Introduction: In this article, Gena Philibert-Ortega searches old newspapers to find recipes for regional Thanksgiving dishes. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.”
I was reading an article recently about regional dishes people feast on at Thanksgiving, and wondered if it was really true that in today’s world the food on our Thanksgiving tables could be that much different. (1) After all, nationally people take their food cues from the same cooking shows and food magazines. Is there really much of a difference between the Thanksgiving I serve in Southern California and the one my friend sits down to in Boston, Massachusetts?
There have been regional differences historically that were affected by factors including access to food stuffs and immigration, but today tastes can also be influenced by new recipes we discover in print or online, what is comfortably familiar, and what foods hold memories for us.
How about your modern-day Thanksgiving? Is it influenced by where you live? Here are three “regional” dishes that, depending on where you live, you may be serving this Thanksgiving.
One of the dishes unfamiliar to me that was mentioned in the article I read was Indian Pudding (also known as Hasty Pudding). I asked a New England friend whether he eats this at Thanksgiving and he said that, while he has had this dish, he has never had it at Thanksgiving. I then asked some Facebook friends and one from New York said that Indian Pudding was a dish she enjoyed each Thanksgiving. So, what is Indian Pudding?
According to an NPR article, Indian Pudding is a dish almost unknown outside of New England that incorporates cornmeal, milk, and molasses that is steamed or boiled. (2) The Dictionary of American Food and Drink states: “the name comes from the fact that corn was called “Indian corn” by the early English settlers, and anything containing corn or cornmeal might have the adjective Indian so applied. The dish was also called ‘sagamite’ by the Indians, and in the late seventeenth century, ‘hasty pudding’ by the colonists.” The first recipe for Indian pudding was printed in 1722. (3)
An 1887 newspaper column includes a recipe for both baked and steamed Indian Pudding.
Creamed Onions is another regional recipe people enjoy on Thanksgiving. It’s a pretty simple recipe that combines cooked onions with a white sauce.
According to the Food Timeline website, recipes for creamed onions started appearing in American cookbooks at the end of the 19th century, but similar recipes for “onion sauce” are found even earlier. (4)
According to this 1963 newspaper article, creamed onions is a Thanksgiving must – but the writer thinks the time it takes to make the dish is excessive, so a substitute recipe that uses canned products, a jar of onions and a package of mushroom sauce mix is offered.
Frog Eye Salad
Frog Eye Salad seems to be a more confusing regional food. Online articles differ in opinion on what region the salad originally hails from, ranging from the West, Midwest, and Southwest. Online articles also claim it’s a staple of Mormon potlucks. I found references to it as far back as the 1960s but no definitive history of the dish.
A google search will bring up various photos of what Frog Eye Salad looks like, and newspapers do include recipes for it including this one from Las Vegas, Nevada.
What Are You Having?
I love asking my Facebook friends about their Thanksgiving dinner table. While we all share some common dishes no matter where we live, there are differences according to your area’s history, food availability, ethnic or religious background, family preferences, and tastes. My Facebook friends told me of having Sauerkraut in Maryland, Butter Tarts in Canada, and Sugar Cream Pie in Pennsylvania.
Search the old newspapers in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives to find more Thanksgiving recipes.
Whatever graces your Thanksgiving table this year, I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving meal!
(1) “What Thanksgiving dinner looks like in 16 regions across the country,” Insider (https://www.insider.com/regional-thanksgiving-dishes-us-2017-11: accessed 10 November 2019).
(2) “It’s National Indian Pudding Day! Here’s why You Should Celebrate,” NPR (https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2013/11/13/244983031/its-national-indian-pudding-day-heres-why-you-should-celebrate: accessed 10 November 2019).
(3) Mariani, John F. The Dictionary of American Food and Drink. New Haven: Ticker & Fields, 1983.
(4) “Creamed Onions,” Food Timeline (http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodfaq.html#creamedonions: accessed 10 November 2019).