Thanksgiving dishes on orange background

Highlighting 100 Years of Thanksgiving Tables at BHG

Taste your way through a century of our Test Kitchen’s best Thanksgiving menus and holiday hosting tips.

Take a peek through the archives of the last 100 years at Better Homes & Gardens and you’ll quickly realize that holidays have always been part of our heritage. The first Thanksgiving was commemorated in 1621, and here at BHG, we’ve been celebrating it alongside you since 1922. 

thanksgiving recipes on orange background

Better Homes & Gardens

Each family brings its own traditions, memories, and heirloom recipes to the table, and every year ushers in new trends. While our great grandmas probably never could have imagined that they could cook nearly an entire Thanksgiving meal in an air fryer, or that their descendants would spend a holiday or two celebrating virtually during a global pandemic, they must be looking down proud of the fact that we continue to (try to) recreate their signature pumpkin pie and green bean casserole recipes.

As we pulled together the latest year of Thanksgiving inspiration for the centennial year of BHG, we couldn’t help but wonder, what’s hiding out in the November issues of the past 100 years? Let’s take a look back on the recipes, traditions, and food trends of the past century, all of which have been chronicled in the pages of our magazine.

1920s thanksgiving

Better Homes & Gardens

The 1920s: A Focus on Table Talk

In a voice more similar to an advice column than a how-to guide, this early edition of our magazine—then called Fruit, Garden & Home—was released prior to the foundation of our in-house Test Kitchen in 1928. So instead of recipes, the focus was on entertaining in this feature from November 1926. “It appears at times that the art of conversing soon will be extinct in the hurry places of this country,” Nell B. Nichols writes. 

With that in mind, Nichols nods to the importance of diners young and old holding up their end of the conversation, as well as extending kindness. (“Hospitality cannot be a success if any member of the household fails to radiate welcome. It also is reciprocal. It cannot be bestowed beautifully unless it is received graciously,” Nichols advises.)

As far as the cuisine goes, your best bet is to stick with your tried-and-true winners. Rather than experimenting with a new technique or recipe, she suggests turning to those “cunning morsels of food” that you “can fashion more successful than anyone.” Go ahead, make them jealous with your next-level mashed potatoes.

Related: Highlighting 100 Years of Food Trends with BHG

thanksgiving turkey on orange background

Better Homes & Gardens

The 1930s: The Introduction of Mix-and-Match and Make-Ahead Menus

With the Test Kitchen in full swing by November 1938, we were ready to share recipes—and a lot of them. For this feature, we included a “modernized version” of the classic Thanksgiving menu that is “simple but aplenty. Your family will applaud it,” the editors of the day say. 

So what’s on deck? Roast Tom Turkey for the main course, plus Oyster Stuffing Whipped Potatoes, Carrot Strips, Whole Onions, Cranberry Sauce, Crab-Apple Pickles, and Hot Rolls (whew!) for side dishes. Pumpkin Pie and Assorted Fruits and Nuts are the suggested desserts, and for a “nice to serve” addition, we recommend Tomato Bisque.

For something a bit more unexpected, or other “So Good Meals” to enjoy later in the holiday season, mix-and-match recipes from our menus based around Pork Towers, Meat Loaf with Potato Stuffing, Scalloped Chicken, Short-Rib Crown Onion Dressing, Roast Young Duck with Baked Apples or Double Pork Chops with Savory Stuffing. We were definitely making up for lost time on the recipe-sharing front!

1940s thanksgiving

Better Homes & Gardens

The 1940s: Decor Gets “Frankly Fancy”

“Thanksgiving with all the trimmings” is en vogue in the 1940s, when the style of the era was also all about accessories. Just like no shirtwaist dress is complete without wrist-length gloves, a pillbox hat, and a chic purse to complete the look, no tablescape is ready to welcome guests without a few supplements.

In our November 1949 feature, Jessie Prather recommends that we “let the season suggest to your garnishes, table decorations, and ways of serving.” For a “timely and festive” touch, try golden pumpkins, autumn leaves, nuts, and a bounty of fall fruits and vegetables. 

While much fussier than many of us would have patience for today, we can’t help but smile when we see the ice cream cones stuffed with fruit salad; a nod to an overflowing cornucopia. And can we have a moment for the orange rind “pumpkin” cups, complete with a cinnamon stick stem and filled with pumpkin ice cream or orange sherbet?

Related: 8 Recipes from Our 1943 Edition of New Cook Book That Are Still Relevant

1950s pie for thanksgiving

Better Homes & Gardens

The 1950s: 3 Ways With Pie

Since we’ve been guiding readers through the holiday season for more than 30 years, November 1955 ushered in an era where we offer variations on the theme. For “melt-in-your-mouth pastry,” you now have several options that are “flaky, tender, and golden as the ones Mother used to make,” the food editors of the day write. “We give you the traditional cut-fat-in-flour kind and two of the speedier oil pastries to choose from.”

