“Real Men Don’t Carve” and Other Trends from Thanksgivings Past

Turkey dinners of yore at the Home of the Friendless. From Robert N. Dennis Collection, NYPL

When the Brits arrived in the 1600s, they weren’t just conquering new land; they were discovering a whole new foodshed. As Gourmet noted in their November 2000 issue, “A fine English meal of a leg of mutton with a chutney of currants and barberries might be translated in America as turkey with cranberry sauce. Yet the indigenous custom of keeping a pot simmering over a fire all day so family members could help themselves as they got hungry was not adopted by the newcomers.” (What a loss!)

Upon later Thanksgivings, the times would continue to dictate what we’d find on our holiday tables. During World War II, we dealt with shortages and sent turkeys and sides overseas. In the late 1980s, New York started eating out on Thanksgiving with à la carte menus and feeding the needy in soup kitchens, and our president started setting a specially appointed White House bird free. In the ’90s, we started taking-out our holiday meals and using microwaves and questioning the ability of the next generation of men to properly carve a turkey, or so says the Times article “Real Men Don’t Carve.”

In the early 2000s, we welcomed heritage breeds and vegetarian alternatives and tried to get back to local, authentic cuisine, whatever that means. For the natives, that might have been a big pot of corn and beans, maybe pumpkin, too. Since white-tailed deer roamed across the Manhattan island when it was still grass and dirt and trees and rocks, maybe there’d be one of those roasting over a fire pit. But without the English, there’d be no salt or alcohol, or what the natives called “English flies,” meaning the bees that gave us honey. So thanks to all that was born here, found here and that traveled here to supply us with the diverse abundance we have today. And to whoever’s idea it was to start floating giant, inflatable superheros down 34th Street.

Newsletter