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19th Century Thanksgiving

November 23, 2015

Thanksgiving is one of America’s favorite holidays. Generally filled with food and family, and often football, it is a time to reflect on the blessings of the year and share our table with each other.

Thanksgiving table

Iowans in the late 19th century prized the holiday as well. They were already filling it with prized traditional recipes and visits from family.  As for museum guides at Living History Farms, we love being able to see how that food tradition evolved through historic cookbooks and magazines. By the 1860s, many cookbooks already listed suggested bills of fare for Thanksgiving day laden with pies, roasted vegetables, oyster soups and, of course, Turkey. With that in mind we share a favorite adaption of a historic dressing recipe, for those who are still in need of inspiration for that course of their own Thanksgiving feasts.

Thanksgiving meal

Mushroom-Sage Dressing

3 cups (8 oz.) mushrooms
1 medium Onion
9 cups Bread Crumbs
2 Tbls. Chicken Bouillon Paste
1 cup Butter
1 tsp. ground Sage
2 tsp. Leaf sage
1 Tbls. Parsley
1 tsp. Pepper

Chop fine, onion and mushrooms. Melt butter in a shallow pan. Add herbs and bouillon to pan. Cook onion and mushrooms in butter mixture until tender. Add mixture to breadcrumbs. Mix thoroughly. Bake in covered dish at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes.

–Adapted from Mrs. Hill’s New Cook Book, 1867.


Not everything on Thanksgiving was about food in the 19th century. The editorial staff at The Iowa State Register reminded readers on November 27, 1890:

 “This is Thanksgiving Day—one of the best days of all the year. It has a mission all its own and a blessing all its own to bestow upon all who open their souls to its beauty and good cheer. It should not be wholly given up to turkey and cranberry sauce. To eat, drink and be merry is a good way to give thanks—better than long prayers rendered with long faces, but it is not all that one ought to do today. A kind word kindly spoken to some one in distress; a worthy gitt worthily bestowed upon some one more unfortunate—these are thanks acceptable on earth and in Heaven alike . . . There is no man or woman so humble that their thanks to you for a gift bestowed to-day is not an incense that will rise to Heaven.”

As quoted by William Petersen, in “Thanksgiving in Iowa”. The Pamimpsest. Vol XLIX, December 1968 no. 12. Pg 569.

Living History Farms wishes all our blog readers, members, museum guests, friends, and family a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Read more posts on the LHF Blog


1900 Farm   Holidays    From Field to Table   In the Kitchen   Recipes

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