New Hampshire: Old Time Thanksgiving News and Menus

This year I will not be writing about the first ‘Thanksgiving Day’–not debating what the Plymouth Plantation settlers ate, why we are celebrating that day at all, or how Native Peoples perceive it.  When I was young, Thanksgiving Day generated mixed feelings then too.

While my grandmother was alive, our house was a veritable lightning rod for people–aunts, uncles, and what seemed like a billion cousins who appeared out of nowhere and filled the house until it burst. Back then I didn’t appreciate it as I do now. At the time I simply saw it as a day when there was no leisure time, when I washed and dried dishes all day so that the next influx of guests could have refreshments. When my fingers became like prunes and they were allowed a rest from the dish water, my time was taken up in babysitting the visitor’s children, or playing games to keep us quiet so the adults could talk.

Today I have fond memories of all of it. For somehow, and because of it,  against my will I have become the keeper of my families secrets and memories. Because my grandmother lived in the same home I had this wonderful opportunity to meet and know my relatives, close and distant as they came to visit the saintly progenitor of our family. Those same memories have helped me during the past 45 years in my genealogy research.

For this year’s Thanksgiving blog post I will share a variety of old newspaper clippings gleaned from New Hampshire (or at least local) newspapers of 1851, 1862, and 1895. They present menus and, at least a writer’s opinion of, how “old time” Thanksgivings were spent and what was eaten.

FROM: The Mirror and Farmer, Manchester NH, Saturday, Nov 1, 1851, page 3
THANKSGIVING.–All New England, and perhaps the rest of the States, Ohio and Pennsylvania, at least, are to have Thanksgiving on the 27th of November, the present year. The Portsmouth Gazette objects to this on the ground that turkies [sic] will be high, or that the city folks will get them all. It would work best to have New Hampshire Thanksgiving about a week before all others, giving us a chance at the best turkeys, and opportunity for reciprocal visits with friends in other States. As it is, we hope that our friends will recollect that the best New Hampshire turkeys belong in New Hampshire.

Boston Traveler, Boston MA, Wednesday Nov 26, 1862, page 2
THE OLD NEW HAMPSHIRE HOME. Thanksgiving Day. The approach of this time-honored appointment and annual occurrence, so dear to the hearts of all New Englanders–THANKSGIVING DAY–is heralded by the recollection of occurrences in boyhood days, growing thickly and vividly upon our minds. Our first thoughts perchance are of the old Mud Red School House, truancy, beech boughs, snow-bells, ink-stained fingers, evening spelling schools, Hannah and Ploomy, the teacher’s rap on the window at intermission and recess, always coming too soon–Grammar, at fact to our young minds so entirely absurd; Arithmetic, for, in the words so familiar to every schoolboy–
“Multiplication is a vexation
Division is as bad,
The Rule of Three doth puzzle me,
And Fractions made me mad” —
and last but not least, “You are dismissed” so nervously anticipated in a country school. Then as scenes of confusion amid dinner baskets, laughing, scampering and getting out of the way. Finally, to the care-worn teacher’s relief, all head for home. HOME! that dear old sound. Here the emotions of the heart communicate with the eyes. How like a faithful panorama move before us as land marks and love marks of that revered place. Who does not remember the garden south of the house, with its currant bushes and red roses, as we, as the joyous Spring time advanced, watered and tenderly nursed the flowers in a way kindly granted us by our father for our own use. Who does not remember the orchard with the token sweets, stone tree stump tree, and with such anxiety the first “winfalls” were seized, dispensing the frequent admonition of a careful mother that we must not eat green apples. Who does not remember “Old White Face, “Brindle,” “Line Back,” and the sturdy good-natured oxen “Buck” and “Ira” that we were called upon and expected to take out to the pasture each night in the summer morns and turn in the morning, still painfully remembering the heavy bar of the five at the foot of the lane, which vexingly stuck at both ends we were obliged to tap each time, not unfrequently to our sorrow, and how well our toes could testify.

