Home to Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving today, and I’m taking the day off to spend time with family. But in the spirit of the holiday, I thought I’d reprint a lightly revised version of last year’s Thanksgiving post, to share with you a few vintage recipes and a nice Currier & Ives lithograph from the period.1

Thanksgiving, 1867

Durrie, George H. and John Schutler, Home to Thanksgiving, ca. 1867, New York, Currier & Ives. National Gallery of Art, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon. Public Domain. Click to to open larger image in a new window.

By 1867, when this sentimental lithograph was first published, the Clark family had been living in the City of Milwaukee for about six years. Family patriarch Jonathan M. Clark had died a decade earlier, and his only son, Henry M. Clark, had been gone for about a year and a half. Family matriarch Mary (Turck) Clark was living in a Milwaukee house with her unmarried daughters, Libbie, Persie, Theresa, Laura and Josie.

The Clark’s eldest child, Caroline, had married William W. Woodward in 1861. In 1867 the Woodwards were still living and farming in Granville, Milwaukee County, about nine miles south of the old Clark farm in Mequon.

So in 1867, Mary (Turck) Clark and her daughters would not have celebrated Thanksgiving at the old family farm in Mequon. But a picture like this Currier & Ives lithograph might have stirred fond memories of family and friends gathering for earlier Thanksgiving celebrations at the old Clark place.

And, you might wonder, what did the Clarks and their neighbors eat for Thanksgiving in Wisconsin in the mid-1800s? Glad you asked…

Typical Thanksgiving dishes, 1845

Here is a suggested menu for Thanksgiving dinner, as found on page 72 of Mrs. Esther Allen Howland’s invaluable New England Economical Housekeeper and Family Receipt [Recipe] Book, published in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1845:

Click to open larger image in new window. Yes, that does seem like a lot of poultry for one meal. [Ed.]

Mrs. Howland’s book is available as a free GoogleBook (read it online or as a downloadable pdf), and is highly recommended for its insights into the world of “women’s work” in the 19th century. For more information about the author and her popular book, this is a good place to start.

But if you just need help preparing our traditional Thanksgiving main dish, let’s go to the original source:

To stuff and roast a Turkey, or Fowl, 1796 style

Click to open large image in new window. (Library of Congress)

These fine2 recipes for turkey or other fowl are found on page 18 of this book:

Click to open large image in new window. (Library of Congress).

The first American cook book

Yes, that’s American cookery, or, The art of dressing viands, fish, poultry, and vegetables : and the best modes of making pastes, puffs, pies, tarts, puddings, custards, and preserves : and all kinds of cakes, from the imperial plumb to plain cake, adapted to this country, and all grades of life, written by Amelia Simmons, “an American Orphan,” and published in Hartford by Hudson & Goodwin, for the author, in 1796.

American cookery was the first cook book known to be written by an American, and

[…] used terms known to Americans, and ingredients that were readily available to American cooks. It was the first cookbook to include New England specialties such as Indian puddingjohnnycake, and what is now called pumpkin pie. The cookbook was the first to suggest serving cranberry with turkey, and the first to use the Hudson River Valley Dutch word cookey. It introduced the use of pearlash, a precursor of baking soda, as a chemical leavener, starting a revolution in the making of American cakes.

Wikipedia “American Cookery”

It was a popular book, “printed, reprinted and pirated for 30 years after its first appearance.” American Cookery is considered by the Library of Congress to be “one of the books that shaped America.”3

Also, don’t forget that this book uses both the “long S” and “short S” forms of the letter.4 So when you see something like this:

Click to open large image in new window. (Library of Congress).

You’ll need to Boil and mash 3 pints potatoes, wet them with butter, add sweet herbs, pepper, salt, fill and roast as above,5 and so on.

For more on Amelia Simmons and her influential book, the Wikipedia article is quite comprehensive and has links to additional sources. And you can view and download a pdf of one of only four extant copies of the whole book at this Library of Congress link.

Looking ahead

I may take the rest of the week off from blogging. I’ll be back soon with more Clark House history.

Thank you for reading, and Happy Thanksgiving to all.



  1. Regular readers will note that parts of this post appeared in November, 2020, as How to stuff and roast a turkey – 1796 style.

  2. Actually, I have not tested these recipes and really don’t know whether they are delicious or healthy. They look tasty, but whenever you cook a big bird with stuffing inside, proceed with caution

  3. For the complete list of the Library of Congress’s Books that Shaped America, click here. Amelia is in some fine company.

  4. For more on the Long-S, see the paragraphs on Spelling in the 19th-century: long-S, in this earlier post.

  5. By the way, roasting the turkey by hanging “down over a steady fire” still works nicely, but be sure you hang the bird above the fire with a stout enough cord or chain that will not burn through from the flames as it cooks, causing the bird to fall into the ashes. (Don’t ask me how I know this, but I do…)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.