Wampanoag Indian Dish from First Thanksgiving

Between 1620 and 1621 Edward Winslow, who arrived on the Mayflower and was a leader of the English settlement at Plimouth in the Massachusetts colony, wrote with William Bradford Mourt’s Relation, the full title of which was A Relation or Journal of the Beginning and Proceedings of the English Plantation Settled at Plimoth in New England).  Winslow wrote that “Our Indian corn, even the coarsest, maketh as pleasant a meal as rice.”  Although there is no menu of that first harvest celebration that is usually called the first thanksgiving, there are some sound ideas of what foods, if not precise preparations, were on the table.  Since the celebration included at least 90 of the local Wampanoag who we also know brought a good deal of the food and who taught the settlers about growing foods, it is a safe bet that one of the foods made from “Indian corn” might have been nasaump, a kind of grits made from flint corn, the kind of multicolored corn the Wampanoag grew.

In 1643 a book by the founder of Rhode Island, Roger Williams, describes nasaump as “a meale pottage, unparched. From this the English call their Samp, which is Indian corn, beaten and boiled, and eaten hot or cold with milk and butter, which are mercies beyond the Natives plaine water.”  From this brief description it seems safe to say that the dish is a thanksgiving food.  It is very much like grits and one could make it savory or sweet I suppose.  This recipe is adapted from a description on the Plimouth Plantation web site.

Two excellent sources for Rhode Island stone ground flint cornmeal are Gray’s Grist Mill and Kenyon’s Grist Mill in operation since 1696.  I recommend you order their product because it is a distinctively different taste than store-bought masa harina or cornmeal. This traditional Wampanoag dish that is made from that dried flint corn, local berries, and nuts. It is boiled in water until it thickens, and is similar to oatmeal or grits. Once it cools it hardens and can be cut into slices for pan-frying in butter.

fried nasaump with butter and maple syrup


Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Appetizer
Cuisine: Native American
Serves: 4
  • 1 cup stone ground flint cornmeal (see sources above)
  • ⅓ cup wild (preferably) or cultivated small strawberries
  • ⅓ cup blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons crushed walnuts
  • 2 tablespoons crushed hazelnuts
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted pumpkin seeds
  • 3 cups water
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  1. In a saucepan, combine all the ingredients and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring almost constantly, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly, until a thick porridge or grits consistency, 10 minutes. Serve hot. The remainder not served can be cooled on a platter until hardened and cut into squares for frying in butter later.


New England Style Stuffing for Thanksgiving Turkey

Two of my children were born in Boston where we lived for 14 formative years and one by-product of that time is that our Thanksgiving menu is very New Englandy. We always stuff our roast turkey, and the stuffing often becomes the favorite side dish of the entire Thanksgiving. Everything is homemade, including the bread, but in this recipe you can buy the bread. Remember that this recipe must be started 3 to 4 days before Thanksgiving because the bread must dry.  Never use store-bought bread croûtons for this preparation.  It will be easiest to finish this the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving and keep it refrigerated until needed to stuff the turkey.   The stuffing should look pretty-well coated with herbs, chestnuts, and sausage and be ever so slightly moist.  The best way to keep the bread somewhat moist is by reserving some turkey stock to pour on it.  The non-stuffed stuffing can be cooked the previous evening or Thanksgiving morning if you don’t have two ovens then reheated at 475 degrees F for 20 to 30 minutes while the turkey is resting and being carved.  The stuffing in a 16-pound plus turkey should be enough for eight to ten diners and the non-stuffed stuffing is extra that you probably will not need.  Two cups of shucked oysters can be added to the stuffing if desired, although I’ve only made it that way once as it is labor intensive.  The recipe can be halved easily, which I almost always do, and still feed 10 people with a little bit of leftover. Note: To roast chestnuts, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  Cut a not-too-deep “X” in the convex side of the chestnut with a paring knife and lay them in a baking pan, “X” side up.  Roast for 35 to 40 minutes.  Let cool then remove the shell.

Bread Stuffing for Turkey
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Filling
Cuisine: American
Serves: 8 cups
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups chopped shallots
  • 2 cups chopped celery
  • 2 pounds mild Italian sausage, casing removed, meat crumbled
  • 6 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon leaves
  • 1 tablespoon ground dried sage
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon dried summer savory
  • 1½ tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups chopped fresh roasted and shelled chestnuts (see Note)
  • 4 loaves French baguette bread, cut in ½-inch cubes and left to dry for 3 days
  • ¾ cup Jack Daniels or Jim Beam bourbon
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or turkey, goose, or duck fat
  • Turkey stock as needed
  1. In a large stock pot, melt the butter over medium heat, then cook, stirring, the shallots and celery until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the sausage and cook until it has turned color, breaking up the larger bits with a wooden spoon, about 12 minutes. Add the tarragon, sage, thyme, and savory and cook until the fresh herbs wilt, about 1 minute, then season with salt and pepper, stir, and add the chestnuts. Mix in the breadcrumbs. Toss and stir so that the bread is well coated.
  2. Transfer the breadcrumbs to a large mixing bowl and set aside. Correct the seasoning and toss. Sprinkle the bourbon all over and toss again. The stuffing can be made up to this point and refrigerated overnight. The stuffing should be very moist but not wet or soaking. If it is not, pour in some turkey stock, maybe a cup or 2, and toss again.
  3. Stuff the turkey with this stuffing. Place the remaining stuffing in a large casserole greased with the butter or turkey, goose, or duck fat. Press down and sprinkle the top with some turkey stock. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees F until crispy brown on top, about 1½ hours, moistening every 15 minutes with turkey drippings once the turkey is roasting.


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