Thanksgiving Day & Dinner through the Years
The year 2011 is the fiftieth anniversary of Thanksgiving Day becoming a national (federal) holiday. Up until 1941, Thanksgiving Day was a state holiday.
Prior to statehood, in the colonial days each colony appointed its own day of Thanksgiving at their discretion. This carried over to statehood, thus each state by law had the right to appoint or not appoint a Day of Thanksgiving.
The idea of a national holiday came about during the Revolutionary War when the Continental Congress issued a national proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving, each year of the war. This was carried on periodically after the war by the Presidents. Most states abided by the federal government’s date. On the years without a national proclamation each state decided for itself whether or not to hold a Day of Thanksgiving and what day it would be held on.
An influential editor of a popular lady’s magazine became the driving force behind establishing what has become our American Thanksgiving held on the last Thursday of November.
Table of Contents
Origins and History
“Days set apart for thanksgiving were known in Europe before the Reformation, and were in frequent use by Protestants afterward, especially in the Church of England, where they were a fixed custom long before they were in New England.” (Earle 1893, 216)
The first Thanksgiving in New England took place not at Plymouth, Massachusetts but off the coast of Maine. The Popham colonists at Monhegan Island held a religious service in 1607 in which they celebrated ‘Gyving God thanks’ for their safe arrival. (Earle 1893, 216)
An account of the Pilgrims first Thanksgiving in New England, given in thanks for a bountiful harvest, was “written on December 11, 1621, by Edward Winslow to a friend in England:
‘Our harvest being gotten in our governor sent four men on fowling that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labors. They four killed as much fowl as with a little help beside served the company about a week. At which times among other recreations we exercised our arms [practiced shooting their guns], many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoyt with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer which they brought and bestow’d on our governor, and upon the captains and others.’” (Earle 1893, 217)
Earle could not find any record of a special religious service associated with the Pilgrim’s feasting. That was unusual as at that time, a day of thanks was normally associated with a religious service. The second Pilgrim Thanksgiving occurred two years later after a day of prayer due to a drought in early summer that almost killed their whole crop. At the end of nine hours of prayer it rained. Thus, the second Pilgrim Thanksgiving was ordered and observed sometime in 1623.
“In 1630, on February 22d, the first public thanksgiving was held in Boston by the Bay Colony, in gratitude for the safe arrival of food-bearing and friend-bringing ships.” This again was in response to a shortage of food. “On November 4, 1631, Winthrop wrote again: ‘We kept thanksgiving day in Boston.’ From that time till 1684 there were at least twenty-two public thanksgiving days appointed in Massachusetts – about one in two years; but it was not a regular biennial festival. In the year 1742 were two Thanksgiving Days.” (Earle 1893, 219-220)
Thanksgiving was not always associated with food. In Joshua Coffin’s A Sketch of The History of Newbury, Newburyport, and West Newbury [Massachusetts] From 1635 – 1845 he points out:
1677 –“ Thanksgiving, November third, on account of a plentiful harvest and a cessation of the wrath and rage of the enemy.” (p. 120)
According to Earle “The feast of thanks was for many years appointed with equal frequency upon ‘Tusday com[e] seuen-night,’ or ‘vppon Wensday com[e] fort-nit.’ Nor was any special season of the year chosen: in 1716 it was appointed in August; in 1713, in January; in 1718, in December; in 1719, in October.” (Earle  1988, 221) From the 1690’s onward in Massachusetts, Thursday became the preferred day of the week for Thanksgiving.
Massachusetts was not the only colony to observe Thanksgiving Day. Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Netherland (New York) were mentioned in different histories.
