Happy Thanksgiving! Did you know that Thanksgiving feasts have changed quite a bit since the first Thanksgiving? Our tastes have changed, and the foods we consider special have changed too. Plus, we have access to a much wider array of foods than the Pilgrims did – thanks, supermarkets and the trucking industry! Americans have made some bizarre choices about what to eat at a holiday about gratitude through the years. Don’t we all have that aunt or grandma whose annual contribution is the cherished dish from her youth that everyone else finds weird and a little icky? While waiting for seconds this year, caregivers, home care aides and loved ones will all enjoy reviewing the menus of Thanksgivings Past!

Let’s play a Thanksgiving game: look at these real menus from different decades in American culinary history and try to guess the decade they graced our holiday tables!

  • Mystery Decade #1, Thanksgiving menu:
  • Mystery Decade #2, Three-Course Dinner for Small Family in Servantless House:
    • Course One: Roast Chicken, stuffed with Chopped Celery and Oysters, Baked Sweet Potatoes, and Boiled Onions
    • Course Two: Salad: (Fine chopped apples and nuts in red apple cups), and Cream Dressing
    • Course Three: Mince or Squash Pie a la mode, Sweet Cider and Coffee
  • Mystery Decade #3 Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner:
    • “Hot Tomato Starter, Roast Turkey, Herb Stuffing, Cranberry Sauce, Orange-glazed Sweet Potatoes, Buttered Green Beans, Apple-Pineapple Slaw, Hot Biscuits, Butter, Pumpkin Pie, Hot Coffee.” Other side dishes popular in this decade included Jell-O with shrimp frosting, and Cranberry Holiday Surprise (featuring Jell-O and mayonnaise).
  • Mystery Decade #4 Thanksgiving menu:
    • “Garlic Mashed Potato Pie, Roasted Root Vegetables with Spinach, Sweet Potato Casserole, Candied Ginger Cranberry Sauce, Wild Rice, Chestnut Stuffing with Stock, Pumpkin Pie.”
  • Mystery Decade #5, Thanksgiving menu for twelve:
    • “Oysters on the Half Shell, Puff Ball Soup, Olivers, Gherkins, Salted Pistachio Nuts, Fish Souffle, Parisian Potatoes, Roasted Turkey, Oyster Stuffing, Cranberry Sauce, Potato Croquettes, Asparagus Tips, Baked Ham, Champagne Sauce, Spinach, Lettuce, French Dressing, Fried Shrimps, Toasted Water Biscuit, Pumpkin Custard, Cranberry Tart, Fruit, Coffee

As Mrs. S. T. Rorer said in her book, Table Talk, from Mystery Decade #5, “This, of all days in the year, is the one to lift you from the burdens of care and trials. It is a day of happiness, because as a rule it brings family reunions; and to the American, home happiness is as essential to his existence as pure air. This day should also be a day of happiness, as it is a day of thanksgiving, and every creature, no matter what his position chances to be, has, if he looks at it in the proper light, something to be thankful for. The dinner should be as good as one can afford. Thought and management will give a change to those whose purses be thin, and, with a proper feeling and happiness, this dinner, with but slight variations, will be the best dinner of all the year. Milton says: ‘To refrain, when bounty has been given us, is an evidence of ingratitude to the Giver.’ Come, if possible, this day to the table with a light heart and a cheerful manner and do your part to make the feast a happy one.”

May your Thanksgiving be a day of happiness for you and yours!

Bonus: Here are the recipes from Mystery Decade #1, if that menu got your stomach growling:

Answer Key:

#1 = The nineteen-forties

#2 = The nineteen-twenties

#3 = The nineteen-fifties

#4 = The two-thousand-aughties

#5 = The eighteen-nineties