Thanksgiving Menus from the Past

It’s Thanksgiving tomorrow and I’m waiting for my pie dough to “meld” in the fridge so I thought I’d take a look at Thanksgiving menus from my array of vintage cookbooks. I have six cook books that give suggested Thanksgiving menus that range in date from 1896 – 1942. It was from perusing these menus that I came up with our menu for tomorrow’s feast by searching for the most common elements.

Turkey was of course the winner, although surprisingly there were optional menus for pork, chicken, and roast for the daring family wanting to think outside-the-box. Stuffing was also mandatory, but the type of stuffing ran the gamut. All of them called for either cranberry jelly or relish.

Five out of six called for celery as a starter. This may surprise you, but to our early 20th century relatives celery was still an exotic vegetable to be savored and relished! Not just something to be cut up and used to flavor our food. Five out of six also called for mashed potatoes which is no surprise.

The next big winners with 4 out of 6 votes were: starting the meal with either a clear or oyster soup, having a salad to accompany the meal, and using a giblet gravy.

Here’s a look at the most complicated menu from Fannie Farmer’s 1896 Boston Cooking School Cook Book

  • Oyster Soup with Crisp Crackers
  • Celery and Salted Almonds
  • Roast Turkey and Cranberry Jelly
  • Mashed Potatoes, Onions in Cream, Squash
  • Chicken Pie
  • Fruit Pudding in Sterling Sauce
  • Mince Pie, Apple Pie, Squash Pie
  • Fruit, Nuts & Raisins, Bon Bons
  • Crackers & Cheese and Cafe Noir
Fanny Farmer Boston Cooking School Cook Book

Fanny Farmer Boston Cooking School Cook Book

Phew! I’m exhausted. Obviously Fannie expected you to have servants in the house or a huge family to do all this cooking. I wasn’t about to tackle all this myself! By 1942 her cookbook’s menu is much more reasonable, reflecting the shift in American households away from having a servant or two at home. And the fact that we were no longer eating such huge meals!

One of the least complicated menus comes from my 1939 Every Homemaker’s Cook Book. Written at the end of the Depression with World War II looming, the cook book stresses economy throughout. So its not surprising that the Thanksgiving menu is not extravagant.

  • Assorted Canapes
  • Celery, Olives, Carrot Straws
  • Roasted Stuffed Turkey with Giblet Gravy
  • Cranberry Relish
  • Mashed Potatoes & Turnips, Brussel Sprouts
  • Lettuce with Cheese French Dressing
  • Pumpkin Pie
  • Coffee

This is pretty much the menu we are following tomorrow, though I can’t bring myself to do giblet gravy. Nor do I see a need for Dan and I to have assorted canapes – especially since the celery, olives, and carrots will seem like canapes to us anyway.

As you can see the menu is pretty dull. No extra whipped cheese filled potatoes. No green bean casserole. No rolls. No extra super duper this or that. In fact it looks shockingly healthy if its eaten in some moderation! Yet again it turns around the notion that our foods are healthier than the food of our parents that were “laden with fat.” Excuse me? Take a look at what you’re eating this Thanksgiving and look at my simple menu. The past looks pretty good. Next post – how did the menu taste?

Leave A Comment...