“… early in the Revolutionary War the Continental Congress adopted the practice.” The Continental Congress appointed eight days and sent recommendations to the heads of state government to promote the observance. “With only one exception, Congress suspended business on the days appointed for thanksgiving.” The days were Thursday, July 20, 1775 ; Friday, May 17, 1776 ; Dec. 11, 1776 ; Wednesday, April 22, 1778 ; Thursday, May 6, 1779 ; Wednesday, April 6, 1780 ; Thursday, May 3, 1781 ; and Thursday, April 25, 1782. “Washington issued a proclamation for a general thanksgiving by the Continental army on Thursday, Dec. 18, 1777 ; and again, at Valley Forge, May 7, 1778. As President, Washington appointed Thursday, Nov. 26, 1789, a day for general thanksgiving throughout the Union …” (Harper 1909, v.9 p.64)
In the same year (1789) that President Washington issued the first Presidential Proclamation a prayer book was published and distributed in America. “The Book of Common Prayer, revised (1789) for the use of the Protestant Episcopal Church in America, directed the first Thursday of November (unless another day be appointed by the civil authorities) ‘to be observed as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God for the fruits of the earth,’ etc.” (Harper 1909, v.9 p.64) The prayer book advocated an annual religious based holiday for giving thanks for the harvest. Did the idea have any influence?
It would be six years before President Washington issued a second Thanksgiving Proclamation on Thursday, February 19th, 1795. Note Thanksgiving Day was appointed in February. Washington was followed by President Adams who appointed a “Fasting & Humiliation” day in 1798 and again the following year on Thursday, April 25, 1799. Then the country had to wait another six years before President Madison issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation on Thursday, April 12, 1814 and on the 2nd Thursday of April 1815. From 1816 through 1861 no Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamations were issued. (Source: Pilgrim Hall Museum http://ww.pilgrimhall.org/ThanxProc.htm)
Though the presidents did not make Thanksgiving Proclamations between 1816 and 1861, by 1855 it appears to have become an annual event in most states. In 1855, The History of Massachusetts stated, “Thus the time-honored festival of Thanksgiving was instituted – a festival which, originally confined in its observance to the sons of the Pilgrims and the State of Massachusetts, has now become almost a NATIONAL FESTIVAL,” (Barry 1855, v.1 p.103).
Presidential Proclamations for a Day of Thanksgiving resumed in 1862 during the Civil War. In the South, Jefferson Davis early in 1861, proclaimed a Day of Fasting and Humiliation and in 1862 he issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation for victories in war. In the North, President Lincoln issued Thanksgiving Proclamations for victories in war in the spring of 1862 and the spring of 1863. The basis for these proclamations were war victories on both sides.
Later in 1863 Lincoln issued a second Thanksgiving Proclamation on October 3rd. In it Lincoln made a proclamation for a general day of thanks for “the gracious gifts of the Most High God”. The gifts he mentioned were a bountiful harvest, peace that was preserved with foreign nations during the war, “order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theatre of military conflict, while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.” Although it included a mention of the Union Army’s and Navy’s forward progress it focused on how the nation as a whole is still respectful and remaining lawful. Lincoln as President of the United States of America reached out to everyone, both the North and the South. “It has seemed to me fit and proper that they [God’s Gifts / Blessings] should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people …” This is Lincoln’s 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation that people refer to when talking about America’s Thanksgiving. (For full text see Appendix II)
How did Lincoln’s second proclamation come about? Anne Blue Wills, an assistant professor of religion at Davidson College researched the origins of President Lincoln’s 1863 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation (Town Common (Newspaper) 11/25 – 12/1, 2009). Wills traced it back to a New Hampshire widow, Sarah Hale, who was a writer trying to support her family. Hale was hired by Louis Godey as editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine from 1827 to 1877. Godey’s magazine was published in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Hale’s monthly column each November, year after year focused on Thanksgiving. Hale advocated for an annual national holiday held on the last Thursday of November. She saw it as a holiday for every American from the elite to the servant. She viewed it as a non-religious and non-commercial holiday, and as a way to get back to our roots. “Hale early on began calling on the president and Congress to declare Thanksgiving as a nationwide event … Godey’s was the major women’s magazine of its day, and Hale’s campaign eventually had its desired influence. In 1863 Abraham Lincoln made the first declaration for a national day of Thanksgiving to be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November.”
