Thanksgiving Staples: A History of Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potato Pie

Mashed potato and sweet potato recipes are Thanksgiving staples, but what’s the history of these unmissable dishes?

It turns out that neither mashed nor sweet potatoes made an appearance at the first Thanksgiving table in 1621. In the centuries since that historic meal, though, they’ve become essential parts of Thanksgiving dinners.

The History of Thanksgiving Sweet Potatoes

Could you imagine Thanksgiving without sweet potato pie now? The first Thanksgiving most likely had plenty of pumpkin, but not a sweet potato in sight.

The first Thanksgiving took place in Massachusetts, where sweet potatoes don’t typically grow. Native Americans did eat sweet potatoes, but that was mostly in the southern part of the soon-to-be-United States and in South America. It’s much more likely that the guests at that first Thanksgiving table ate ate pumpkin pie instead of sweet potato pie.

Sweet potatoes became part of the Thanksgiving tradition more than 150 years later. The first pumpkin pie was actually developed in France in 1653, and it wasn’t in any American cookbooks until 1796. Sweet potatoes grow very well in the warm, humid south, and pumpkin pie began to showing up alongside (or instead of!) pumpkin pie on the Thanksgiving table in the years after that.

Now sweet potatoes are in more than just pies on the Thanksgiving table. From sweet potato casseroles to fresh sweet potato salads, our Thanksgiving traditions and holiday menu are still evolving.

Mashed Potatoes: A Thanksgiving History

When it comes to Thanksgiving, sweet potatoes are the star of the show, but no Thanksgiving meal is complete without a big bowl of creamy mashed potatoes.

Mashed potatoes became an American staple in the 1700s. Potatoes are a native North American food that are easy to grow, filling, healthy, and affordable. As far back as 1747, Americans were mashing up potatoes with butter, milk, salt, and cream, and dishing them up on the Thanksgiving table.

Today, Americans continue to enjoy potatoes and sweet potatoes with their families on Thanksgiving each and every year. And we’re quite proud of that! Happy Thanksgiving!

Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by Brown Eyed Baker on Flickr

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