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Thanksgiving Dinner Ideas . . . Traditional or Creating Your Own Tradition This Year?

Updated on April 12, 2015

The First Thanksgiving Dinner

After landing on the shores of the new world in 1620, the Pilgrims settled in an old deserted Indian village (later renamed Plymouth Plantation, Massachusetts) of an unforgiving and unfamiliar land. These immigrants suffered greatly half starved, sickly most died off during the first winter. Enter Squanto a member of the Pokanokit Wampanoag Tribe. Kidnapped by English slavers 15 years earlier, his travels abroad, including the Caribbean Islands and England, enabled him to pick up English as a second language.

Upon his return to "the new world" Squanto was shocked to find the English settlers residing in the Indian village. After secretly surveying the settlers for awhile he took pity deciding to aid them in surviving their new surroundings. He and his tribesmen supplied the Pilgrims with deer meat, beaver skins, taught them to plant and fertilize vegetables, corn, catch, cook and clean clams and fish. The Wampanoag helped them to decipher medicinal plants from poisonous ones, and taught the settlers to build strong shelters. To show their appreciation, the Pilgrims threw a celebration of harvest on November of 1621. The month of November was chosen because it was traditionally set aside for harvest and festivals in their native England.

The First Horn of Plenty

That famous first Thanksgiving Dinner between the Pilgrims and the Pokanokit Wampanoag Tribe, America's first nation, was truly a horn of plenty. The festive event was an act of appreciation by the English settlers to the natives, and praise to God for that years bountiful harvest. Not only was food shared, but the attendees fellow-shipped, danced and played games.

Dinner was a bounty of wild turkeys, venison, waterfowls, lobster, fish, squash, corn, pumpkin, fruits and berries. With exception of the waterfowl most items on that first menu can still can be found at modern day traditional Thanksgiving Dinner tables.

Chestnut Stuffing - circa 1891

Peel a good-sized, sound shallot, chop it up very fine, place in a saucepan on the hot range with one tablespoonful of butter, and let heat for three minutes without browning, then add a quarter of a pound of sausage meat. Cook five minutes longer, then add ten finely chopped mushrooms, twelve well-pounded, cooked, peeled chestnut; mix all well together.

Season with one pinch of salt, half a pinch of pepper, half a spoonful of powdered thyme, and a teaspoonful of finely chopped parsley. Let just come to a boil, then add half an ounce of fresh bread crumbs, and twenty-four whole cooked and shelled chestnuts; mix all well together, being careful not to break the chestnuts. Let cool off, and then stuff the turkey with it.

Pmccray's Cranberry Sauce this one is real simple. 1 bag of whole cranberry, follow directions on back of bag for making the sauce. I spruce up my sauce by adding pineapples, mango slices, (all Delmonte frozen), apples or oranges not all together just whatever strikes my fancy. Works really well if you have left over fruits from pies or ham preparation. I pour liquid into a gelatin mold. This item is prepared first before all other dishes and kept refrigerated until dinner is served.

Traditional Thanksgiving Dinners

Many carry on traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas Dinner menus for generations. I was guilty of this until after my 50th birthday. It was then that I realized I was consuming dishes, during this special occasion, that I really didn't care for. So I changed my menu to reflect dishes my husband and I preferred, and our very own Thanksgiving dinner tradition was born.

As an African American, with roots in Texas, my family's traditional Thanksgiving meal consisted of; a Turkey, a ham, greens (collards and mustard), stuffing (cornbread), giblet gravy, potato salad, sweet potato pies, lemon pies, rolls, cranberry sauce and corn bread. Yep . . our cups and stomachs runneth over. Other African American Southerners prepare baked macaroni and cheese, Chitterlings and sweet potato pie.

Other mainstays at many celebratory tables across the nation; cranberry sauce (a must have), stuffing (dressing), gravy, green bean casserole, yams, mashed potatoes. Some Southern and Asian communities serve rice, corn on the cob, hominy, dumplings, deviled eggs and sauerkraut. Mid-Atlantic population prefer peas and carrots, cornbread (a New England and Southern delicacy). Salads, turnips or rutabaga bring up the veggies.

Mexican Americans serve their turkey with mole and roasted corn. Cuban-Americans traditionally serve Turkey along with Roasted Pork, and White Rice and Black Beans or Kidney Beans.

Now for the Deserts!

Sweet potato, lemon / chocolate meringue, apple, cherry, pumpkin, mince meat . . . and pecan pies. Chocolate, lemon, red velvet, pound, pineapple upside down, angel food and white cake. Noodle Kugel, a Jewish sweet dessert pudding, the list goes on and on.

Roast Turkey circa 1857

Prepare a stuffing of pork sausage meat, one beaten egg, and a few crumbs of bread; or, if sausages are to be served with the turkey, stuffing as for fillet of veal; in either, a little shred shallot is an improvement.

Stuff the bird under the breast; dredge it with flour, and put it down to a clear brisk fire; at a moderate distance the first half-hour but afterward nearer.