President Lincoln did not make the first declaration of a nationwide Thanksgiving Day, that is credited to the Continental Congress in 1775, who was followed by President George Washington in 1789 and again in 1795, who was followed by several more American Presidents. President Lincoln followed his predecessors when he said, “… I do, therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea, and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer to our beneficient Father who dwelleth in the heavens.” The proclamation declares one day like his predecessors had done before him. It does not declare Thanksgiving to be an annual national holiday. What it did do was reach out across the dividing lines of the North and South during the Civil War advocating a national Day of Thanksgiving irregardless of race, nationality or which side you were on.
Lincoln’s second 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation was the first of an unbroken string of presidential proclamations that continues today. (for a full list of Presidential Proclamations see, Pilgrim Hall Museum http://ww.pilgrimhall.org/ThanxProc1862.htm)
Windermere Farm in Gray, Maine
Under this diary entry there is a list of foods and notes on what the family did that day. By this date in New England, Thanksgiving was already a well entrenched holiday. What makes it standout is the fact Ethel wrote about it in her diary. What we do not know is if this was a common yearly diary entry or uncommon due to President Lincoln’s proclamation. The author was not able to find a copy of the diary.
After the cooking was done they went to church. This appears to have been a common activity. The following is a reminiscence written in 1835 from a young boy’s perspective:
“Late in the autumn, when all the fruits of the field have been gathered in, the Governor of the State, with the advice of his council, issues a proclamation, recommending to the inhabitants the observance of a stated day for thanksgiving and praise to God for the blessings of the season. The day appointed is generally about the middle of November. The week before its arrival, all the families of the State commence preparations for thanksgiving feast. The art of cookery is tasked to its utmost. The oven groans with puddings and with pies, and excepting in the poultry-yard, there is universal glee. One would think that every family were preparing a feast for an army. I well recollect the principal drawback on my youthful pleasures in this jocund [jovial] season, was the quantity of oven wood I was under the necessity of splitting. But when I saw batch after batch of smoking pies issuing from the oven ; the huge milk-pans, filled with the rich combination of stewed pumpkins and milk; and the mountainous plum-pudding, filled with the swollen raisins, more precious than pearls and diamonds, I could not refrain from rubbing my hands with extacy [ecstasy].”
“At eleven o'clock, the bell rings for public worship. The people then, in accordance with the recommendation of the Governor and his council, assemble in their churches. By much previous exercise, the choir are generally prepared with the best music they are able to furnish. The officiating clergyman generally takes this opportunity to present some topic of a national character, and to enforce upon his congregation, attention to their political duties. Those subjects which he would hardly feel at liberty to discuss in the pulpit on the Sabbath, he avails himself of this opportunity to present.” (Abbott 1835, 137-141.)
Abbott’s reminiscence shows us that the cooking took place during the week before the holiday. That seems to be the case with Ethel Porter too, as it would be impossible to prepare and cook 50 pies, 1 turkey, 3 hams, 6 chickens and then make them into pies, a roast of venison, plus 8 loaves of bread and 8 pans of biscuits all before going to church.
American Thanksgiving Dinner at St. James Hall, London
Presented here are excerpts from the 103 page book compiled by the group of Americans who held a special Thanksgiving Dinner. The book contained President Lincoln’s 2nd 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation, menu, toasts, and speeches given in honor of the day. There was a poem and hymn written for the occasion. This was a major event.
“In accordance with the above Proclamation [President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation], the loyal Americans in London and their guests attended a THANKSGIVING DINNER, at St. James Hall, Regent Street, at three o’clock p.m., on Thursday the 26th of November, 1863, given under the direction of the following:
The following were the order of Exercises : - 1st Reading of the President’s Proclamation for Thanksgiving, by Richard Hunting, Esq. 2nd Prayer by Sella Martin. 3rd Hymn written for the occasion – Tune, Auld Lang Syne.”
