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Thanksgivings Past: Old Holiday Menus

thanksgiving meal on table
Turkey, cranberries, potatos and more on the Thanksgiving table. (Image credit: <a href="">Brent Hofacker</a>, <a href="">Shutterstock</a>)

When Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday in 1863, the typical Turkey Day table was stuffed with far more than turkey. Multiple meats were the norm, including unheard-of-today mincemeat pie.

Gradually, as Thanksgiving mythology became codified during the late 1800s, turkey took its place at the head of the table. But some of the side dishes eaten in Thanksgiving's early days rarely make an appearance now.

Here are some menus and recipes from early Thanksgivings, provided to LiveScience by food writer Cynthia Bertelsen, who blogs at Gherkins & Tomatoes. Maybe these old-fashioned meals will inspire something new on your table this year. [Read More: The History of the Thanksgiving Menu]

Pies, Pies, Pies

The French Cook, a 1653 translation of major French cookbook Le Vrai Cuisinier François, including this pumpkin pie recipe, which illustrates a rather more laissez-faire method of cooking instruction than seen today:  

Tourte of pumpkin - Boile it with good milk, pass it through a straining pan very thick, and mix it with sugar, butter, a little salt and if you will, a few stamped almonds; let all be very thin. Put it in your sheet of paste; bake it. After it is baked, besprinkle it with sugar and serve.

If crust isn't your thing, the 1796 American Cookery has you covered with several options for "pompkin" pudding:

No.1 One quart stewed and strained pompkin, 3 pints milk, 6 beaten eggs, sugar, mace, nutmeg, and ginger, laid in to paste and baked in dishes three quarters of an hour.

No. 2. One quart of milk, 1 pint pompkin, 4 eggs, molasses, allspice, and ginger in a crust, make 1 hour.

Menu madness

Menus for Thanksgiving Dinners from American Cookery magazine, November 1921:


Three-Course Dinner for Small Family in Servantless House:

Roast Chicken, stuffed with Chopped Celery and Oysters

Baked Sweet Potatoes

Boiled Onions


(Fine chopped apples and nuts in red apple cups)

Cream Dressing

Mince or Squash Pie a la mode

Sweet Cider



A Simple Company Dinner of Six Courses


Clam Bouillon, Saltines

Ripe Olives

Roast, Chestnut-Stuffed Turkey, Giblet Sauce

Buttered Asparagus

Glazed Sweet Potatoes

Moulded Cranberry Jelly

Chicken Salad in Salad Rolls

Thanksgiving Pudding

Hard Sauce

Chocolate Ice Cream

Strawberry Sauce

Assorted Fruit



A Formal Company Dinner. Eight Courses

Curled Celery

Oyster Soup, Bread Sticks

Radish Rosettes

Turbans of Flounder

Hollandaise Sauce

Potato Straws


Crusty Rolls

Salted Nuts

Capon a la Creme

(Stuffing of Potatoes, Mushrooms, Chestnuts, etc.)

Mashed Potatoes

Green Pea Timbales

Cranberry Sauce

Sweet Cider Frappe

Venison Steaks

Currant Jelly Sauce

Baked Parsnips

Apple-and-Grape Salad

Macaroon Pudding

Frozen Mince Pie

Hot Chocolate Sauce

Glaceed Walnuts


Black Coffee


Elaborate Formal Dinner. Ten Courses

Fruit Cocktail

Oysters on Half-shell

Brown Bread-and-Butter Sandwiches

Quartered Lemons

Clear Bouillon, Oysterettes



Boiled Halibut

Potato Balls in Parsley Sauce

Sweet Pickles

Cauliflower au Gratin

Braised Turkey or Capon

Bread Stuffing

Giblet Gravy

Duchesse Potatoes


Crystallized Ginger

Salted Pecans

Pineapple Fritters, Lemon Sauce

Granite of Cider and Apples

Cutlets of Duck, with Chopped Celery

Orange Salad

Pumpkin Pie

Raisin and Cranberry Tarts

Chocolate Parfait

Almond Cakes




Candied Orange Peel

Black Coffee

Thanksgiving menu from Fannie Farmer’s 1896 Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.

Oyster Soup Crisp Crackers Celery Salted Almonds Roast Turkey Cranberry Jelly Mashed Potatoes Onions in Cream Squash Chicken Pie Fruit Pudding

Sterling Sauce

Mince, Apple, and Squash Pie Neapolitan Ice Cream Fancy Cakes Fruit Nuts and Raisins Bonbons Crackers Cheese Café Noir

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