What is A Traditional Thanksgiving Menu?

Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving is a holiday celebrated originally in the USA and Canada that is about giving thanks for the harvest as well as celebrating the year gone by.  It is celebrated on the 4th Thursday of November in the US and the 2nd Monday of October in Canada.


The traditions that led to Thanksgiving came from the idea of the Harvest Festival as well as the idea of Days of Thanksgiving, celebrating particular events during the year.  The first time it was noted as being celebrated was at a feast in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621 but by the 1660s, was regularly celebrated each year.  The first ever national proclamation of Thanksgiving was given by George Washington on November 26th 1789 and it became an official holiday in 1863 when it was proclaimed by President Abraham Lincoln.


The main item on the menu for a traditional Thanksgiving meal is turkey.  Turkey is so central to the Thanksgiving holiday that there is now a ritual in the US each year where the President pardons a turkey and the holiday is often jokingly referred to as Turkey Day.  Accompaniments to the turkey include stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, sweetcorn, seasonal vegetables with squash being important, cranberry sauce and gravy.  All of these foods were actually native to the Americas when the European arrived and have travelled in the opposite direction, becoming a central part of the British Christmas roast dinner.

The turkey is served much in the same way we British do at Christmas; stuffed with a bread based mixture then roasted in the oven.  Sage is the herb normally used as well as carrots, onions and celery.  Deep-frying the turkey is popular in some parts of the US using a propane deep fryer, though presumably this would be in the warmer parts of the country!

If turkey isn’t an option for the meal, then goose or duck are often considered as an alternative.  These were once the traditional meat on our Christmas dinners and have made the trip to the US as an alternative for turkey.  Native fowl is also used, such as quail, and venison as it is within deer hunting season that the holiday falls.

Side dishes

The amount of side dishes considered to be traditional for Thanksgiving can be overwhelming so often a certain selection are chosen.  Cranberry sauce is a must as is stuffing or dressing and gravy.  Winter squash is a popular side dish along with sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes.  Different parts of the country will favour others including devilled eggs, green bean casserole, sauerkraut (Mid-Atlantic particularly Baltimore), cornbread (New England), rutabagas, turnips or even a salad.


The most traditional dessert, in keeping with the harvest theme, is pumpkin pie and its many variations.  Apple pie is another favourite with many and chocolate cream pie or pecan pie may be for those who like something less vegetarian.  Finally, mincemeat pies and sweet potatoes pies are also considered for the menu.


There are as many drinks considered as side dishes though spirits and cocktails are often served before the meal and unfermented apple cider with the meal, wine as well or in place of.  Southern states often have a pitcher of sweet tea available while Beaujolais nouveau is served in some households.


So, if you are preparing a traditional Thanksgiving meal for American friends or family or simply want to celebrate this holiday, there are plenty of variations in the dishes served to allow you to accommodate your families’ tastes.

About A Taste of Devon

I've always loved food with a passion, I've spent my whole life developing recipes, learning new techniques and cooking every spare minute I get, in 2014 I appeared on MasterChef where I received positive feedback from John Torode and Series 2 Winner Peter Bayless. These days I run A Taste of Devon - a website dedicated to the food and drink scene in Devon.
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