Teacher's book recounts Thanksgiving in Florida

Robyn Gioia, a fifth-grade teacher at Bolles School, a private school north of St. Augustine, has a mission: Spread the word about the nation's first Thanksgiving.

And as a teacher, the logical way is to start with the children.

When she learned from noted Florida historian Michael Gannon that St. Augustine hosted the first Thanksgiving in 1565 she decided to write a book that included some of her own research, "America's REAL first Thanksgiving."

It was published by Pineapple Press in 2007 and even includes a recipe of Cocida, a dish believed to have been served during the feast. (see recipe)

The book is geared for ages 9 to 12.

Five thousand copies have been printed and books are in bookstores and libraries all over the country. (In the Pittsburgh area, they're in the Dormont and Mt. Lebanon libraries and the Northern Tier Regional Library in Richland -- the one at the Northland Library in McCandless is missing, according to the Carnegie of Library of Pittsburgh Web site.)

Most people express great surprise when they see Ms. Gioia's book.

"I've had people say to me, 'Well that's just the first Spanish Thanksgiving.' "

St. Augustine "is the oldest city in the nation," she said. "It doesn't matter what group is there. A lot of people think that only English history is valid."

She's spreading the word little by little. Students at her Jacksonville school put on a play about the first Thanksgiving each year right before the holiday, which often is attended by their grandparents who fly in from all over the country. The relatives take that information back to their hometowns. And docents leading tours at the Florida capitol in Tallahassee talk about the first Thanksgiving in St. Augustine and a copy of her book is in the governor's library.

"My crusade is to educate the children," she says. "It grows up with them."


PG tested

Robyn Gioia, a fifth-grade teacher in Florida who wrote "America's REAL First Thanksgiving," offers this recipe of Cocido. Pronounced coSEEDo, the dish is a traditional Spanish stew that historians believe was served at the first Thanksgiving on Sept. 8, 1565, in St. Augustine, based on information in the log of the Spanish explorers' ship.

"It's very good," Mrs. Gioia said about cocido. "I could see why it was one of their favorites."

Bacon, ham or pancetta may be substituted for salt pork. Regular sausage works nicely, but chorizo has a distinct flavor.

  • 16 to 20 ounces garbanzo beans (canned)
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 medium potatoes, diced
  • 1 teaspoon saffron
  • 1/2 head green cabbage, quartered
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 pound salt pork (or bacon, ham or pancetta), diced
  • 2 large carrots, thickly sliced
  • 1 leek, cut into short lengths
  • 1/2 pound sausage (or fresh chorizo), sliced

Drain beans, rinse, and put in large kettle.

Add water, spices, and garlic.

In skillet, fry salt pork and onion until brown. Drain then add to kettle. Simmer for 45 minutes.

Add remaining ingredients and simmer an additional 45 minutes or more depending on desired thickness. Salt to taste.

Serves 4 to 6 people.

-- Adapted by Robyn Gioia from the historical recipe


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