The recipes for plain pastry,  oil pastry, and “pat-a-pie” with a crumble topping all yield enough for a double-crust pie. Later in the issue, we explain how to master a lattice pie. While we might edit the verbiage to be more modern, the instructions that still hold up today:

  • Let bottom crust extend ½ inch beyond rim of pan.
  • For lattice top, cut strips of dough about ½-inch wide with pasty wheel or knife.
  • Lay lengthwise strips over filled pie at ¼- to ½-inch intervals. 
  • Fold back alternate lengthwise strips to help you weave crosswise strips over and under. (Don’t pull or stretch strips.)
  • Trim ends, letting them extend to outer rim. 
  • Dampen edge of bottom crust and fold it over ends of lattice; seal. Crimp edges.

As for that filling, we highly recommend our tart apple pie recipe that’s scented with cinnamon and nutmeg. “Even Mother couldn’t improve on this.”

1960s thanksgiving table spread

Better Homes & Gardens

The 1960s: Elevate a Semi-Homemade Meal With Over-the-Top Garnishes

Sorry, Sandra Lee, but we had started sneaking in semi-homemade secrets decades before your Food Network show launched! With TV dinners introduced in the early 1950s and convenience foods of all kinds becoming more prominent part of the culture, we suggest “a few shortcuts” to round out our November 1963 menu of Roast Turkey with Whipped Potatoes, Oyster Stuffing, Old-Time Giblet Gravy, Blue Cheese Waldorf Salad, and Pumpkin Pie.

“You get a head start with soups from a can and frozen and canned cranberry sauce. Brown-and-serve rolls just need heating in the oven. And you can choose little canned onions to save peeling and cooking the fresh kind.”

With the time you save by getting some help from the supermarket, you can certainly go wild with the decor. We did just that with massive pewter mugs (For water? Wine? Glog?), piles of parsley around the turkey, and a large grape-adorned ceramic turkey, smack dab in the center of the table.

1970s thanksgiving

Better Homes & Gardens

The 1970s: Introducing Alternative Birds

Go your own way. Coinciding with a decade ripe with social change and individual expression (see: color-blocked bell bottoms, head-to-toe denim suits, drapey ponchos…), our November 1971 edition offers alternatives “if turkey isn’t your favorite.” 

Eschew tradition with four “other birds for the big day” from assistant food editor Joan McCloskey. For the Pheasant with Wild rice, “strips of bacon keep the elegant pheasants moist and juicy while roasting.” The Apricot-Sauced Duck gets its gorgeous glow and loads of flavor from an apricot nectar- and chicken bouillon-based glaze. The Southern Stuffed Capon is filled with bacon dripping-coated corn bread for “that special Southern flavor,” and the Cornish Hens Veronica come with “an elegant sauce” of grapes infused with citrus and Sauternes (a sweet dessert wine).

1980s thanksgiving

Better Homes & Gardens

The 1980s: Set the Stage With Natural Accents

“Set more than the table…set the stage.” To create a “dramatic mood for good eating, happy moments, and warm memories shared with friends,” our November 1989 guides readers through the entire fall and winter holiday season with table settings ideas for several major meals.

Everything from the dining room chairs to the plates and bowls to the candle holders make this feature feel exactly of its moment; pure ‘80s opulence. Hey, the holidays are no time to be subtle.

For the Thanksgiving gathering, writers Jim Williams and Jilann Severson recommend a “casual country” vibe, which you can achieve with faux and real wood accents, a rust-toned wool blanket tablecloth and “a scattering of fall harvest” like acorns and winter squash.

Then keep the issue handy to return to the ideas for a floral-rich Hanukkah feast, a damask and silk formal Christmas, and a New Year’s soiree with “high-tech black and white” and party horns for a “note of frivolity.” 

Related: 19 Easy Thanksgiving Table Decorations That Will Take Center Stage

virtual thanksgiving survival guide from 1990s issue of better homes & gardens

Better Homes & Gardens

The 1990s: Our First Virtual Thanksgiving Guide

True, you’d still have to wait through dial-up internet delays and tones, but for the first time ever, the technological advancements of the ‘90s meant that you could access some BHG best practices online.

In our November 1998 issue, we reveal our “Thanksgiving Survival Guide” that’s “designed to guide beginning cooks as well as experienced hands,” according to executive food editor Nancy Byal. The menu planner acts as the centerpiece, which we coach you through via a 30-day guide so you can get a jump on shopping, thawing, and make-ahead Thanksgiving recipes to trim down on day-of stress. We also have an Interactive Roasting Guide to help you know exactly how long to roast that bird. Unsure of where to start? Take a peek at “24 how-to videos that illustrate key techniques,” like how to carve a turkey and secrets for rolling out piecrusts. 

