A Look at Some Staples of Thanksgiving Dinners in the 1950s

A Look at Some Staples of Thanksgiving Dinners in the 1950s

Maybe you’re just curious about what was served at Thanksgiving dinners in the 1950s, or perhaps you’re nostalgic because you lived through them. Or, maybe you’re looking for an excuse to serve olives, pimento, sweet pickles, and Spam encased in a mold of lime Jell-O with your Thanksgiving spread (everyone will love it!).

Whichever applies, we’re taking a quick look back at what this holiday feast commonly entailed during the decade.

Tuck in a napkin and dig in to this retrospective of Thanksgiving dinners in the 1950s!

Thanksgiving Meals in the ’50s

  • Housewives were expected to make the table look festive for Thanksgiving by outfitting it with accessories like themed tablecloths, turkey-shaped place cards, plates with turkey prints, and large wicker cornucopia centerpieces.
  • Thanksgiving gatherings were a formal affair in the 1950s, with people donning their finest suits and dresses.
  • Seafood was big as an appetizer, often in the form of clam chowder or cream of oyster soup.
  • Roasted turkey was of course the star of the meal, but it was during the 1950s that honey-glazed hams really started appearing alongside the classic poultry offering. Back then, turkeys were considerably smaller than today’s because they weren’t pumped full of growth hormones and methodically bred for massive meaty breasts.
  • Turkeys were typically carved at the table by the man of the house (who of course didn’t do any of the cooking!) at the start of dinner; hams were generally sliced right before dinner and served on a platter.
  • Thick, rich, gooey gravy was a must! And it still is!
  • Common veggie sides included peas, carrots, boiled onions, celery hearts, green beans, and squash.
  • Green bean casserole was invented in 1955 and became an instant staple of Thanksgiving dinners. Incidentally, its inventor, Dorcas Reilly—who worked for Campbell’s Soup Company and concocted the dish to help sell the poorly performing canned cream of mushroom soup—recently passed away at age 92.
  • There were tubers too, of course, often in the form of mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, or sweet potato pie with marshmallows melted on top.
  • Cranberry sauce and baked rolls were other standard side dishes.
  • No formal dinner in the ’50s was complete without some sort of stomach-churning Jell-O mold, and Thanksgiving was no exception! We recommend you serve this Jell-O mold with shrimp frosting at your holiday meal this year.
  • Two or three pies—particularly apple, pumpkin, and mincemeat—were usually served for Thanksgiving dessert. Don’t just daydream about having your own; here are six mincemeat dessert recipes from 1950 for you to try!
  • Watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on television was an important part of family tradition for the holiday in the ’50s! It began in 1924 and was first televised locally in New York in 1939, but it was regularly shown every year on network television starting in 1948.

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Leonard Riforgiato is a successful furniture manufacturing entrepreneur, a Miami resident, and co-owner of legacy furniture company Heywood-Wakefield.

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