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Adventures in food for curious cooks.

Time Warp Plymouth, 1621

Travel back in time and become the Thanksgiving expert in your family, and make real food for your own Thanksgiving table to honor the native Wampanoag people and the English pilgrims.

Part 4 - A Stew and a Story

Lynley Jones


The year is 1620.  The Mayflower has not yet landed.

Source: Plimoth Plantation  ( )

Source: Plimoth Plantation (

In school, children often learn the story of how Squanto befriended the English pilgrims and taught them how to plant corn.

In our cooking class, we have been learning the true, interesting and more complicated tale of Squanto's life before he met the pilgrims.

A great book for children, with beautiful illustrations.  Tells the story of Squanto's life up to the "first Thaknsgiving" in 1621.

A great book for children, with beautiful illustrations.  Tells the story of Squanto's life up to the "first Thaknsgiving" in 1621.

Squanto (also known as "Tisquantum") grew up in a village named Patuxet.  Last week in class, we learned what life might have been like for Squanto as a boy.

Every once in awhile, a huge European ship would arrive in the area to visit.  In 1605, when Squanto was about 15 years old, a French explorer named Samuel de Champlain came to Patuxet and created a detailed map of what he saw.

When Champlain visited, Patuxet was a busy and bustling village.  His map shows houses, gardens, people and canoes.  Look carefully and you'll see smoke coming from the cozy fires warming their wetus (houses).  Patuxet seems like a nice, happy place for families and children.
Samuel de Champlain's map of the harbor at Patuxet, 1605.

Samuel de Champlain's map of the harbor at Patuxet, 1605.

Champlain wrote about his visit.  He said the Patuxet people rowed their canoes out to meet him in his ship, gave him gifts and invited him to explore their river.  Champlain even came ashore.  Maybe he met 15 year-old Squanto!

Some of the Europeans who sailed into these waters were very friendly.  Others were not.

Captain John Smith

Captain John Smith

In 1614, when Squanto was about 24 years old, Captain John Smith and Thomas Dermer, one of his officers, sailed to Patuxet to explore and make detailed maps.  Later in life, when he was back in England, Smith longed to return to the area, describing it as "the paradise of those parts." (Source: Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick)

Squanto met Captain Smith and Thomas Dermer, and they had a friendly time together.

Later, Thomas Hunt, the captain of one of the other ships in the expedition, invited Squanto and at least 20 other Wampanoag men aboard his ship for a feast.

But it was a trick!  The Englishmen on this ship were not friendly.  They captured all the men and sailed away with them to Spain, to sell them into slavery.

When they got to Spain, Squanto got some help.  Some local Christian monks freed some of the men, and Squanto became friends with them.  (Click here to learn more about monks).  They helped him get to England, in the hopes of finding a ship that would take him back to his home in Patuxet.

Portrait of a Monk, ca. 1685    Artist:  Claudo Coello, 1642-1693 (Spanish); oil on canvas

Portrait of a Monk, ca. 1685

Artist:  Claudo Coello, 1642-1693 (Spanish); oil on canvas

Squanto was in luck.  In England, he found his old friend Thomas Dermer, and in 1619, after 5 long years, they sailed back to Patuxet together.  By then, Squanto had learned to speak English fluently.

Sadly, when they finally reached Patuxet, all was not well.  Squanto's home village was deserted.  No one was living there anymore.  All that remained of the people who had once lived there were their bones, lying on the ground.  Some of the Europeans who had come to visit had very bad germs.  The diseases were sometimes so bad that in some villages, like Patuxet, nearly every single person was killed.  The people had been so sick, they could not even bury their dead.  Strangely, other villages were nearly untouched by these diseases.

With his home village empty, he went to a nearby village called Pokonoket, about a day's walk from Patuxet, and stayed with the people there.  The sachem (chief) of Pokonoket was named Massasoit.

Unfortunately for Squanto, his troubles were not over.  In the spring of 1620, another English ship arrived, and the people were not nice.

Understandably, by this time, the Wampanoag people decided they did not like these English people.  As Squanto traveled around with his friend Thomas Dermer and some other Englishmen to trade with various villages, this time the Wampanoag people were not friendly.  They attacked the group.  Squanto helped Thomas Dermer escape alive, but wounded (he would later die of his wounds).

When the Wampaonag saw that Squanto helped the English, they decided they could not trust him.  Squanto was taken prisoner.

You know the name of this ship!

You know the name of this ship!

In the fall of 1620, as Squanto was held prisoner by Massasoit in the village of Pokonoket, a new ship would be spotted on the horizon.

There was something very different about this ship - it was the first ship that had arrived carrying whole families, including women and children!

This post originally appeared on 10/28/14.

During the long 5 years Squanto was away, he missed his home and his family, and he must have missed the familiar foods he had eaten all his life.

Deer meat is available in the fall.

Deer meat is available in the fall.

"Venison" means meat from a deer.  Just like fruits and vegetables, some meat is seasonal.  Deer is not mature enough to be hunted until the fall each year, so venison is a fall meat.

Venison is one thing we know for sure was served at the "first Thanksgiving" because it was specifically mentioned.

You can sometimes find venison at special shops and online.  If you don't have venison, you can make this recipe with beef instead, and it will be delicious.

A bowl of Venison Sobaheg made in the Adventure kitchen, October 2014.

A bowl of Venison Sobaheg made in the Adventure kitchen, October 2014.

Click for the recipe...

Sobaheg is the Wampanoag word for "stew."  Stews just like this one, cooked in a pot over an open fire, were a very common sight before and after the Mayflower arrived.  European visitors described them in their journals.  Sobaheg could be made with a variety of vegetables, beans, and whatever meat or seafood was available.  It was always thickened with ground, dried corn (cornmeal).  


  • Venison (cows would not be brought to North America until a few years after the Mayflower)
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Beans
  • Coarse cornmeal (sampe or hominy grits works great here)
  • Pumpkin
  • Jerusalem artichokes (also known as "sun chokes")
  • Fresh water
  • Canola oil (the Wampanoag cooked with fats such as bear grease)
  • Salt (the Wampanoag did not harvest salt before the Mayflower arrived)
  • Pepper (originated in India, later brought to North America by the Europeans)