Thanksgiving Dinner Changed Over Time

What kinds of food will be on your table this Thanksgiving? Your ancestors may have served slightly different dishes. Thanksgiving dinner changed over time.

The Smithsonian points out that turkey was not the centerpiece of the meal in the 17th century. People were more likely to be eating goose or duck. Smaller birds were spit-roasted, and larger ones were roasted. The Pilgrims stuffed birds with chunks of onion and herbs.

The Wampanoag and the colonists likely ate deer, eels, and shellfish such as lobster, clams, and muscles. The Wampanoag grew flint corn, beans, pumpkins or squashes. The forest provided chestnuts, walnuts and beechnuts.

Genealogy Bank that during World War I, food was rationed and families were encouraged to make do with less. The United States Food Commission recommended that instead of turkey, families “can substitute chicken, pale American cheese, and other becomingly simple dishes.”

A newspaper in California in 1917 cautioned readers against serving oysters on the half shell, Neufchatel cheese, or turkey for Thanksgiving. A New York paper recommended eliminating cranberry sauce as part of the Thanksgiving Day dinner. The dish required too much sugar (which was being rationed).

A blog called The 50s Housewife described a typical Thanksgiving dinner from that decade. Women were expected to do the cooking, while men would do the cutting of the turkey. The Better Homes and Gardens cookbook recommended making the turkey look festive by decorating it with chrysanthemums.

Jell-O was a big part of the Thanksgiving dinner. This idea was part of a “better living through science” concept. Options included: Lime Jell-O Fluff Salad, Jell-O with Shrimp Frosting with turkey and potatoes, or seafood dishes like oyster cocktails with mayonnaise.

Thanksgiving dinner in 2020 may be different than previous years. The COVID-19 pandemic makes it more difficult for people to travel. Some families may opt to have Thanksgiving dinner delivered to them.

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