‘Who does not well remember the little pine bower formed by the close commingling of the spruce tops, where we have so often listened to bird songs and the humming of a faithful honey bee passing from flower to flower. Written on every tree cone, hillock, rivlet, we find a page of our beloved history. Who does not remember the apple —, pumpkin pies, sleigh-rides and thousands of occurrences apparently of trifling importance, now forming a list of associations never to be forgotten. One could never forget the fathers kind admonition and a mother’s tear when we left our happy childhood’s home. Was then, having a home to visit, does not experience unutterable pleasure at the prospect of the family reunion…..”

From North Conway White Mountain Reporter of 28 November 1895.
THE OLD AND THE NEW.  Thanksgiving Dinner Menu of Olden Times and of Recent Date. The old fashioned Thanksgiving table groaned beneath a superabundance of good things. In the country especially there was enough laid before the holiday guest to keep a small family well supplied with food for a year. To express the plenitude of the larder seemed to be the ruling passion for the time being, and to partake liberally was the highest compliment one could pay to the host and hostess.

In the end of the century days an old fashioned Thanksgiving table would fill us with feelings of distrust. We have grown more dainty, or perhaps it is more dyspeptic, and we tempt our appetites with the chops in lace paper frills and sandwiches tied with pink ribbon. In the days of the good old Thanksgiving a well spread table was not considered complete unless it was provided with all of the following dishes. Here is an old fashion Thanksgiving menu:
Oyster stew.
Roast turkey. Roast chicken.
Sparerib. Sausages. Head cheese.
Mashed potatoes. Hot slaw.
Boiled onions. Turnips. Pickles.
Raised biscuits. White bread.
Currant jelly. Preserves.
Honey in the comb. Fruit cake.
Mince, apple, custard and pumpkin pies.
Cheese. Apples and nuts. Cider.
Tea and coffee.

Time has changed since then, and eating has become more of a secondary consideration. The modern Thanksgiving dinner must be good and well cooked. It must contain a variety of dishes, but they must be dainty and have sauces and dressings and garnishings suggestive of the day. Delmonico’s chef gives the following as his idea of a fin de siècle Thanksgiving feast:
Mock turtle soup.
Rissolus of sweetbreads.
Boiled bass, with cream sauce.
Potatoes hollandaise.
Turkey stuffed with chestnuts.
Oyster fritters, with cranberry jelly.
Broiled breast of mallard duck.
Celery salad, with mayonnaise.
Roquefort cheese.
Mince pie. Ice cream. Fruit.


Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library. “The famous Dutch woman.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1711.

ALSO From North Conway White Mountain Reporter of 28 November 1895.THANKSGIVING DAYE FROLICK
Suggestions For an Entertainment In the Style of Ye Olden Tyme.
Sufficiently in advance to allow your friends time for preparation send out invitations to ye olden tyme Thanksgiving daye frolick, and intimate therein that appropriate costuming, in strict simplicity, is expected. The young women should wear print gowns and aprons and add the slight touch necessary to turn the prevailing tone of hairdressing back one leaf father in quaintress. The men must copy in dress Brother Jonathan’s portraits. Have merely a violin, the “fiddle” of early days, for music and dance gay country dances– the quadrille, Dan Tucker, Virginia reel, and so on, with calling off. The brighter the people that can be brought together and the better the acting of the parts the greater the success of the entertainment of course. Cover the drawing room carpet with crash[1] not only to assist dancing, but also to give an impression of bare floor primitiveness. Move away or cover up all elaborate bric-a-brac and sumptuous furniture. Decorate with cornstalks, cedar boughs, pumpkins and strings of red peppers. A barrel or two of bright apples standing about would also add to the general effectiveness position place a table holding a tray of molasses and a large plain white pitcher of sweet cider for the guests’ occasional refreshment. If there is an open fireplace in the room, popping corn there might prove a pleasant change from the dancing, the operation forming a pivot upon which to hang amusing old time stories and “sing in schule” songs, both in solo and chorus. All this intersperse with the eating of popcorn and apples, and the drinking of cider.

Rollicking dancing should end the evening whatever the other diversions introduced may have been. And the old time “groaning board” must be spread in the dining room with early day favorite dishes–roast turkey and little pig served whole, baked beans and brown bread, Indian pudding, hot biscuits and rusks, cucumber and mango pickles, pot cheese, apple butter, damson preserves, fruit and pound cake, and doughnuts, coffee with rich cream and glasses of milk. These hints followed in barest outline will make a novel and pleasing entertainment. But each extra effort in detail will tell just so much in the general attractiveness of the result. Every touch of realism in the hostess’ arrangements, every quaint bit of phraseology or manner in the gusts will add greatly to the charm of the event [from Philadelphia times].