Without knowledge of French it can be easily understood there were many dishes created and named in honor of the occasion. There was a Washington and Lincoln dish, a diplomat (dipomatique) dish, American Pumpkin Pie, a dish in honor of Queen Victoria and even a dish for St. James, the place where the feast was held.
This Thanksgiving Day dinner was special. It was a direct result of President Lincoln’s proclamation. Yet it was worldly as it was held in England by those “sojourning in foreign lands”, served French cuisine and had an original song that would later became synonymous with New Years’ Eve, “Auld Lang Syne.”
Civil War Soldier’s Letter (dated 1864)
The letter thanked the folks at home for sending the food for a Thanksgiving dinner. But let us not think the folks were so stingy in their gift of food. The letter went on to say “The boxes opened at headquarters or some other place, and all of the turkeys taken out, along with everything else worth having. The dead beats and officers in the rear got the fat of the things, and by the time they reached the front, it was not worth dividing.” The good folks at home had sent food for a feast but it had been swiped by those hanging out behind the front lines. However, that did not deter the poor soldiers on the front line from celebrating Thanksgiving which meant a great deal to them. In the true sense of Thanksgiving they gave thanks for what they had “fresh meat and fruit” if only a spoonful, it was a far cry from the hardtack they lived on. They willingly shared their meager meal amongst all of them equally. (December 12, 1864 Evening Union)
“FROM G. WASHINGTON WARREN’S HISTORY OF THE BUNKER HILL MONUMENT ASSOCIATION.
“Of those noble women who by their timely appeal and patriotic sympathy averted the continued disgrace of the unfinished monument, the greater number have passed on to their eternal reward; but they have left upon earth a record of their service and zeal for the public good which history can never forget.”
“Of the few who still survive, Mrs. Hale, for many years past a resident of Philadelphia, has, during her protracted life, constantly employed her vigorous pen for the elevation of her sex, and for the promotion of a laudable national sentiment. For thirty years in Godey’s Lady’s Book, under her editorship, she has pleaded for the establishment of a National Thanksgiving to be observed every year on the last Thursday of November, that being the day that was selected by President Washington in 1789, when he was requested by a Joint committee of both Houses of the first Congress to set apart a day by Proclamation “as a day of public Thanksgiving and Prayer.” In that original model Proclamation, Washington referred to this country having become “a Nation,” and also to our “National Government,” our “National transgressions,” and our “National duties.” If such a proclamation had been issued every year by Washington and his successors in the Presidential office, it never would have been forgotten anywhere that the United States was indeed a nation. National Fasts also have been occasionally proclaimed by different Presidents in time of threatened disaster, as on account of the prevalence of the Asiatic cholera, and by President Buchanan in 1860, before the outbreak of the Civil War. By a correspondence with the Governors of all the States in 1859, Mrs. Hale was instrumental in persuading them to appoint the last Thursday in November of that year for a State Thanksgiving. By similar efforts, a national Thanksgiving was proclaimed by President Lincoln in 1863, and every succeeding year by the President for the time being. She has urged, and still urges, Congress to pass a Joint Resolution, recommending the annual observance of the last Thursday of November as the day of National Thanksgiving, so that it may never be overlooked by any President.”
This is probably the last occasion upon which the Editress of the Lady’s Book will speak to the public through the pages of this magazine, on a subject which has been near to her heart for many years. We have thought fit to reprint this extract from Mr. Warren’s excellent book, and to add to it only a few lines of our own.
“The present year is the beginning or the second century of our Republic. We celebrated the close of the first by a great International Exhibition, by a proclamation of peace and good-will to mankind. We have entered the new century in the same spirit. A spirit of conciliation, of compromise, of mutual concession, seems for the time to have entered into our national politics; and North and South. East and West are approaching to a closer union. What a happy occasion is this to cement this alliance, to render it indestructible, by the perpetual legislative establishment of a day of National Thanksgiving!”
