Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Thanksgiving - then and now

No, this isn't one of those "pilgrims never ate cranberry sauce" posts. We've all heard before that our current thanksgiving menus bear little resemblance to those foods shared by the hardy folks of yesteryear. But, I do think it is interesting to see how little our current menu resembles "traditional Thanksgiving" meals from the last hundred years or so. Here's what folks in 1878 would have been enjoying:

"Oyster soup, cod, with egg sauce, lobster salad, roast turkey, cranberry sauce, mixed pickles, mangoes, pickled peaches, cold slaw, and celery; boiled ham, chicken pie ornamented, jelly, mashed potatoes browned, tomatoes, boiled onions, canned corn, sweet potatoes, roasted broccoli. Mince, and pumpkin pie, apple tarts, Indian pudding. Apples, nuts, and raisins." (As relayed at FoodTimeline.org)

Maybe it is because I'm from the northwest or just an omission on the part of my family, but we don't have oysters with thanksgiving. And yet, most of the historical menus found at FoodTimeline include oysters in some way or form.

Check out this menu from 1961, nearly one hundred years later:

"Celery Hearts, Olives, Radishes, Small Cheese Canapes, Roast Turkey with Favorite Stuffing, Sweetbread and Oyster Pie, Hashed-Browned Potaotes, Broccoli, Hoolandiase, Hot Ross, Cranberry Jelly, Tipsy Peaches, Pumpkin Pie, Ice Cream, Coffee." I can't figure out what "hot ross" might have been, except a typo relating to Hot Cross buns. Definitely a different menu than the first one; more streamlined and less about over-abundance.

Even thirty years later, my how things change. Check out this suggested menu from Sunset magazine in 1991:

"Red or White Belgian Endive with Smoked Salmon and Mustard Sauce, Buttered Toast Triangles, Roast Turkey, Giblet Gravy, Cranberry Chipotle Relish, Steamed Mini-pumpkins with Fresh Raisin Chutney, Red Bell Peppers and Caper Rice, Green Beans and Butter-browned Onions, Wild Rice with Aromatics, Fila-wrapped Rum Cake Bundles, Chardonnay, Sparkling Apple Juice."

Not exactly the menu one might think of for a traditional Thanksgiving but I guess that's the point. Holidays, like everything else, evolve over time. Recipes come in and out of fashion, global economy brings unusual foods to our table and "seasonal" is optional not required. I think this fits with the spirit of Thanksgiving. Not the cardboard idea of pilgrims and native americans feasting, but the coming together of families and friends, sharing old favorites and new experiences on their plates. I wonder what the next hundred years will bring to the table, this unknown favorite placed right next to the nutcups of candy corn or the slabs of pumpkin pie.


Anonymous said...

My entire life. Every year. The same.
Canned Corn
Mashed Taters
Canned Cranberry Jelly
Pumpkin and Apple Pies

No variation on the theme. Ever. (hey! That's Milla Jovovich's baby! Woohoo!)

Lorraine said...

It's funny because we play fast and loose with menues for every single feast. But when it comes to Thanksgiving we are majorly "traditional"...not unlike Hat's list, Turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes,pumpkin pie. And the turkey isn't some fancy brined thing (Martha Stewart's Turkey 101 is the recipe The Spouse uses) and the stuffing is bread, celery and onions...none of that there cornbread or fruit or other weirdness.

That said, I saw Alton Brown make green bean casserole from scratch and it looked sooooo yummy. I'm going to do that.