out his antics during each scene.

These were the props & actions we used for each page:

  • Page 3: 2 pictures of ships (1 labeled Speedwell & 1 labeled Mayflower) each with 2 holes punched and string attached
  • Pp 4-5: 1 sign that says "Johnny B" with 2 holes punched and string attached, 12 construction paper suitcases (Children march)
  • Pp 6-7: 12 suitcases/bags, construction paper barrel labeled "Gunpowder," and 1 candle (Children march)
  • Pp 8-9: 12 toy hammers and/or saws, 1 large sheet of poster board with one side having drawings of houses getting built (Children pretend to hammer and/or saw)
  • Pp 10-11: 12 small blankets and/or towels (Children shiver)
  • Pp 12-13: 3 children put on their Native American vests & headbands over their costumes, 1 toy mouse (Children wave to "come in")
  • Pp 14-15: plastic shovels and 12 construction paper fish (Children pretend to dish holes & drop fish into hole)
  • Pp 16-17: Footstool for Johnny B to hide behind, *Children dressed as Native Americans stand next to footstool (Children pretend to look for Johnny B.)
  • Pp 18-19: 2 oars (2 children pretend to row & others stand between them while Native Americans & Johnny B wave from behind the footstool)
  • Pp 20-21: 1 large sheet of poster board with one side having drawings of corn plants (Children pretend to chop corn)
  • Pp 22-23: 12 wooden mixing spoons, 1 large pot (Children pretend to stir a pot)
  • Pp 24-25: 12 construction paper turkey legs (Children pretend to eat turkey and rub their bellies)
  • Pp 26-27: (Children fold hands and act like they are praying)

After the performance, everyone stands together and sings Psalm 23.

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Authentic and Semi-Authentic Thanksgiving Recipes

Pumpkin and apple pies didn't make the list.

For the Thanksgiving Feast, each family brought either two side dishes or a side dish and a dessert. Two families also brought main dishes (turkey & venison).

The only food that we know as served at the 1621 Thanksgiving feast was fowl, seafood, venison, and corn. We have to guess at the rest of the dishes. Governor William Bradford did record in Of Plymouth Plantation "others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, began to come in store of fowl,...And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides, they had about a peck a meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to the proportion."

Pease Pottage (Cooked Peas)

Pease Pottage (Cooked Peas)

Pease Pottage (Cooked Peas)

Pease Pottage (Cooked Peas)

(One family made the modern recipe. Everyone enjoyed it.)

Modern Recipe 1:

1 1/2 cup whole peas, rinsed and picked over

8 cups water (plus additional water for soaking peas)

4 oz. thick sliced bacon, coarsely chopped

Place peas in a bowl and add water to cover by 3 inches. Leave overnight for cooking in the morning or soak all day to cook for dinner. Drain peas and discard water. Place peas and bacon in a large pot and add 8 cups fresh water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn heat down to gently simmer for 2 hours or until peas are soft and easily mashed. Add water if necessary to keep from burning.

Modern Recipe 2:

Steam 1 (12 ounce) bag of frozen peas.

Historic Recipe:

Take the best old pease you can get, wash and boil them in fair water, when they boil scum them, and put in a piece of interlarded bacon about two pound, put in also a bundle of mince, or other sweet herbs; boil them not too thick, serve the bacon on sippets in thin slices, and pour on the broth. Robert May, The Accomplish't Cook (London, 1666), p. 95


Diverse Sallets Boyled (Cooked Greens or Boiled Spinach)

Use spinach, cabbage, kales or "coleworts" (we know them as collard greens)

(One family made this. It's basically cooked greens. Those who like cooked greens liked this dish.)

Modern translation: In simplest terms, boiled salads are boiled veggies seasoned with ginger, cinnamon and a little sugar, dressed with either oil and vinegar or melted butter and vinegar, served over toasted bread and topped with hard boiled eggs cut into quarters.

"Diverse Sallets Boyled: Parboyle Spinage, and chop it fine, with the edges of two hard Trenchers upon a boord, or the back of two chopping knives : then set them on a Chafingdish of coals with Butter and Vinegar. Season it with Sinamon, Ginger, Sugar, and a few parboiled Currins. Then cut hard Egges into quarter to garnish it withal, and serve it upon sippets. So may you serve Burrage, Buglosse, Endiffe, Suckory, Coleflowers, Sorrel, Marigold leaves, water-Cresses, Leekes boyled, Onions, Sparragus, Rocket, Alexanders. Parboyle them, and season them all alike: whether it be with Oyle and Vingar, or Butter and Vinegar, Sinamon, Ginger, Sugar, and Butter: Egges are necessary, or at least good for all boyled Sallets." From John Murrell's A Newe Booke of Cookerie, London: 1615, p. 34.