“Let us feel that our great Home Festival is no longer an anniversary whose celebration depends upon thirty-seven State governments, or even upon the yearly inclination of the Executive. Let us have the day which Washington consecrated by his selection set apart forever as a season of Thanksgiving for the mercies and blessings of the year. Let the Forty-fifth Congress, in the name of the American people, enact that from hence forward the last Thursday in November shall be observed, throughout the length and breadth of our land, as the day of our National Thanksgiving.”
It would take Congress another 64 years to enact Sarah Hale’s long sought after National Thanksgiving. But it was never forgotten after Lincoln’s 2nd 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation. According to The Insurance Yearbook 1883-84 and Legal Counselor and Form Book: A Hand Book of Business Law and Legal Forms for All the States and the Provinces of Canada (1910) the vast majority of states recognized Thanksgiving as a legal state holiday and prohibited all business and banking activities on that day. However, it would not be until December 26, 1941 that Thanksgiving was made a federal holiday by Joint Resolution of Congress and signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
1889 – $1.00
$1.00 Menu for a family of six
1891 – $23.99
Thanksgiving Dinner 1891 at the home of Mrs. Winship, for seventeen people
1896 – $5.00
Bisque of Oysters
The dinner served at a home in Newburyport is quite similar to the menus published in the 1896 Boston Cooking School Cook Book (See Menus). There was one exception, there were no pies instead there was an abundance of fresh fruit. The bananas, oranges, tangerines, and grapes were all imported, only the apples and pears would have been locally grown. The fresh fruit may represent wealth verses fruit pies which may have represented common folk’s food. Given that, it is interesting to note the lady of the house said “I made Mrs. Putnam’s Christmas Plum Pudding” indicating she made the pudding herself.
$23.99 may seem like a low price for a dinner but for its time it was extravagant compared with the $5.00 dinner. The Daily News Cookbook was “Designed to Furnish “Good Living,” in Appetizing Variety, at an Expense Not to Exceed $500 a Year for a Family of Five …” In its preface, it stated: “The three Holiday menus – New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas – are an exception in the matter of expense. The dinners on these occasions are arranged for ten persons, and a cost of five dollars was permitted.” That was not $5.00 per person it was for the whole dinner. At $5.00 for ten people (50 cents per person) it would cost $8.50 for seventeen people. The $23.99 for seventeen people was triple that, and more because it did not include the wine. On the extreme opposite end of the social ladder is the $1.00 dinner for six people which breaks down to 15 cents per person.
Thanksgiving had truly become a holiday for every United States citizen irregardless of social status. People found a way to celebrate with a feast. Sometimes as with the poor soldiers it was but a spoonful of fresh food. The lady with a family of six who had to economize found a way to serve a feast for $1.00. At $5.00 a family could indulge in a fancy upscale type feast. The $23.99 cost purchased an extravagant and lavish feast, with unheard of quantities of fresh fruit in November.
Of note: The Boston Cooking School trained women who would go on to work in the wealthy homes of New England. The Boston Cooking School Cook Book although it sold on the retail market reflected what was taught in school. In turn, the cookbook reflected what was taking place in the real world of the upper class of society. Its Thanksgiving menu is similar to the Newburyport dinner.
The earliest published Thanksgiving dinner menu may be the American Thanksgiving Dinner. It was published in 1863 in London, England. Beginning in the year 1875 Thanksgiving dinner menus start to show up in newspapers. Cook books lagged behind for it was not until 1896 that cook books started publishing Thanksgiving dinner menus. The Boston Cooking School Cookbook published a “Menu for Thanksgiving Dinner” in 1896. That was Fannie Farmer’s first authorship of this cook book. In The Daily News Cookbook, Being a Reprint From the Chicago Record Cook Book copyright 1896, is a menu for Thanksgiving dinner.
