Exploring traditional Thanksgiving dishes’ origins

Why yams, turkey, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie for thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving Dinner: Take-Out And Dine-In options around the QC

SHREVEPORT, La. (Ark-La-Tex Weekend) - Most of us love Thanksgiving dinner, and it is a huge part of holiday celebrations every year, but why these specific dishes?

Every November the table is set up and families and friends gather for one of our nation’s biggest holidays, Thanksgiving. Laid out on almost every table is pumpkin pie, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, and of course the biggest part of the dinner, the turkey.

The big question is, why these specific dishes? Here’s what I discovered.

Thanksgiving Dinner:

Green Bean Casserole - Starting with the most controversial dish of all of the Thanksgiving meals, the green bean casserole. It is often either loved or hated by everyone, but why did this dish start gracing our holiday meals?

It started in 1955, Dorcas Reilley that worked for Campbell’s Soup Company actually came up with the idea of using Campell’s cream of mushroom soup and something everyone had on hand, frozen green beans. Originally it wasn’t considered a traditional side dish for Thanksgiving, but then the dish was featured in the Associated Press Thanksgiving edition in 1955. After that point, it was implied to be part of the Thanksgiving feast.

In 2002, Reilley presented the original green bean casserole dish recipe to the Nation’s Inventor’s Hall of Fame.

Pumpkin Pie - The delicious dessert, pumpkin pie is one of the most important parts of the big feast. The northeastern Native American tribes grew squash and pumpkins as one of their food sources. Accordingly, when the first settlers came, the Native Americans gifted them pumpkins and taught the settlers the many uses for the winter squash.

The early settlers likely has the dish without crust, they often stewed pumpkins and filled the hollowed-out shell with milk, honey, and spices then baked it. Eventually, this led to pumpkin pie being served at the first Thanksgiving dinners.

Cranberry Sauce - It was believed, due to the importance of cranberries and their abundance at the time, that the pilgrims and the Native Americans would have eaten them on the first Thanksgiving.

Cranberries are uniquely a North American fruit, but they were not marketed and sold until the middle of the 18th century by a revolutionary war veteran, Henry Hill. Then at the turn of the 20th century, Marcus L. Urann, a lawyer who left his legal career and bought a cranberry bog, was the first to can the fruit, creating Ocean Spray Cranberries.

Candied Yams - The candied yams have a mysterious origin. The sweet potato is thought to originate from South America. It’s thought that Columbus encountered the sweet potato in his early voyages to the West Indies. He is credited with introducing it to Spain around 1500. It also was grown in what is now known as Virginia. Native Americans were known to grow sweet potatoes by the 1700s, and soon the plant became popular in the south.

Then in 1863, writer, activist, influential editor, and the “godmother of thanksgiving” Sarah Joseph Hale wrote a letter to President Lincoln that convinced him to support legislation establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday. Later, Hale then included a sweet potato pie recipe in a magazine article she wrote in 1887.

Then in 1893, Fannie Farmer, author of the Boston Cooking School Cookbook, included a recipe for glazed sweet potatoes. Then in 1917, marshmallows were added to the dish, creating the candied yams we know today.

For a unique sweet potato recipe, check out [Dom’s Sweet Potato Casserole].

Turkey - It’s said the reason we eat turkey is that the bird was so abundant at the time the first Thanksgiving happened. In the little evidence we do have for the first feast, there was no solid evidence that turkey was served. The only evidence we have is that the pilgrims provided wild “fowl”, which could have been turkeys, but historians believe it was probably duck or geese.

In the 19th century, however, turkey became a popular dish for several reasons. It was plentiful, family farms often had turkeys available, and it was big enough to feed a family. This made it the obvious choice for Thanksgiving meals.

Learn more about turkeys by checking out>> 12 Fun Facts About Turkeys to Know

If this is your first time cooking a Thanksgiving meal be sure to check out [Turkey tips for new cooks].

Brittney Hazelton

Brittney Hazelton

Brittney Hazelton was born and raised in Shreveport, La. and attended Southwood High School. They're a professional, self-taught local artist and is now one of KSLA’s digital content producers.