Traditional Thanksgiving Classic Dishes, Food History & Best Recipes



Can you picture Thanksgiving without a large piece of pumpkin pie or turkey roast? Here's how it got on your plate, along with five other Thanksgiving delicacies. For most people, Thanksgiving conjures up images of pumpkin pie and pilgrims.


But, with Thanksgiving 2020 fast approaching, now is a good opportunity to brush up on the history of our favorite Thanksgiving delicacies. (In November, you might even include some fascinating culinary facts with your Thanksgiving greetings.) 

For example, pumpkin pies were not prevalent on American tables until the start of the nineteenth century, and Thanksgiving as we know it today didn't begin until 1863, more than two centuries after the Mayflower arrived in Massachusetts. Interested in learning more about the fascinating and delectable history behind all of the foods on your modern-day table? Here's what we learned about the history of Thanksgiving meal.

History of Thanksgiving Foods and Dinners

The 1600s
The remaining members of the Plymouth colony had a three-day harvest feast with the local Wampanoag Indians after surviving their first harsh winter and successfully established a food source. Wild turkey was very certainly part of a dinner that included oysters, venison, duck, and eel, albeit it wasn't the main attraction.

The 1700s
Early immigrants may have dressed their birds with herbs or crushed nuts, but our presently-traditional bread-based filling with butter, salts, meat, and herbs like mint and marjoram—didn't emerge in American recipes until the early 1800s, such as Amelia Simmons's American Cookery.

The 1800s 
Notwithstanding its all-American image, pumpkin pie was adopted in the 16th and 17th centuries mostly by British ruling elite. However, those pies, which were fashioned from diced squash and apples and wrapped in a strong double-pastry crust, bore minimal similarity to the silky, buttery textured, cinnamon-and-nutmeg-spiced variants that American households adored in the 1800s—and that we still like today.

Early 20th Century 
The combination of squishy sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping may appear like a kitschy throwback to the Leave-it-to-Beaver period to current preferences, but this dish's roots go back much farther. Marshmallows were a rarity at the beginning of the century, and their producers, such as the Angelus Company (now the Campfire brand), extensively pushed them, along with the first recorded recipe for mashed sweet potatoes with a marshmallow topping in a 1917 business recipe brochure.

During the war in the 40s
Though cranberries have been a mainstay of the New England diet for generations, they could only be purchased fresh until more than a century ago, and even then, only for two months of the year. However, in 1912, a smart Yankee lawyer called Marcus L. Urann dramatically transformed the cranberry industry—and the Thanksgiving table landscape. 

Urann started with a single bog and went on to develop Ocean Spray, which is now recognized all over the globe. Their most famous (or reviled) item, a slab of "jellied" cranberry sauce that holds its form even when tossed from the can, was introduced in 1941 and is consumed by the gallon (about 5,062,500 gallons) every holiday shopping season.

After the war in the 50s
In the years following the second great war, hot holiday foods were very famous with Americans, but few have lasted as long as green bean casserole. The dish, which was developed in 1955 by Dorcas Reilly, a home economics team member at Campbell's Soup Company, combines three iconic mid-century comfort foods: tinned onions, packaged green beans, and, obviously, Campbell's compressed cream of mushroom soup. Reilly submitted her authentic handwritten recipe card to the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2002, where it sits beside luminaries like the light bulb and the phonograph.

Best Traditional Thanksgiving Dishes & Recipes

Below are some of our top choices of Thanksgiving meals, turkey roasts and side dishes. If you have a Thanksgiving recipe dish of your own you can share a link or post the recipe in the comments. We would love to know!

Easy Flavorful Whole Turkey Roast
From Downshiftology: This dish is a perfect fit for those who don't want to go through the brining and basting. Just a few simple easy steps and you have a perfectly golden, juicy roasted turkey that’ll impress your family and guests on Thanksgiving day.

How To Roast Turkey By Pieces
By Tasty: How to cut and break down a turkey for roasting. This method of cooking is an excellent thanksgiving dish for those who prefer the bird cut in pieces. Some people may like the breast and some may eat the wings or legs..

Moist Whole Turkey With Stuffing & Gravy
From KQED: World renowned chef Jacques P├ępin and demonstrates how to make a deliciously moist roast turkey, tasty stuffing, and amazing gravy.

Classic Easy Thanksgiving Bread Stuffing
From Bon Appetit: Join Carla as she makes an easy delicious Thanksgiving stuffing dish. A guaranteed favorite side dish on your Thanksgiving dinner menu for years to come..

Popular Traditional Thanksgiving Pies
From Tasty: Learn how to make traditional Thanksgiving pies like Blueberry Tapioca, Sweet Potato Pie, Old Fashion Pumpkin Pie and Thai Tea pie.. 


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