58 thoughts on “Hundred-year-old Thanksgiving Menus

  1. It’s interesting to note what’s on the menu not only for what’s on it, but what isn’t. The authoris of these menus didn’t necessarily think that you had to have turkey. Indeed, turkey is only on one of the menus. “Roast fowl” is on two of them. But what sort of fowl were they thinking of? Any fowl? Pheasant?

    And wine isn’t on the menu at all. I note that as if you spend any time watching the endless Thanksgiving shows that will now be appearing on the Food Channel, or whatever, they’re all going to have a part, or at least some surely will, where somebody talks about pairing wine with turkey (as they’re all going to feature turkey. . . which is okay as I like turkey).

    They’re all going to have pumpkin pie as well. . . which only one of these does. One of these, for that matter, has Maple Parfait. What’s that?

    Interesting stuff.

    1. I’m not surprised that there was no wine on the menus. This was the era right before prohibition. The 18th amendment was ratified in 1919, and prohibition went into effect in 1920. Based on what I’ve read, many people opposed the use of alcohol in the years leading up to prohibition.

        1. In the 1910’s, many people really supported the idea of prohibition. I’ve seen numerous hundred-year-old newspaper and magazine articles opposing the “demon” alcohol. I think that once prohibition actually occurred, that public opinion began to change as the Roaring 20’s, speakeasies, etc. arrived on the scene.

          Back when I was posting my Grandmother’s diary entries on this blog, I did a post that contained a newspaper story about 400 children demonstrating outside a bar in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania singing “Don’t Buy Booze.” https://ahundredyearsago.com/2014/05/16/dont-buy-booze/

          1. Indeed, in modern times my state has a reputation of being fairly open about alcohol, something that the leadership of the state has always tried to address (fairly successfully over the years), and people like to imagine that it was always that way. But it wasn’t. The state actually cast the deciding vote in favor of the Volstead Act and leading up to it all the newspapers were very much in favor of it. In 1918 the Saloon keepers association boycotted a summer parade over the issue and their place was taken right up by the Anti Saloon League which was somewhat celebrated by the papers. Prohibition had a lot of support.

            When Prohibition was repealed the sale of alcohol was stepped back in here over a period of years with the goal of keeping an unregulated “saloon trade” from reoccurring. That made quite a difference, I suspect, as the sale of alcohol was nearly completely unregulated prior to Prohibition but quite regulated thereafter.

            1. One thing that I really like about old newspapers, magazines, and books is that you can see how people actually perceived and framed things back then. Something is often lost when modern historians write about past events.

  2. I wonder about those ‘half-cups’ of coffee. You need more than a half-cup with dessert — except that the desserts seem a little slim, too. Thanksgiving means pumpkin pie, but it also means pecan pie, and a fruit pie like the apple, and plenty of whipped cream and ice cream.

    Some years ago, several of us discovered none of us was that fond of turkey, except for the leftovers. The solution? Two meats — perhaps an herb-crusted pork loin, and a small roasted turkey breast from the local meat market. Just right!

    1. I also found it fascinating that two of the menus listed “half-cups coffee” and the other two just said “coffee.” How did they decide when it was appropriate to serve a half-cup instead of a full cup. You’re right – The desserts do seem a bit sparse. Not sure why.

  3. “You need more than a half-cup with dessert”

    That’s for sure!

    Indeed, while I never drink coffee after the morning, I don’t think I ever pour a half cup intentionally.

    I do recall that it used to be the case when my folks or my father’s siblings had dinners, like Thanksgiving Dinner, coffee was always served with desert. I haven’t done that myself maybe ever.

    1. It fascinating how things like when coffee is served have changed over time. I can also remember when people often served coffee at dinner – now I seldom see coffee offered in the evening.

  4. The half cups of coffee were more than likely referring to demitasse cups of coffee which were served after a large dinner; not only were the cups small, they were traditionally only filled half full. Not sure why!

    1. That makes sense. I’d forgotten about demitasse cups. I wonder if the coffee was really strong back then. That might be a reason for the smaller serving size.

        1. I think that they often used percolators to make coffee back then. I’m not sure how the strength of percolated coffee compares with coffee made with automatic drip coffee makers.

    1. Interesting – in a sad kind of way. Cigarettes were considered a real treat back then. It reminds me of someone from the Vietnam era who once told me that the soldiers really looked forward to breaks when they were provided with free cigarettes.