1835 – New England
“…I saw batch after batch of smoking pies issuing from the oven ; the huge milk-pans, filled with the rich combination of stewed pumpkins and milk; and the mountainous plum-pudding, filled with the swollen raisins, more precious than pearls and diamonds, …”
1863 – Windermere Farm in Gray, Maine (New England)
12 Apple Pies
1863 – American Thanksgiving Dinner in London (See “People’s Response to President Lincoln’s second 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation”)
1875 – “A Thanksgiving Dinner – The Proper Thing as Indicated by a New York Authority “
1880 – “A Sunday Dinner – A Suggestion to the Cook – The Bill For a Thanksgiving Feast”
Menu No. 3
“Not a bad Thanksgiving bill of fare if strengthened by a plum pudding and ices to taste, and a bill of company to match, to give thanks and be merry.”
1889 – from “Many Men of Many Menus, Thanksgiving from Varying Historical and Social Aspects, How Our Bachelor Mayor Will Dine, Old New England Modes of Feasting – Thanksgiving Day as Observed in the South – A New York Swell Thanksgiving Dinner – A Menu for Most of Us – A Dollar Thanksgiving Family Feast” (New York Herald, Nov. 24, 1889)
New England – “When we lived in Bond street, now,’ went on my informant, ‘and that was a great many years ago, our dinner generally began with a white soup, followed by roast turkey, baked sweet potatoes and other vegetables and fried oysters, with real home made ice cream.’”
Still under the New England section was this menu from hand written recipes. “On an enormon[u]s platter at each end of the table lay a glorious, golden brown turkey flat on its back; on the sides were two luscious hams boiled in cider and festooned with graceful overshadowing box; there was a tender sirloin roast of beef, an immense venison pasty, sausages garnished with fried apples and pumpkin pie and plum pudding, with satellites of fruit tarts. There were also homemade pickles and preserves, brandied fruits and apple butter.”
Old Charleston, South Carolina
New York – for Four Hundred
New York – Menus for the Best of Us
Oysters in Ice
New York – Thanksgiving on One Dollar a Day
New York – Mayor Grant’s Menu
Blue Point Oysters
The New York menus favored a fish dish, and rice which is similar to the South Carolina menu.
1891 – Newburyport, Massachusetts Thanksgiving Dinner (See “Cost of Thanksgiving Dinner in the 1890’s”)
1896 – Boston, Massachusetts: Boston Cooking School Cook Book
Oyster Soup, Crisp Crackers,
1896 – Chicago, Illinios: The Daily News Cook Book (See “Cost of Thanksgiving Dinner in the 1890’s”)
1912 – Boston Cooking School Cook Book
1920 – American Cookery, Formerly The Boston Cooking-School Magazine of-Culinary-Science and Domestic-Economics, November, 1920, Vol. XXV, No. 4, p282
Celery Raw OystersOlives
Oyster Broth Celery
Celery Olives Radishes
Oyster Stew, Browned Crackers
Two Formal Dinners and Two Country Dinners were listed. Here a distinction is being made between the different social classes. In the New York Herald article “Many Men of Many Menus” (11/24/1889) there is a quote that reflects the country dinner. “The minister prefaced some remarks on the occasion by saying. ‘Children, I want to tell you what Thanksgiving is– ‘Oh, I know what it is,’ said my mother jumping up. ‘It’s roast pig and pumpkin pie.’” By Comparison, the dinner menu of Mrs. Winship in Newburyport, a city, reflects the formal dinner (see “Cost of Thanksgiving Dinner in the 1890’s”).
Oyster Cocktail, Celery, Olives, Roast Capon, Giblet Stuffing, Brown Gravy, Jellied Cranberry Sauce, Glaced Sweet Potatoes, Button Onions, Peas au Jus, Lettuce Salad, French Dressing, Cheese Nut Balls, Bar-le-duc, Cracker Pudding, Whipped Cream, Nuts, Coffee, Bon-bons
This menu reflects the menu published in the Boston Cooking School Cook Book with minor changes. It called for roast Capon verses roast Turkey, it added peas and lettuce salad.