Baste with butter; and when the turkey is plumped up, and the steam draws towards the fire, it will be nearly done; then dredge it lightly with flour, and baste it with a little more butter, first melted in the basting-ladle. Serve with gravy in the dish, and bread sauce in a tureen. It may be garnished with sausages, or with fried force-meat, if veal-stuffing be used. Sometimes the gizzard and liver are dipped into the yolk of an egg, sprinkled with salt and cayenne, and then put under the pinions, before the bird is put to the fire. Chestnuts, stewed in gravy, are likewise eaten with turkey. A very large turkey will require three hours’ roasting; one of eight or ten pounds, two hours; and a small one, an hour and a half.

Pumpkin (Pumpion) Pie circa 1671

Take about half a pound of Pumpion and slice it, a handful of thyme, a little rosemary, parsley and sweet marjoram slipped off the stalks, and chop them small, then take the cynamon, nutmeg, pepper and six cloves, and beat them, take ten eggs and beat them, then mix them and beat them all together and put in as much sugar as you think fit, then fry them like a froize*, after it is fryed, let it stand till it be cold, then fill your pye, take sliced apples thinne round wayes, and lay a rowe of the froize, and layer the apples with currents betwixt the layer while your pye is fitted, and put in a good deal of sweet Butter before you close it, when pye is baked, take six yolks of eggs, some whitewine or vergis*, and make a caudle* of this, but not too thick, cut up the lid and put it in, stir them well together whilst the eggs and pumpions be not perceived and so serve it up.

*froize = a kind of pancake or omelet
*vergis = verjuice, juice from unripened grapes or from crab apples or other sour fruit
*caudle = a warm spiced and sugared drink

The Bird is the Word!!

On December 26, 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a bill into law making Thanksgiving a national holiday. Assigning it to the fourth (but not final) Thursday in November.

Many Ways to Serve the Bird

You can roast it, which is typical for most, smoke it, fry it - this has become quite popular in the last five years.  My brother-in-law fries a mean bird. Barbecue or go for the Turduckden. Turduckden is the combination of a turkey, stuffed with a de-boned duck and chicken, don't ask me why, but this is the newest "traditional" fair on some tables.

Vegetarians or vegans serve an alternative entrée centerpieces such as a large vegetable pie or a stuffed and baked pumpkin or tofurkey.

I use the roast method. Spray the inside of a clean, large brown paper bag (pick one up for free at any grocery store) with Pam olive oil, place cleaned, buttered, seasoned turkey in bag breast side down. Place bag in roast pan at 350. I usually put turkey in oven at 1:00 a.m. and take out of oven when I wake at 7:00 a.m on Thanksgiving day. My turkey is the way my family likes it fall off the bone, and a beautiful dark golden brown. I no longer fill turkey with stuffing due to salmonella scare preferring to serve as a side dish.

Thanksgiving dinners take eighteen hours to prepare. They are consumed in twelve minutes. Half-times take twelve minutes. This is not coincidence. Erma Bombeck

Happy Thanksgiving

I would like to wish all hubbers at Hubpages the best Thanksgiving Day. Hoping the day will bring you renewed peace, and continued blessings of harvest for the upcoming new year.

What we're really talking about is a wonderful day set aside on the fourth Thursday of November when no one diets. I mean, why else would they call it Thanksgiving? - Erma Bombeck


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    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 

      7 years ago

      Beautiful again. I wish I had some tofurkey!

    • Askme profile image


      7 years ago

      You are making me so hungry. I discovered Sweet Potato pie a few years ago. I'm not a fan of pumpkin but sweet potato is so flavorful. Now it's sweet potato pie and apple. I love pecan too. Great hub.

    • DjBryle profile image


      7 years ago from Somewhere in the LINES of your MIND, and HOPEFULLY at the RIPPLES of your HEART. =)

      I love to cook and I think I can do these anytime of the year... hehehe! I love the history and everything about this hub! Thanks for sharing! =)

    • RevLady profile image


      7 years ago from Lantana, Florida

      Well, I do not cook PM, but this hub made me wish I did (lol). Thanks, I will share this with those I know who DO cook.

      Love and hugs,

      Forever His,

    • brethodge profile image


      7 years ago from USA

      Thanks for the great ideas! My family enjoys creating new traditions while keeping up on some passed down from other family members.

    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 

      7 years ago from West By God

      Well Our's isn't going to be on Thanksgiving Day. My hubby has to work all day--7 am to 7 pm and the day before he has to work from 3 pm-11 pm, soooo we may have Thanksgiving the day before at Lunch instead. I am also going to try to make a different version of Pumpkin Pie. I am lactose intolerant and instead of using the cream for the base I am going to try to make it with Coconut Milk instead and see how my body likes that. I also found a Dairy Free Whipped Cream Recipe on hubpages too.

    • pmccray profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Utah

      Thank you Lady Guinevere . . hope you and yours have a wonderful Thanksgiving day. Peace to you.

    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 

      7 years ago from West By God

      Great hub! I loved all the history about it and the recipes you have on the side. Voted up and useful and awesome!


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