Although the sweet smell of Thanksgiving turkey and buttery mashed potatoes aren’t customary here, Florence’s American population have plenty of options to enjoy this tradition away from home.
Thanksgiving is more than just food. The tradition of giving thanks started with the Wampanoag Native Americans of southeastern Massachusetts who held festivities in celebration of a successful harvest. After similarly experiencing a successful harvest in 1621, the pilgrims invited the Wampanoags to a three-day harvest feast. Although experts have found multiple occurrences of Thanksgiving-style celebrations, this feast is commonly referred to as the “First Thanksgiving.”
Over the years, Thanksgiving was celebrated sporadically until Sarah Josepha Hale, magazine editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, led a campaign to make Thanksgiving a national holiday in the mid-nineteenth century. Hale even wrote to President Abraham Lincoln about her belief that the holiday could unite the Civil War-divided country.
In 1863 Lincoln declared the final Thursday in November as the national day of Thanksgiving. Yet it wasn’t until 1941 that Congress finally signed legislation and made Thanksgiving an official national holiday, and it has since developed into a beloved American tradition.
The inclusion of pie as an essential element in Thanksgiving is actually a common misconception. The first pumpkin pie was not recorded until 1675, in an English cookbook. It was similar to a pumpkin pie, made with spices and boiled squash but wasn’t replicated in America until the early 1800s.
The origins of the pie can be traced back to the Greeks, who are thought to have invented the pastry shell. From there, the Romans started putting meats such as mussels or other types of seafood in the pastry, and also began serving pie as a sweet dessert too. The term ‘pye’ actually developed in medieval England, where it was stuffed with different kinds of meat such as beef, lamb and wild game.
However, there could be a little truth to the presence of the pumpkin pie at the First Thanksgiving. When the settlers first arrived, they began copying the Native Americans by roasting and boiling the squash as a source of food, in fact fundamental to their diets. So perhaps pumpkin was indeed present at the First Thanksgiving – just not in the form we associate it with today.
Later, settlers attempted to make pumpkin more appetizing by cutting open the top, scooping out the seeds, and pouring milk, honey, and other spices into the pumpkin before cooking. Some say this is the first pumpkin pie prototype, gradually evolving into the dish we know today as a staple on our Thanksgiving tables.
Regardless of whether you have turkey or prosciutto, Thanksgiving in Florence is a great opportunity to share a homegrown tradition with Italians and other foreigners – after all, who can say no to another serving of pumpkin pie?