November is American Indian Heritage Month.

April came home from (middle) school excited. She told her mom that American Indians (Native Americans) had been discussed in class. The discussion actually focused on what is called the first Thanksgiving, when colonists from Europe (pilgrims) and American Indians feasted and gave thanks together in 1621 in the village of Plymouth, Mass.

April’s teacher said the Native American, Squanto, who spoke English and befriended the colonists, had returned to his homeland after being kidnapped, sold into slavery and escaping to London.   Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to survive by planting corn, extracting sap from maple trees, catching fish and avoiding poisonous plants. He also formed an alliance between the colonists and the Wampanoag tribe.  April, herself a Native American, said she was relieved that the discussion did not make her feel like an outsider and embarrassed by the usual talk about American Indians being savages who scalped colonists all the time. April’s mother watched April as she talked. She was grateful that April’s teacher had made April feel good about being a Native American.

April went on to say that her teacher said it had taken a long time before there was an official Thanksgiving Day. April opened her notebook and read some of her notes. “It wasn’t until 1789 that George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation, and that was to express gratitude for the end to the war of independence and the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.

New York was the first of several states to officially adopt an annual Thanksgiving holiday in 1817. In 1827 Sarah Josepha Hale – a magazine editor and author (she also wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb“) launched a campaign to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. She campaigned for 36 years, and finally in 1863 Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation during the Civil War for Americans to ask God to ‘heal the wounds of the nation,’ scheduling Thanksgiving for the final Thursday in November. It was celebrated on that day until 1939 when Franklin D. Roosevelt changed Thanksgiving to the week before, then signed a bill in 1941 making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November.”

April’s mom, May Flower (called Florence), asked April what they could include in their Thanksgiving meal to show homage to the first Thanksgiving. April wanted something with corn. She scanned a cookbook and suggested a corn pudding recipe that was simple and fast. “Heat oven to 350°. Combine following ingredients in an electric blender and process until smooth: 1 (16½ oz.) can cream-style corn; 1 (13 oz.) can evaporated milk; 5 eggs; ¼ cup butter or margarine, melted; ¼ teaspoon pepper. Pour into a lightly greased 12 x 8 x 2-inch baking dish. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until set. Yield: about 8 servings.” (Southern Living, 1983)

May Flower laughed. “I don’t think there were blenders way back then, April, but then it’s said that Native Americans didn’t have ovens, either. You make that one and I’ll make this one. ‘Heat oven to 325° F. Combine in medium bowl: 2 cups chopped, cooked, or canned whole grain corn; 2 eggs, slightly beaten; 1 tsp. sugar; 1½ Tbsp. melted butter or margarine; 2 cups scalded milk; 1¾ tsp. salt; ¼ tsp. pepper. Pour into greased 1½ qt. casserole. Set in pan of warm water; bake for 1 hr., 15 min. Makes 5-6 servings.’ (The Good Housekeeping Cookbook)

“Corn will be a way to honor our heritage, April, but Thanksgiving Day is a day for us to give thanks for what we have.”


Peggy Tarr

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...