Thanksgiving Day menu at Hotel St. James, Bradford, PA, 1899.
Thanksgiving Day menu at Hotel St. James, Bradford, PA, 1899. Rare Book Division, The New York Public Library

10 Amazing Thanksgiving Menus From History

Nov 25, 2015

These days, the typical American Thanksgiving menu is pretty standardized: turkey, stuffing, potatoes, pie. Back in 1899, when the holiday's status as a national observance was still relatively new, those dishes were already being consumed but holiday menus of the time could show a little variety. For example, on Nov. 30, 1899, at the Plaza Hotel, you could get turkey stuffed with chestnuts for $0.75—or sweetbreads, cooked "Parisienne" style, for a dollar.

Other holiday standouts from history include fried rabbit ($0.25) from NYC's M.F. Lyons Dining Room in 1906, a "frozen Tom and Jerry" (like eggnog, for $0.05) at Boston's Quincy House in 1899 and more turtle soup than you could shake a wishbone at.

That Plaza menu is just one of many historical bills of fare that have been digitized by the New York Public Library's "What's on the Menu?" project. The Library has 45,000 menus dating as far back as the 1840s, but because the calligraphy and typography is often impossible for a computer to read, their text sat un-digitized until recently. Recently however, with help from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Library has been able to set up a website through which volunteers can manually transcribe the menus and enter the info into their database. In its first three months, 9,000 menus were transcribed—and that number has since nearly doubled.

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