Just don’t miss the frozen-in-time “Holiday Traditions Discussion Group,” an “online bulletin board” that allows cooks to swap ideas for family festivities and entertaining.

sliced turkey for thanksgiving dinner with white wine glass

Reed Davis

The 2000s: Make the Season Spirited With Wine Pairings

After a couple decades of falling wine consumption per capita, the new century also meant renewed interest and passion for all things wine. On trend for the times, Paige Porter Fischer highlights Justin Wangler, the chef at Kendall-Jackson Winery in California, and his wife Leanne—and the table they set that’s filled with glasses of wine, of course. And the menu is also permeated with just enough vino. 

In the November 2009 magazine, we share recipes and wine pairing tips from Wangler, who is “an expert at pairing food and wine, creating a perfect harmony of tastes. He’s known for simple foods, humble recipes, and honest preparations—a combination that he also strives to deliver every Thanksgiving at home.”

The mostly make-ahead menu includes Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Turkey with white wine Pan Gravy, Chardonnay-Glazed Carrots, Savory Butternut Squash Dressing, Pumpkin Corn Bread, Pan-Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Pear and Arugula Salad, Spiced Cranberry Sauce (with a splash of Pinot Noir), Pecan-Cranberry Tart with Sweet Buttermilk Ice Cream, and more. Although that sounds like a lot, Wangler promises that it’s doable. Just like a fine wine offers balance on the palate, “life should have a balance of work and play. The same goes for this holiday. Get out of the kitchen and enjoy your company. That’s what you’ll remember most.” 

And with that company, share a bottle or two. Wangler recommends Chardonnay due to its “remarkable flavor and texture”, Pinot Noir since it has “velvety tannins and a soft, smoky finish,” and/or “deliciously crip and nearly dry” Riesling.

tyler florence thanksgiving

Better Homes & Gardens

The 2010s: A Celebrity Chef Spin

A year later, writer Joe Yonan catches up with one of the most popular TV chefs of the time, Tyler Florence, as he “counts his blessings” in our November 2010 edition. Florence also invites BHG readers in as he hosts his South Carolina family at his Mill Valley, California cabin for Thanksgiving.

At the time, Florence was known for his Food Network shows like Food 911 and Tyler’s Ultimate (you can now catch him on The Great Food Truck Road Race). So in this feature, the celebrity chef shares his ultimate tips, timesavers, and recipes to help you avoid any need to call culinary 911.

For Florence, “it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without candied yams” from Florence Mama, his late grandmother, or his dad’s banana pudding. (By the way, you can still snag the recipe for Florence Mama's Candied Yams and Big Papa's Banana Pudding on our website!) “We are all from someplace. This is the taste of my childhood,” Florence says. 

Serve those two dishes alongside the main event—Herb-Roasted Turkey with Calvados Gravy—and be sure to save room for Sourdough Dressing with Roasted Apples and Sage, Fresh Cranberry Compote, Tyler’s Popovers, and Homemade Chocolate Tart.

In 2011, we debuted one of our most popular pie crust recipes, courtesy of pastry chef Alan Carter. The all-butter recipe is extra-flaky thanks to the addition of sour cream. In addition to the classics, the 2010s brought new takes on classics like a Spicy Green Bean Casserole created by celebrity chef Angelo Sosa.

turkey and vegetable tray

Carson Downing

The 2020s: Admitting the Best—And Worst—Turkey Tips

Our November 2020 is a perfect conclusion to our stroll down memory lane. It’s also a fitting introduction to our next 100 years. 

In the Turkey Hall of Fame feature, we share “our Test Kitchen's top tips—and a few interesting facts—from more than 90 years of roasting, testing, and tasting Thanksgiving turkeys. Get this: A turkey didn’t grace the cover of BHG until 1983, and our turkey doneness temps shifted three times during the course of our magazine’s history (so far) to match USDA food safety guidelines. In 1969, we debuted our foil roasting method, which “remains the best way to cook a 16-pound turkey in 2 hours,” our current food editors say.

For a taste of our Test Kitchen’s best turkey advice of all time, we created our Glazed Roast Turkey recipe. 100/10 recommend trying it at home.

The 2020 issue also featured show-stopping dessert recipes from Jerrelle Guy, the chef and blogger behind Chocolate for Basil including the Whiskey and Cream Pumpkin Tart with Pecan Butter Shortbread Crust shown above.

We can't wait to see where the next 100 years take us but one thing is for certain, the holiday will always be about gathering around the table with the ones you love.

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