Posted by Ancestry Team on November 21, 2016 in Guest Bloggers, In The Community

This article originally appeared in Ancestry Magazine, November-December 2007

Full Homemade Thanksgiving Dinner

Since Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, Americans have enjoyed Thanksgiving celebrations on the last Thursday of November. That is until 1939. Because of the Great Depression, retailers and businesses pressured President Franklin D. Roosevelt to move Thanksgiving up one week, thus extending the holiday shopping season and, hopefully, increasing sales. FDR complied and, surprisingly, was met with intense opposition. Thousands of letters reached the White House doors, telling of disrupted school schedules, turkey bowls, and family reunions. Some states ignored this presidential proclamation and celebrated Thanksgiving at its traditional time. After two years of a divided nation, FDR appeased the outrage and declared the fourth Thursday of November as a national holiday.


Of commercially available meats today, turkey is the only one native to North America. New World explorers took to it immediately; by the 1500s, turkeys had already immigrated to Italy, France, and England, courtesy of these hungry adventurers.

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Stuffing officially debuted around two millennia ago. In Apicus de re Coquinaria, the oldest existing cookbook, a Roman chef describes how to make vegetable, liver, or brain stuffing to fill a chicken, a pig, or even a dormouse.

How Do You Like Your Stuffing?

19th century: oyster stuffing

Southerners: pecan, rice, or cornbread stuffing

Italians: sausage stuffing

Germans: dried fruit, potato, or apple stuffing

Stuffing vs. Dressing

What’s in a name? That may depend on how closely you associate yourself with the Victorian Era. The term “stuffing” has been around since the 1500s, but in Victorian England, the term “stuffing” seemed a tad barbaric. The term “dressing” was introduced to please the very proper society.


“Crane-berries”—named by German and Dutch settlers for the plant’s birdlike appearance—were used extensively by Native Americans in cakes and dyes. The cranberry is one of only three major fruits native to North America (blueberries and grapes are the other two), so it’s no wonder they’ve become such an indispensable part of Thanksgiving dinner. Of the 400 million pounds of cranberries Americans consume each year, 20 percent are eaten during the week of Thanksgiving.


What—instant potatoes weren’t developed by NASA? Freeze-dried spuds are far older than space travel, dating back more than 400 years. Incas in South America would mash potatoes and spread them into a thin layer, leaving them to dry in the freezing temperatures. The end result was chuno. Additionally, civilizations have also used potatoes to heal broken bones, prevent rheumatism and indigestion, and even tell time by how long it took a potato to cook.


It’s not all Ranch (developed 1954) and Thousand Island (developed 1897). See how civilizations dressed their salads through the years:

China 3000 BC — Soy Sauce

Babylon 500 BC — Oil and Vinegar

Rome 50 BC — Worcestershire (equivalent) or Salt

France 1800 — Mayonnaise

America 2007 — Ranch or Blue Cheese

Three fresh baked Thanksgiving Pies. A Pecan Pie, Apple pie and


Flaky, buttery crusts have come a long way since the pie’s conception hundreds of years ago. Originally called coffins, pies were simply vessels with rigid crusts that were intended to preserve the filling within. Since 1620, when the Pilgrims first brought them to America, pies evolved to fit their environment. Native Americans looked to fruits and berries to fill pies. Westward migration brought a variety of regional specialties.

Pumpkin Pie

It’s unlikely this Thanksgiving staple was present for the first Thanksgiving dinner—pie-baking ovens just weren’t available to colonists so early on. But they undoubtedly had pumpkin, stewed with milk, honey, and spices in the pumpkin shell.

Apple Pie

Nothing more American than baseball and apple pie, right? Not according to the British. Apple pie was made popular during Queen Elizabeth’s reign as a substitute for meat. You can imagine the colonists’ shock—and subsequent sadness—when the only apples they found in their new land were crab apples. By the mid 17th century, settlers had sent for their favorite fruits, and apple pie was restored.

Pecan Pie

It is believed that the French developed this Southern favorite soon after settling New Orleans. Though it’s probable that American Indians introduced them to the pecan, the first pecan pie recipe can be traced back only to 1925, placing it at the kids’ table of Thanksgiving pies.


  1. MKath

    Many people don’t know that Virginia colonists had the first American Thanksgiving. It took place in Dec. 1619 at what is now known as Berkeley Plantation. With Lincoln’s declaration during the Civil War, the New England Thanksgiving between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians became popular. Because of this Pilgrim Thanksgiving story, many Americans still don’t give credit to Jamestown for being the first permanent English colony in America.

  2. sara danison

    The Roosevelt change in dates explains a curiosity that I would often through my life wonder why do I sometimes think it’s too early for Thanksgiving,even this ear I “felt ” this. We were an extended family living with my mother’s parents. My grandmother refused to change anything the government said to change. Thankgiving was the last Thursday .One year she got a turkey egg, hatched it, we raised it and 15 people ate that aggravating thing. He chased everything and everyone. From then on we fried chicken and had many kinds of stuffing. I was born in1935 and remember the Roosevelts and how hard they worked.


    the Roosev

  3. sara danison

    The time noted on my comment did not show I posted in Eastern time. Does this mean all comments will show what I take to be your time zone. This may become confusing later for Mars inhabitants.

  4. Lorraine Horner

    Grandmother of ex-husband, originally from VA, roasted the turkey breast side down for most of roasting time, turning over for breast to brown during the last hour of roasting. I continue to do the same, letting turkey rest at least 30 min, and the whole turkey result is the most most, tender turkey ever! The dressing she made was from a loaf of French or Italian bread, of course, seasoned to taste which was also delicious.

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