Thanksgivings Past: Old Holiday Menus

thanksgiving meal on table
Turkey, cranberries, potatos and more on the Thanksgiving table. (Image credit: Brent Hofacker, Shutterstock)

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
  • Salad
  • (Fine chopped apples and nuts in red apple cups)
  • Cream Dressing
  • Mince or Squash Pie a la mode
  • Sweet Cider
  • Coffee


A Simple Company Dinner of Six Courses

  • Celery
  • 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
  • Coffee


A Formal Company Dinner. Eight Courses

  • Curled Celery
  • Oyster Soup, Bread Sticks
  • Radish Rosettes
  • Turbans of Flounder
  • Hollandaise Sauce
  • Potato Straws
  • Olives
  • 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
  • Fruit
  • Black Coffee


Elaborate Formal Dinner. Ten Courses

  • Fruit Cocktail
  • Oysters on Half-shell
  • Brown Bread-and-Butter Sandwiches
  • Quartered Lemons
  • Clear Bouillon, Oysterettes
  • Radishes
  • Celery
  • Boiled Halibut
  • Potato Balls in Parsley Sauce
  • Sweet Pickles
  • Cauliflower au Gratin
  • Braised Turkey or Capon
  • Bread Stuffing
  • Giblet Gravy
  • Duchesse Potatoes
  • Spinach
  • 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
  • Nuts
  • Raisins
  • Bonbons
  • 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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Stephanie Pappas
Live Science Contributor

Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.