Five Old Fashioned Thanksgiving Dishes to Try

By Published On: November 19th, 20236.8 min readCategories: Recipes

Try one of these forgotten Thanksgiving favorites from 100 years ago

A decorated tale with Thanksgiving foods on it

Thanksgiving dinner with all the classic dishes

A couple of weeks ago I wandered across a story about the origins of the American Thanksgiving tradition. While the holiday has always been celebrated as a harvest feast, what we now think of as the “traditional” Thanksgiving really didn’t come together until the middle of the 20th Century.

Before 1942, when an act of Congress set the Thanksgiving holiday as the fourth Thursday in November, it was the president who decided when Thanksgiving was held each year. Depending on the year, the date could be anywhere from late October to early December. (Thomas Jefferson even skipped Thanksgiving altogether.)

A vintage Thanksgiving Greeting Card with Pilgrims

Thanksgiving Card circa 1924

Like the date of earlier Thanksgivings, the foods served also varied a lot. Today’s standards — turkey, potatoes, pumpkin pie, etc. – were there. But, based on the part of the country where you lived, your holiday table might also include shellfish, venison, puddings, soups, local vegetables, and even seal meat.

That got me to wondering what sorts of foods were common at Thanksgiving 100 years ago, but have since but have fallen out of favor. If one of them sounded good, I figured I could change it up a little this year and add it to our Thanksgiving meal.

I have a whole collection of hand-me-down cookbooks from the late 1800’s to the early 1950’s, so I grabbed a few to see what they recommended. While there were a lot of things I would never make (kidney pie, boiled egg and cabbage, and roast squirrel/rabbit among them), I did find a number of recipes that sounded pretty good. Many are actually still around today, they’re just not really associated with Thanksgiving anymore.

Here are five recipes I found in the cookbooks and tracked down links to their modern versions. If you’re looking to add something new to your Thanksgiving feast this year, try one of these old dishes!

The Recipes

Fire-Roasted Carrots

A tray of carrots roasted on a fire and glazed with brown sugar

Fire roasted carrots are an old-school version of today’s glazed carrots. (Photo credit:

I found this one in the 1904 edition of The Settlement Cookbook. Back then, not many people had refrigerators, and stoves were mostly woodfired. So the recipes in this book are generally focused on fresh foods, stored root crops (carrots, turnips, radishes, etc.), and cooking over an open flame.

You might be familiar with the modern version of this dish, which is oven roasted glazed carrots. I found the fire-roasting the carrots not only adds a smoky flavor that goes nicely with the sweet glaze, but the look of the carrots is a lot “fancier” than plain old oven roasted ones.

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Celery Victor

A plate of Celery Victor on a table with a handwritten card that describes it

Celery Victor without red pepper slices (Photo credit: Katje Sabin / Creative Commons)

Celery has pretty much been relegated to the appetizer tray along with cauliflower and carrots these days, but back in the first couple of decades of the 1900s, it was a dish all unto itself. This recipe originated at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, but it quickly spread across the country. By the mid-1920’s Celery Victor (named for St. Francis chef Victor Hirlitzer) and its celery salad offshoots, were a popular Thanksgiving side dish on tables from coast to coast.

The recipe below is the classic St. Francis’ recipe, but I found several that add red bell pepper to the mix, which adds a nice color and a tangy flavor. That’s the way I make it.

Go to the recipe →

Oyster Dressing (Stuffing)

A dish of oyster bread stuffing on a table

Classic New England oyster stuffing: a Thanksgiving staple for over 300 years (Photo credit:

I’m a 3rd generation California girl, so anything with oysters in it doesn’t seem very “Thanksgiving” to me. My husband’s family on the other hand is from New England where it seems like everything has some sort of shellfish in it. I have always made stuffing with onions, sausage, and apples, but my mother-in-law swears by oyster dressing (gravy too).

Turns out in New England, and all along the Atlantic coast, shellfish were once abundant and cheap, so they were a big part of their diet. The pilgrims at the original Thanksgiving served oysters, mussels, and lobster as part of the feast, so this recipe has roots that date back 400 years!

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Roast Squash & Apple

A roasted butternut squash, sliced with roast apples, in a baking dish

Roast winter squash and apples are a great combination. (Photo credit:

My aunt Carol in Iowa gave me this recipe and said that my grandma used to serve this for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. While the link to the recipe below uses butternut squash and red apples, any winter squash and firm apple variety will work.

I tend to prefer delicata squash to butternut, and green apples to red ones because I think the nutty and tart flavors go better with the herby, woodsy flavor of rosemary. But that’s really a personal preference.

Any way you make it, this one is delicious!

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Mock Apple Pie

Two mock apple pies and a stack of pie dishes on a table

It may be “mock” apple pie, but it’s still a delicious Thanksgiving classic. (Photo credit:

Depending on which story you believe, mock apple pie was either an invention of a depression-era pie maker who couldn’t afford apples, or an invention of the National Biscuit Company (aka: Nabisco) to sell Ritz crackers. I tend to believe the pie maker story because I have a copy of the First Lutheran Church Cookbook from 1931 which has a “faux apple pie” recipe that uses butter crackers.

Either way, this is a delicious pie that looks, smells and tastes just like apple pie. The filling is a little closer to a fig newton than a traditional apple pie, but it’s still a delightful dessert, especially when served hot with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

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Turkey Jell-O

A photograph of turkey in orange jell-o scanned from a 1950s cookbook

Thanksgiving leftovers in orange Jell-O. Proof they went too far in the `50’s.

Most of us are satisfied with simply re-heating our Thanksgiving leftovers, or maybe turning them into a sandwich. Back in the 1950’s, however, the country kind of lost its collective mind with instant flavored gelatin – aka Jell-O. Not only was it finding its way onto the Thanksgiving table with fruit cocktail and marshmallows, but into post-Thanksgiving fare in the form of Turkey Jell-O.

Basically, it’s Thanksgiving leftovers – turkey, potatoes, yams, green beans, cranberries, etc. – tossed into a gelatin mold, covered in orange or lemon Jell-O, and allowed to set.

To me, the mere idea of Turkey Jell-O is gross, as are many of the other recipes the Jell-O company produced for its cookbooks in the 50’s. But if it, or any of the other questionable Jell-O recipes (Jell-O pimento loaf with cream cheese anyone?) seem intriguing to you, there’s a whole following on the Internet you might enjoy.

Read the whole article →

Go Ahead, Try one!

So there you go, a handful of recipes that were once Thanksgiving staples but have fallen to the side for more modern dishes like green beans with French-fried onions and Jell-O with marshmallows.

If you’re looking to try something new this holiday, I hope you’ll check one of these out. And if you have an old-fashioned Thanksgiving recipe to recommend, make sure to drop me a note in the comments!

(Unless it’s Turkey Jell-O. That’s just too weird for me.)

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More Thanksgiving Dishes to Try

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About the Author

author avatar
Terri Osterfeld
I'm Sage's wife and the real person in charge of Sage's Acre. He gets the yard, I get the house and the kitchen (unless I need him to do something in the house). I love making comfort food and baking, especially bread. I have no special training, but I did raise a herd of children and burned plenty before I perfected my technique. I love the simple, practical and homegrown. I also have a weakness for dachshunds (don't judge!).

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