      1. and I am not sure how true it is, although probably is – back in Vietnam they received case loads of beer at the out posts. My son was discouraged that while in Afghanistan and Bosnia the tradition was beer as rewards. I am going to share this article, it is interesting to see how taste change over the years. I wonder if desserts are not in abundance like now perhaps the cost of ingredients too high or they did not focus too much on dessert just on the main meal? I don’t know…we don’t focus on dessert although out of tradition normally have pumpkin pie…daughter this year making a Christmas cake to kick off the Christmas season instead of pumpkin pie.

        1. It’s nice to hear that you enjoyed this post. There are so many things to think about. Old cookbooks have lots of dessert recipes – but there may have been less of a focus on desserts back then. Christmas cake sounds like a fun dessert. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  5. I’d forgotten that oysters and several varieties of pickles were important items in my family’s holiday dinners. Thanks for the reminder, Sheryl.

  6. I wonder if the β€˜half-cups of coffee’ were referring to ‘demitasse’? You know, those fancy little cups and saucers that were stylish way back when.

    I haven’t had oyster stew in years. We always had it for Thanksgiving when my grandpa was alive. Fond memories of it.

    1. Many of those old demitasse cups are so delicate and beautiful. I also haven’t had oyster stew in years – though just thinking about it is making me hungry.

  7. I also thought of demitasse with the coffee. There are a lot of items on all of these menus, although the one I’d most like to try and haven’t is the oyster stuffing. What’s Emergency soup? Would like to know what their idea of this was. Often I do a raisin pie, as I’m not all the fond of pumpkin.

  8. I so enjoyed reading these menus …I did wonder however what was southern style sweet potatoes as we do sweet potatoes in lots of ways. Roasted fowl makes me hungry for one of my grandmas roasted roosters with giblet gravy….. I started my menu already, as all the children and grands will be home this year, ham ,clam chowder, sweet potatoes and collards are on the list.πŸ™‚

    1. I have no idea how southern-style sweet potatoes differ from other sweet potato dishes. I was hoping that you might know. πŸ™‚ Your Thanksgiving menu sounds wonderful.

  9. I forgot John’s sister always served oyster soup to start our Thanksgiving feast. All the people who will be with us this year are watching what they eat. Among us are cancer survivors, heart patients, diabetics, and some who have victoriously lost a lot of weight. We will do without appetizers and will have only two desserts to choose from.

    1. Even though everyone talks about food at Thanksgiving, in my opinion, the best part of Thanksgiving is having the opportunity to spend the day with family and friends.

      1. I agree that people are the best part of Thanksgiving. It’s my favorite holiday because most people in the US celebrate it. You don’t have to be careful when talking about it, and you can be as enthusiastic as you like when wishing people a Happy Thanksgiving.

    1. It’s fun to imagine cooks a hundred years ago preparing these menus. I bet that they created beautiful tablescapes with centerpieces and lovely table linens.

    1. For holiday meals, my family also always had a relish tray with celery and olives . . . and pickles. When browsing through hundred-year-old cookbooks, I see many more recipes that call for celery than what would be found in a modern cookbook. Today we can get almost any vegetable year round, but I’m guessing that celery was one of a relatively few vegetables that were readily available at a reasonable price in the late fall and winter back then.

    1. I still make a relish tray with celery, carrots (and sometime green onions), but don’t usually include the olives and pickles. I’m not sure why I don’t include them all . . . maybe this year.

  10. In considering the “fowl” on these lists, one thing that later occurred to me is that food was much more local at the time. Piggly Wiggly was the first modern grocery store and it didn’t open until 1916 (see https://lexanteinternet.blogspot.com/2016/09/first-modern-grocery-store-opens-in.html ).

    I wonder how much of what we see on these recipes, which of course are for early fall (we haven’t come up to the date for 1918 Thanksgiving yet, as it was November 28), reflect what was locally available?

    1. Thanks for sharing the link. My general sense is that recipes from a hundred years ago are an interesting combination of local foods, foods shipped into an area by train, and commercial products. Much food was local, but some produce from distant places that was easy to ship (for example, lemons) are regularly included in recipes from the 1910s. Likewise, there were definitely a number of packaged foods and beverages available a hundred years ago (for example, Jello gelatin, Coca Cola, Campbell’s Soups, etc.)

      1. So you know, I ended up linking this item (the Thanksgiving menu) in several times (which I guess shows how interesting I thought it was). It appears here, with the same text as above:


        And then here, on the centennial of the 1918 Thanksgiving holiday, which was on November 28 that year:


        And here, on our Wyoming history blog, with the exact same text:


        I suppose its being pedantic, but I always like folks to know if I’ve linked them in somewhere.

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