Happy Thanksgiving! What’s on your dinner table today? Turkey, or maybe a ham? Mashed potatoes? Stuffing, perhaps? Some freshwater eels and lobsters, maybe?

Carving the holiday eel is not a tradition in most households. But it was likely on the menu for the first Thanksgiving!

According to the Smithsonian, these foodstuffs were most likely served instead of turkey and mashed potatoes.

  • Ducks, geese and passenger pigeons
  • Venison
  • Lobster, clams and other shellfish
  • Pumpkins and squash (but not pumpkin pie)
  • Flint corn and beans
  • Chestnuts, walnuts and beechnuts

And yes, eels. There’s even an account of Squanto fishing for eels in a Plymouth text called “Mourt’s Relation.”

“At night he came home with as many as he could lift in one hand, which our people were glad of,” it goes. “They were fat and sweet. He trod them out with his feet, and so caught them with his hands without any other instrument.”

Lore has it that Squanto also taught Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony to fish for eel, and that the fatty, nutritious fish may well have saved them from starvation over the winter.

So today, give thanks for family and friends. And don’t forget about the eel when you do.