[1] My friend Vera Marie Badertscher asks about the reference to “crash” on the floors, so of course I had to provide you with an explanation. According to the Vintage Fashion Guild, the origin of the term “crash” in this instance comes from the Russian word “karshenia” meaning colored linen. ‘Crash’ was used in a plain weave, sometimes twill, but always from rough, uneven yarns. “It has a course and slightly loose look. It was originally woven of linen, jute or hemp, and later also of cotton, wool blends and manufactured fibers. It is absorbent and makes a good towel and has other household uses.” Woolen crash was used to make suits.


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13 Responses to New Hampshire: Old Time Thanksgiving News and Menus

  1. Peg Fargo says:

    ……and the best New Hampshire turkeys still belong in New Hampshire. Wishing you a memorable
    Your blog is one of the things I list in my “thankful” bucket.

  2. Ginny Young-White says:

    My early thanksgivings were much the same, filled with the wonderful odors of my mothers great cooking, and lots of steam on the windows so we could draw on them. The kids in the kitchen around card tables and the adults in the dining room around our huge table. Cakes and pies were spread out on the buffet with a few pieces of pie missing…just to make sure they tasted all right. Lots of laughter, love and full bellies. I really miss those days and the days of the whole family getting together for the holidays.

  3. Amy says:

    Those menus sound so bizarre to modern tastes. Our Thanksgiving is turkey, stuffing, a fresh greem vegetable, roasted potatoes, roasted squash, and dessert. Over and done!

    You must have such great memories of those Thanksgivings with your grandmother. You should write about those!

  4. Luanne says:

    Oyster stew! Hah. I wrote a blog post couple of years ago trying to figure out where the custom of oyster stew for Christmas Eve started and now here it is for Thanksgiving to confuse me more!

  5. Janet Barter says:

    Hi Janice…you really went over the top with this one! Loved every word and was able to relate to most of it….except the oyster stew. And there was always a homemade mincemeat pie on our dessert table. After dinner and the dishes were washed the adults would take over the dining table to play spirited games of whist, while all the kids ran through Nana’s big housep, playing tag or hide & seek. So much fun!

  6. Vera Marie Badertscher says:

    Love it. I know that you wrote this just for me, because you knew how I would enjoy it. Heavy on the meats and light on the vegetables sounds right for the period, as does oysters, which were so popular in the late 19th and early 20th century. II remember my grandmother one year (in the 40s or 50s) worrying that the turkey and ham she had prepared would not be enough, so she had some hot dogs on hand just in case!
    By the way, did you find out what “cover the carpet with crash” means?

    • Janice Brown says:

      Vera, thanks for the lovely comments. I do always think of you when I write about traditions and especially food. As for the “Crash Covering” it was a way to save the expensive carpet and also sometimes a highly polished floor by pulling up a carpet and laying down a special flooring called a “crash covering.” I am not sure what this was made of, some kind of thick paper perhaps. Do you know? [I quickly researched this and added a footnote to the end of my story about what “crash” is.]

  7. June Saxon says:

    Janice I enjoyed reading your blog this morning about Thanksgivings of old. I was brought up in NH and remember we ate differently than they do in the South where I have lived for 43 years. I remember baked turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, creamed English peas, stuffing that was cooked inside the turkey, hot rolls, O & C onions (little),winter squash cooked on top of the stove and mashed with butter and salt and pepper, coke or water or coffee or tea. Never had oyster stew for Thanksgiving! In the South they make chicken and dressing and the various peas they raise down here, not English peas! Smoked turkey legs and for dessert various cakes with multiple thin layers. We always made the pies–apple, pumpkin, lemon merangue, I still cook my Yankee Thanksgiving menu and my husband always helped me make that happen since he was such a good cook!

    Happy Thanksgiving Janice!

  8. Pingback: Five Ways Genealogists Survive a Pandemic Thanksgiving | Cow Hampshire

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