New England Thanksgiving Dinner
Thanksgiving Chicken Pie recipe was listed separately (pp 73-75)
Roast Turkey with bread stuffing, gravy
Common Foods that showed up in many of the menus
Familiar Foods associated with Thanksgiving
Unfamiliar Foods associated with Thanksgiving
Of the list of common foods only one acquired a recipe with the name Thanksgiving added to it. It was Thanksgiving Pudding. The Boston Cooking School Cook Book was the only cook book to ever publish a special Thanksgiving Pudding recipe. It started out with one recipe and a few years later added a second recipe. One was a cracker custard pudding that was baked. The second was a suet pudding that was steamed. Although other cook books did not have a special Thanksgiving Pudding recipe, several menus around the country listed pudding or plum pudding.
Thanksgiving Pudding – also called Cracker Pudding
Grandmother’s Thanksgiving Pudding
9 Montpelier crackers (rolled fine) (or soda crackers rolled to make 2 cups)
Mix all ingredients except eggs, soda & butter in a large saucepan.
Plum Pudding was not just a Christmas Tradition
Christmas Plum Pudding was served at Mrs. Winship’s extravagant Thanksgiving Dinner. Christmas or English Plum Pudding is a fancy version of ordinary suet pudding. The Boston Cooking School Cook Book listed a plum style pudding over the years as Thanksgiving Pudding II (1912 – 1926) – Thanksgiving Steamed Pudding (1933 – 1959) – Thanksgiving Pudding (1965). They are all the same recipe.
½ lb. stale bread crumbs 2 oz. citron, chopped fine
Soak bread crumbs in milk, let stand until cool, add sugar, beaten yolks of eggs, raisins, currants, figs, and citron; add suet, mix together, add wine, currant jelly or grape juice, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, mace. Beat egg whites stiff and fold into mixture. Place in deep baking dish, cover with foil, place dish on a rack in the cooking pot, add water up to one inch of dish, and steam for six hours. Replace water with boiling water when needed.
Genuine English Plum Pudding
2 lbs. raisins 2 lbs. flour
Clean the raisins, currants and sultanas, and dry thoroughly. Chop the suet very fine. It is a good plan to use the meat chopper for this, sprinkling a little flour in it to prevent sticking. For the bread crumbs use only the soft inside part of a stale loaf and grate fine. Slice the peel very fine. When these ingredients are ready, put together in a large mixing bowl, with the sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, flour and baking powder. Mix well. Beat the eggs, and add to them the milk and brandy. Pour this slowly into the fruit mixture and mix thoroughly. It is better to use the hands for this. Grease several china bowls, holding about 1½ pts. each, and fill with the mixture, using a wooden spoon, and pressing down to fill evenly. Fill each bowl a little more than level. Cover each pudding with a piece of oiled paper. Tie a cloth over each one with a strong, white string, tying about ½ down the bowl, so that the cloth will not come off when the pudding begins to cook. Lap the four corners of the cloth up over the top of the bowl and tie in a couple of knots, so that the pudding can be lifted out easily when cooked. Get the puddings all read the day before they are to be cooked. Put enough water in a large cooking utensil to cover the puddings. When it comes to a boil, drop the pudding in carefully running a toasting-fork under the knots of the cloth. Boil slowly for 10 hours. Add boiling water from time to time as needed. When done, lift the puddings out with the fork, remove the clothes, and carefully wash and dry them [clothes]. Put the puddings on the range shelf or some warm place, and let them stand for several days or until well dried out, for if they are not properly dried they will mould. When dry, tie clothes on again. Then put the puddings in a dry place and they will keep for months. In England we make them in the Fall, and use them throughout the winter. When needed, steam or drop into a kettle of boiling water for one hour. Serve with brandy sauce or cream. Or place a sprig of holly in the top; pour brandy around the pudding and set fire to the brandy. This recipe will make from 8 to 10 puddings.
