22 Nov 2011

American Thanksgiving: 1940s, 1950s & 1960s Editions

We've already had Thanksgiving here in Canada, on account of us having thought of it first our earlier harvest, but since most of this blog's readers are American, I figured I'd share some Thanksgiving menu ideas from my vintage magazines. Maybe it will give you ideas of what you'd like to serve this holiday should you be in the mood to mix things up. While it's true that Thanksgiving dinners haven't really changed all that much in the years, it's still fun to find those little nuances in meal planning and the treatment of Thanksgiving from decades past.

For example, in my November 1942 Ladies' Home Journal, writer Ann Batchelder says:

This year is slipping out of its green binding and getting a new edition ready in brown covers with silver tooling. It's a great comfort to know that no matter how things are in this hectic and confused world, we still have a Day. Let other days come and go and do as they will. We have this Day - with a capital D - a Day set aside from a long time ago for being thankful. Thankful for what? Why, for more than the harvest home, more than the corn in the cribs and the hay in the lofts, for the pumpkin pies and turkeys, for the crocks of pickles and bins of apples and barrels of cider. We have a heritage to give thanks for. We have America. Let's be thankful!

Compare this to what I imagine is the modern ode to Thanksgiving:
 Yep. The classy generation, we are not.

So, on with the show!

The first is from the magazine I mentioned above, circa November 1942. Isn't the cover just positively dreamy?

And here's the spread:

And the menu:

And a recipe page:

So ... you know how I just said that Thanksgiving dinner hasn't changed that much over the years? Maybe I was wrong. What the hell is this stuff? Grapefruit-Apricot Salad (all from a can)? Hard-Sauce Balls? Deviled Crackers? But the menu does get a big ooh-la-la for the Oyster Cocktail. I'm also quite charmed by the Victory Cranberry Sauce - it's a nice attempt to lift the moral of a condiment when sugar wasn't as available due to wartime rationing. Victory is a tad tart, it seems.

Let's jump ahead to the 1950s. I found two Thanksgiving spreads. The first is from the November 1952 issue of Today's Woman (you can actually see the cover in my pic from the 50s Housewife Experiment - it's the red magazine):

And there's two menus, based on your kitchen size (how thoughtful!):

I'm feeling lazy and haven't taken pics of the recipes (eight pages of them ... so much clicking) - so unless someone out there is really, really dying to know how to make Molded Mincemeat Salad (and if you are such a disturbed individual, let me know in the comments), you'll just have to use your imagination with these.

Next, the November 1956 issue of Woman's Day, which has this unfortunate cover:


Anyway ... here's dinner! Doesn't this couple look dapper? And I love the colour of their hutch in the background!

Here's a close-up of the meal. Much of it seems normal to me ... except for the pineapple (surely harvested from America's heartland) and the heaping plate of carrot and celery sticks ...

Here's the menu and recipes for this 1950s Thanksgiving meal:

On the whole, nothing too crazy, no?

So - onto 1961. Here's Woman's Day November 1961 cover:


And the Thanksgiving spread:

Whatever they have around the turkey looks pretty repulsive. What is that? From this close-up and from the process of elimination of the menu, it appears to be Onion-stuffed Onions. Jean-Claude Van Damme that is awful:
And the recipes, should you lose your mind and want to make these:

So what can we say about Thanksgiving in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s compared to now?
  • There was more mincemeat on the menu then.
  • There was no aversion to using the word "giblet" (my spellcheck doesn't even identify it).
  • I'm pretty sure none of those grapes got eaten.
  • Food stylists really do make a difference.
  • ETA thanks to BloggerBride's comment!: Check out the size of the 1942 turkey to the 1961 turkey! Roids or Factory Farming Gone Wild?
  • How cool is the name "Preble Bailey" (from the 1956 spread)? Do you think it's pronounced PREB-lee or PREH-bull? Or something else? I think Bambi Jesus and Nutella HotDog Byck officially have a challenger!

What are you making (or made) for Thanksgiving? Any passed-down family recipes?


BloggerBride 3:47 pm, November 22, 2011  

My first thought was how anorexic those turkeys all look! Then I realized it's because they aren't pumped full of hormones and bred to be Monster-Turkeys.

Anonymous,  4:59 pm, November 22, 2011  

Wow - some good finds, Jen but never Jenn! I'm kind of tempted to try the potato turnip puff!

Anonymous,  5:00 pm, November 22, 2011  

Oh - and I meant to say the recipe we pass down and use every Thanksgiving is an apple pie recipe. It's not Thanksgiving without it!

Susie 7:19 pm, November 22, 2011  

This is my second year hosting Thanksgiving, but my first where I'm roasting a turkey. I'm nervous about it -- my memories of turkey as a child include the driest meat imaginable.

I'm making a lot of food the day before -- vinaigrette dressing for a cranberry spinach salad, the pumpkin pie, spinach dip, deviled eggs. I'll also brine the turkey. On the day of, I'll make the sausage and apple dressing, finish the turkey, and finish the salad.

My family is bringing even more food. I might only gain about 15 pounds.

Kristen,  11:00 pm, November 22, 2011  

Thank you for this! I'm so interested in how women lived during these decades / how they were portrayed in magazines.

Karen 1:26 pm, November 23, 2011  

Wow - turkeys really have changed over the years!

Anonymous,  4:37 pm, November 23, 2011  

It's PREH-bull.

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Need words? I'm a Toronto-based freelance writer who injects great ones into blogs, websites, magazines, ads and more. So many services, one lovely Jen (with one 'n').

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