Eat, Drink, & be Grateful!
By Ana Brazil
November 13, 2020

Most of us know the phrase “Eat, drink, & be merry”, but I’m definitely more grateful than merry this November. (And guess what I learned today? There is no single “Eat, drink, & be merry” quote; there are two phrases from the Bible which have been cobbled into one.)

I’ve always been grateful to share Thanksgiving Dinner with my loved ones, whether the gathering was large or small. And although our table this year will be down to just me & my husband, we’ll host the memories of friends and family from Thanksgivings past.

Of course we’ll eat turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, & gravy. And ambrosia, sweet potatoes, and brussel sprouts casserole. And pumpkin cheesecake. But even though Thanksgiving is a meal of traditions and most of us have been eating and cooking the same Thanksgiving menu for decades, there’s still room to try a new recipe or two.

So how about trying a recipe from Thanksgiving Past this year?

Here’s a round up of some online recipe books and menus of the 19th and early 20 centuries that could give your Holiday Season a little more vintage flair.

Mrs. Hale’s New Cook Book (1857)

It would make sense to start with Mrs. Sarah Hale, the writer and editor who is credited with persuading President Lincoln to formalize the celebration of Thanksgiving in 1863. But for some reason Mrs. Hale’s New Cook Book doesn’t mention Thanksgiving and barely mentions Christmas.


Miss Leslie’s Lady’s New Receipt-Book (1851)

Miss Leslie’s Lady’s New Receipt-Book mentions Thanksgiving-Day only once in her Receipt-Book (and what the heck is a Receipt-Book anyway?), but there are numerous references to Christmas. Including her suggested Menu, although she declines to include receipts:

Roast turkey ~ cranberry sauce

boiled ham ~ turnips ~ beets


Mince pies

For New Year’s dinner Miss Leslie suggests:

A pair of roast geese with apple sauce ~ smoked tongue

turnips (I guess we like turnips, eh?)

cold-slaw ~ winter-squash (ditto winter-square)

Plum pudding

The White House Cook Book (1887)

The White House Cook Book, written by Mrs. F.L. Gillette, offered a Thanksgiving Day menu (page 498) with roast turkey, cranberry sauce (which is almost my recipe, except I only use one cup of sugar), parsnip fritters, lemon jelly, baked squash, and pumpkin pie.

The Christmas Day Menu (page 500) included Roast Goose, Feather Griddle Cakes, Lobster Salad, Cold (not Cole) Slaw, Delicate Cake, and Charlotte Russe.

Also in The White House Cook Book’s favor: “The book has been prepared with great care. Every recipe has been tried and tested, and can be relied upon as one of the best of its kind. It is comprehensive, filling completely, it is believed, the requirements of housekeepers of all classes.“

Suffrage Cook Book (1915)

Even before the anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment in August, the Suffrage Cook Book received it’s fair share of publicity and interpretation.

“Now that women are coming into their own, and being sincerely interested in the welfare of the race, it is entirely proper that they should prescribe the food, balance the ration, and tell how it should be prepared and served….Eating and drinking are so essential to our living and to our usefulness, and so directly involved with our future state, that these must be classed with our sacred duties. Hence the necessity for so educating the children that they will know how to live, and how to develop into hale, hearty and wholesome men and women, thus insuring the best possible social and political conditions for the people of this country.

So say the members of Equal Franchise Associations throughout the length and breadth of our land, and beyond the border as far as true civilization extends.”

What did the suffragettes suggest for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner? Nothing except this recipe for Christmas Cakes:

½ lb. Butter
6 Eggs
1 lb. Powdered Sugar
Flour enough to roll
Beat eggs separate

Cream butter; add sugar. Separate eggs; beat and add. Then flour to roll.

Ana’s note: I’m sure something got baked somewhere, although this is a perfect example of why you should try out a recipe before expecting it to shine on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day.

The Golden Rule Cook Book (1907)

If you want to celebrate your Thanksgiving or Christmas without meat, you’re in luck! Because Vegetarianism has been around for a long time.

The Golden Rule Cook Book provides “Six hundred recipes for meatless dishes. Originated collected and arranged by M. R. L. Sharpe.”













Mrs. Wilson’s Cook Book (1920)

When I first spied Mrs. Wilson’s Cook Book and saw the 1920 copyright, I wondered if the book was written by the Mrs. Wilson of the moment: Edith Bolling Wilson, second wife of President Woodrow Wilson. Even though Edith was a little bit busy running the country in 1920, I thought she might have made time to write a book also. But no, Mrs. Wilson the cookbook author turned out to be Mary A. Wilson, “formerly Queen Victoria’s Cuisiniere and Instructor Domestic Science, University of Virginia summer school”.

Despite her British credentials, Mrs. Wilson had firm ideas about hos Americans should eat during the holidays.

Here’s her menu for a “Family thanksgiving dinner for six persons, from a New England farm house”.

Oyster Soup Pickled Onions


Chili Sauce

Boston Brown Bread

Fish Balls

Roast Turkey ~ Brown Gravy

Oyster Filling ~ Cranberry Sauce


Baked Potatoes ~ Mashed Turnips

Creamed Onions ~ Buttered Parsnips

Coleslaw ~ Pepperhash ~ Corn Relish

Jams, Jellies and Conserves

Mince and Pumpkin Pies


Maple Fudge ~ Preserved Plums

If the above New England farm house meal is just too much for your small COVID-19 table, consider this menu selection:

“The bride housewife who is planning a Thanksgiving dinner for “just us two” frequently finds herself in a dilemma. Turkey is much too large for her and chicken hardly appeals to her for this day. However, below are some suggestive menus for a Thanksgiving dinner for two.”

Celery ~ Radishes

Oysters on the Half Shell

Planked Squab ~ Spiced Grape Jam

Baked Sweet Potatoes ~ Creamed Onions

Endive Salad ~ Russian Dressing

Individual Mince Tarts


Cheese and Crackers ~ Nuts and Raisins

FUN FACT about Mrs. Wilson’s Cook Book: She also includes menus for Hallowe’en. Jack o’Lantern Cakes, anyone?


if you don’t see a cookbook or recipe above that tickles your holiday fancy, you might find one you like in one of these stunning digitized cook book collections:

·      Community Cookbooks: An Online Collection from the Library of Congress

·      Peacock-Harper Culinary History Collection at the University Libraries of Virginia Tech.

·      Feeding America at the Michigan State University.

·      Project Gutenberg

·      Vintage Cookbooks

Bon Appétit & Happy Holidays!

Ana Brazil
Written by Ana Brazil

Ana Brazil writes historical crime fiction celebrating bodacious American heroines. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Historical Novel Society, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers.
Ana’s award-winning historical mystery FANNY NEWCOMB & THE IRISH CHANNEL RIPPER is set in Gilded Age New Orleans. Her upcoming October 17 2023 release is THE RED-HOT BLUES CHANTEUSE, a Viola Vermillion Vaudeville mystery set in 1919 San Francisco.

View Ana’s PLW Profile

Share This Post


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *