native americans and pilgrims

Thanksgiving Recipes Through the Years

Thanksgiving Recipes Through the Years

Every American has a favorite Thanksgiving recipe and knows about the pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving, but did you know Thanksgiving has not actually been celebrated nationally for long? Thanksgiving Day was not an official, national holiday until the 1860s, and only then was created as a propaganda move by Abraham Lincoln during the War Between the States. Before the war, Thanksgiving had only been celebrated haphazardly across the U.S. By the 1800s, Southerners stopped celebrating Thanksgiving altogether, since Christmas held religious significance and they viewed Thanksgiving as a decidedly “Northern” holiday.

By the 1860s the country was in the throes of war and Lincoln was searching for a way to unite the increasingly frustrated Union. Thanksgiving was a uniquely American holiday that symbolized unification: a perfect choice for Lincoln’s purposes. He made it a national holiday in 1863 with the desire to boost morale of the Union soldiers and their families as well as revive his political popularity. Agriculturally it had been an extremely prosperous year for the North (in contrast to the South, whose residents were literally starving). Union soldiers were shipped bountiful Thanksgiving feasts from all over the North, starting the tradition of shipping a Thanksgiving meal to American soldiers abroad. Since then, Thanksgiving has been celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November and has become an integral part of American culture. 

Here are some great examples of vintage posters, each with Thanksgiving recipes you could make with your family!

old-time popcorn ball recipe

The origin of popcorn can supposedly be traced back to the first Thanksgiving, when the Native Americans brought it to the feast. Until recently it was common for families to add popcorn to the list of dishes served during the holiday. This Thanksgiving recipe is for old-fashioned popcorn balls, which are lots of fun to make with a large amount of people!

Dinah Shore's pumpkin pie recipe

This advertisement dates back to America in the 1940s. Like today, it was popular for a famous star (in this case Dinah Shore) to promote certain products, and since television wasn’t around yet, companies relied on posters to sell their items. This one covers a lot of topics: it gives a pumpkin pie recipe for Thanksgiving, promotes the war effort, and advertises for the Dinah Shore Show.

Vintage recipe - trimmings for turkey

This charming poster from the 1960s has several fun recipes to make with your kids! Their recipe for pumpkin pie is as follows:

Down East Pumpkin Pie Recipe for Thanksgiving


  • 2 c. Canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 c. Maple syrup
  • 2 slightly beaten eggs
  • 1 c. Evaporated milk, divided in half
  • 2 Tbs. Butter
  • 1/2 c. Dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. Salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Cinnamon
  • 1/3 tsp. Nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. Ginger 
  • 1/8 tsp. Cloves
  • 1 Graham-cracker pie crust


  1. Mix together 2 cups canned pumpkin, 1/2 c. maple syrup, 2 slightly beaten eggs, and 1/2 cup evaporated milk.
  2. Heat another 1/2 cup evaporated milk and stir in 2 tablespoons butter. Add this to pumpkin mixture along with 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, 1/4 tsp. salt, 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/3 tsp. nutmeg, 1/4 tsp. ginger, and 1/8 tsp. ground cloves. Mix well.
  3. Pour into prepared graham-cracker piecrust. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Turn heat down to 350 degrees and bake another 50 minutes. Serve cold topped with fluffs of whipped cream.

Cooking historical Thanksgiving recipes like these can be part of the Hour Project, a student-favorite of our American History course. Instructor Dave Raymond uses stories to introduce a worldview approach to history, and encourages students to explore their God-given gifts as they explore on their own.

Learn more by clicking one of the products featured below, or download four sample lessons.

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