From Best Things From Best Cooks, For the Benefit of the Bridgeton Hospital, Bridgeton, N.J., 1915, page 62
As of 1835 Thanksgiving was linked with New England. In New England and her Institutions: By One of Her Sons written by Jacob Abbott and published in London. He states: “Thanksgiving.–A custom has been transmitted to us from our Purtian fathers, of setting apart a day at the close of the harvest, for thanksgiving and praise.” (p 137)
The following year another book was published in Boston titled, The Boston Book: Being specimens of Metropolitan Literature, occasional and Periodical with an account by T. Gray, Jr. of a “New England Thanksgiving”. (p 241)
The next mention is in a magazine the Monthly Miscellany of Religion and Letters published in Boston. It came out in Volume V, December, 1841. The article was named: “The New England Thanksgiving”. The article retraces the dates Thanksgiving was held in Massachusetts in chronological order up to 1762. It is not a complete list.
An article in the New York Herald on November 11, 1889 ran “Many Men of Many Menus, Old New England Modes of Feasting–Thanksgiving Day as Observed in the South–A New York Swell Thanksgiving Dinner–A Menu for Most of Us–A Dollar Thanksgiving Family Feast”. The article’s title refers to old modes of Thanksgiving feasting in New England. It implies Thanksgiving was originally a New England holiday.
In 1896 Fannie Farmer began publishing holiday menus. At first she called it “Thanksgiving Menu”. Later editions up to the 1912 edition continued to call it “Thanksgiving Menu”. In the 1917 edition she renamed it “New England Thanksgiving Menu”
Out in Milwaukee, Wisconsin there was a cooking school along with a cook book as popular in that area as was the Boston Cooking School Cook Book was in New England. The cook book was called The Settlement Cook Book. This cook book began publishing menus in 1920 but did not include special holiday menus for many years. Sometime between its 1921 edition and its 1938 edition it began to publish holiday menus. The 1938 edition called it “New England Thanksgiving Dinner.”
New England became synonymous with Thanksgiving probably through print media. Judging by The Settlement Cook Book the holiday became known as New England Thanksgiving throughout the states.
Sports on Thanksgiving Day
In writing to a friend in December 1621 about the Thanksgiving the Pilgrims held Edward Winslow said: “At which times among other recreations we exercised our arms [practiced shooting their guns],” (Earle  1988, 217) Winslow noted they enjoyed recreations and shot their guns, the Pilgrims participated in games and sporting at America’s first Thanksgiving that was based on a feast rather than a religious service.
“The stores are all closed, and the general appearance of the city and of the village, is nearly that of the Sabbath. In the distant fields, not a few are found, who desecrate the day by entire devotion to amusements. The Bowling Alley is thronged by dissolute loungers. The idle and the dissipated congregate for field sports and shooting-matches, and pass the day …” (New England and her Institutions: By One of Her Sons (1835) By Jacob Abbott.) Abbott’s full account is a reminiscence of Thanksgiving from his boyhood. This account was written in 1835, indicating Thanksgiving as he knew it dates back to the at least the early 1800’s. Just when sports became a common practice of the day is unknown. What is known is the practice has continued into the 21st century with high school and college football games.
President George Washington’s 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation
THANKSGIVING DAY 1789
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be – That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks – for his kind care and protection of the People of this country previous to their becoming a Nation – for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war –for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed – for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions – to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually – to render our national government a blessing to all the People, by constantly being a government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed – to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord – To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and Us – and generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
President Abraham Lincoln’s 2nd 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation
For a list of Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamations pleas see Pilgrim Hall Museum http://www.pilgrimhall.org/ThanxProc.htm