A Thanksgiving Feast from the Year 1900

Traditional 21st century Thanksgiving dinner.
What we think of as the traditional Thanksgiving day meal is actually not very traditional at all. Families from the 1900s had some unexpected dishes on their holiday tables like clear green turtle, oyster stew and plum pudding with rum sauce.
Photo courtesy of Ben Franske (November 2002).

How many of us can say our family serves larded tenderloin of beef or clear green turtle for Thanksgiving dinner? I’m guessing not many, but beef, turtle, duck, lamb and an assortment of other dishes filled the table of wealthy Americans in the early 1900s. As I pass the submerged Ghost Town of Alma on the drive to my parents’ house for this year’s Thanksgiving, I can’t help but salivate at the lavish feast that would have graced the table of the Tevis Estate in 1917.

At its peak, the grand Tevis Estate covered 2500 acres along Highway 17 by the Lexington Reservoir. It went through several owners but the last, Dr. Harry L. Tevis, made the largest impact on the land. During his 25 years on the estate, Dr. Tevis had up to 100 servants and ranch hands to help care for a large farm, dahlia and rose gardens, stables, and to help throw at least one extravagant Thanksgiving dinner.

So, what might Dr. Tevis have served at this feast of all feasts? If he decided to really go all out, he may have served a ten-course meal like this one from the New York Park Avenue Hotel in 1900. Keep in mind, this is not even the full menu. Each of these courses includes at least three other dishes! (See the full menu here.)

A sampling of the 1900 menu at the Park Avenue Hotel in New York

Blue Point or Cape Cod Oysters
Clear green turtle
Creamed fresh mushrooms on toast
Boneless smelts with anchovy butters
Saddle of lamb with kidney beans
Larded tenderloin of beef with stuffed artichoke
Potted quail with brussel sprouts
Rum Punch
Rhode Island Turkey with stuffed chestnuts and cranberry sauce
Suckling pig with sage stuffing
Gosling with apple sauce
Mashed potatoes and southern-style sweet potatoes
Red-head duck with currant jelly
English plum pudding with brandy sauce
Pumpkin pie, apple pie, assorted fancy cakes, wine jelly, frozen pudding, strawberry ice cream

And this is less than half the menu!

On most Thanksgiving menus from the early 1800s to the mid-1900s there is always some form of oysters (oyster soup, oyster sauce, oysters on the half-shell, oyster pie) which as a Californian, I’m assuming is an east-coast thing. I mean, oysters on Thanksgiving? Sounds a little fishy if you ask me.

What are some foods that you can always bet will be served at your family’s Thanksgiving dinner? Let us know in the comments below!

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  1. Sources Used

    • Ghost Towns of the Santa Cruz Mountains by John V. Young. Paper Vision Press; 1979.
    • Food Timeline: American Thanksgiving. Foodtimeline.org website. Published November, 2013. http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodthanksgiving.html
    • Patell and Waterman’s History of New York. ahistoryofnewyork.com website. Published Published November, 2009. http://ahistoryofnewyork.com/2009/11/thanksgiving-linkage-underdog/

About The Author

Molly Lautamo is a content strategist and writer in Santa Cruz, California. She loves exploring and researching her surroundings and then writing about her discoveries to inspire others to get out and explore too. You can check out more of Molly's writing at mollylautamo.com.

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