Thanksgiving: Get Ready for Turkey Leftovers!

Introduction: In this article, Gena Philibert-Ortega searches old newspapers to find recipes for the Thanksgiving Sandwich, using leftovers from the big Thanksgiving dinner. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.”

Just like Thanksgiving Day, you already know what you will eat in the days after: turkey leftovers.

One of the more popular leftover concoctions is the Thanksgiving Sandwich. When did this idea of placing almost everything from the Thanksgiving meal in between two slices of bread begin? One online article I read placed the invention in the post-World War II years. Historical newspapers suggest an even earlier date.

Photo: a Thanksgiving sandwich, made with turkey, dressing, and cranberry sauce. Credit: Jason Lam; Wikimedia Commons.
Photo: a Thanksgiving sandwich, made with turkey, dressing, and cranberry sauce. Credit: Jason Lam; Wikimedia Commons.

Turkey Sandwiches

Though I don’t know the exact year, families started making a sandwich using Thanksgiving leftovers at least by the 1920s. This 1937 newspaper article included several suggestions for post-Thanksgiving meals including a turkey sandwich. The professional chef interviewed for the article suggested a sandwich made from:

“…toast with alternate layers of white and dark meat, poulette sauce covering it, and served with fresh peas. The sauce is made with a meat base, with sherry and mushrooms.”

An article about Thanksgiving leftovers, Dallas Morning News newspaper 26 November 1937
Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 26 November 1937, page 1

I did find recipes for a Thanksgiving sandwich that didn’t include all of the familiar leftovers. The only possible leftovers on this 1923 sandwich were turkey and olives. It also includes bacon which makes anything better.

A recipe for a turkey sandwich, Evansville Press newspaper 29 November 1923
Evansville Press (Evansville, Indiana), 29 November 1923, page 9

Away from Home

It’s not just those at home who used quintessential turkey leftovers for meals. A look at restaurants’ advertisements and menus right before and just after Thanksgiving shows turkey sandwiches with gravy and cranberry sauce. In 1923 the Boston Store in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, advertised a lunchroom special of a hot turkey sandwich with brown gravy and cranberry sauce for 40 cents (equal to about $7.14 today).*

An ad for a turkey sandwich, Milwaukee Journal newspaper 12 November 1923
Milwaukee Journal (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), 12 November 1923, page 12

Recipes for the Days after Thanksgiving

Will you be having turkey sandwiches after the big Thanksgiving meal? Old newspapers have several ideas to make your sandwich better than most. This 1957 recipe, aimed at child chefs, includes cutting the jellied cranberry sauce and bread using a cookie cutter. Cream cheese is suggested in lieu of mayonnaise.

A recipe for a Thanksgiving sandwich, Milwaukee Journal newspaper 18 November 1957
Milwaukee Journal (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), 18 November 1957, page 54

This similar sandwich recipe from 1987 called for a dark bread, Dijon mustard, and a spreadable cheese. A Cranberry-Apple Chutney can take the place of cranberry sauce.

A recipe for a turkey sandwich, Morning Journal newspaper 25 November 1987
Morning Journal (Lorain, Ohio), 25 November 1987, page 31

Most Thanksgiving Sandwich recipes include turkey and cranberry sauce. What makes this next recipe different is the addition of stuffing, celery seed (find it in your grocery store spice aisle), cranberry or grape jelly, and stuffed olives.

A recipe for a turkey sandwich, Advocate newspaper 26 November 2009
Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 26 November 2009, page 78

The Thanksgiving Sandwich is also known as the Pilgrim Sandwich in some places. In this next recipe, the cranberry sauce and Dijon mustard are combined to make a cranberry mustard. A sage mustard is also prepared to spread on the bread. Gouda cheese and spinach are added to the sandwich, so consider adding Gouda to your Thanksgiving appetizer trays so that you can use the leftovers.

A recipe for a turkey sandwich, Watertown Daily Times newspaper 19 January 2013
Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, New York), 19 January 2013, page 37

Happy Thanksgiving!

Really, if you think about it, many different types of Thanksgiving leftovers can be featured in a Thanksgiving Sandwich. Veggies from a relish tray, cheeses, cranberry sauce, stuffing, cooked veggies, and turkey all have a place in the sandwich. Add some hearty bread that won’t fall apart, and you definitely have an easy leftover meal.

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Note on the header image: a turkey sandwich. Credit: Vancouver Bites!; Wikimedia Commons.

* “Inflation Calculator,” Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank ( :accessed 31 October 2023).

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