For early Thanksgiving meals, I bet someone went out and hunted a turkey, gathered some cranberries, and harvested some spinach and beans. Today, we might purchase our freshly killed turkey (“hunted” by someone else), buy a container of fresh cranberries, and get our veggies from the local farmers’ market. How we obtain the food has changed, but the ingredients are essentially the same.
It would seem that Thanksgiving dinner has evolved along a straight line, but I think it made a big detour. There was a time, in the mid-20th century, when the idea of Thanksgiving dinner was similar but the “raw ingredients” were anything but natural and basic. Sure there was turkey, cranberry sauce, and trimmings. The turkey, however, was frozen and inoculated with something mysterious to keep it moist; the cranberry sauce was striped, thanks to the indentations of the can from which it emerged; the green beans appeared more grey than green because they were covered with mushroom soup containing merely a hint of mushrooms and fried onions, also canned, that were more heavy on the flavor additives than the onion.
It tasted delicious because it tasted like Thanksgiving and it was prepared with love. Quick, modern, and easy were the mantras, rather than fresh, local, and organic. Ignorance was bliss, and sometimes yummy.
If you are feeling nostalgic for a Thanksgiving meal the Jetsons would love, here is a favorite of the Braskich family, courtesy of Naomi Coquillon, Education Specialist at our museum. She wants you to enjoy its bright green color, and notes that in her house, it is a side dish—not a dessert!
2 packages instant pistachio pudding mix
1 20 oz. can crushed pineapple, drained
1 ½ cups miniature marshmallows
1 12 oz. container frozen whipped topping, thawed
½ cup chopped pecans
In a large bowl, combine pudding mix and pineapple. Add nuts then marshmallows and mix well. Fold into whipped topping.
Sprinkle with additional pecans. Serve chilled.
We hope you have a peaceful and joyful Thanksgiving. Will any artificially flavored, brightly colored, or instant recipes be enjoyed at your feast?
Kathy Sklar is the business program manager at the National Museum of American History.