What Are the Different Types of Thanksgiving Foods?

Lori Kilchermann

Modern Thanksgiving foods, such as turkey, corn and pumpkin pie, are somewhat reminiscent of the cuisine enjoyed by the pilgrims as they gathered for a harvest feast in 1621 with the Native Americans at Plymouth Rock in America. The feast was a carryover tradition from England, and the pilgrims dined on meats, vegetables and fruits that were readily available to them, such as fowl and berries. Freshly harvested vegetables are often included in Thanksgiving feasts, along with bread and rolls. A variety of side dishes and desserts round out the holiday meal, including pecan pie, fruit salad and green bean casserole.

Potatoes are often served at Thanksgiving.
Potatoes are often served at Thanksgiving.

While it is believed that fowl was served at the early harvest feast, turkey is the star of the traditional Thanksgiving foods served today. Usually, turkey breast, turkey legs or the whole bird are cooked for the holiday meal. When the bird is cooked whole, its cavity is often filled with bread stuffing. The time it takes for a whole turkey to cook is increased when the bird is stuffed as opposed to when its cavity is hollow. Other meats, including ham, duck and pot roast, are also served at Thanksgiving Day feasts.

A roast turkey.
A roast turkey.

Stuffing is often one of the favorite choices of all the Thanksgiving foods on a holiday table. Ingredients in stuffing vary widely in different regions of the world, and include raisins, apples and oysters. Bread and rolls are also typical holiday fare, as are a variety of side dishes, including sweet potato pie and carrots. Green bean casserole, corn and fruit salads are often served on Thanksgiving.

Many Thanksgiving pies are topped with whipped cream.
Many Thanksgiving pies are topped with whipped cream.

Cranberries are often paired with turkey, and are served whole and jellied. Thanksgiving foods also include cranberry-flavored desserts and salads, including gelatin molds, and marshmallow and fruit salads. Pumpkin is another traditional flavor at Thanksgiving, and is served in pies, bars and muffins. Potatoes, both white and sweet, are also served baked, mashed and boiled. Turkey gravy is also typically offered at Thanksgiving.

Stuffing is a popular Thanksgiving side dish.
Stuffing is a popular Thanksgiving side dish.

Relish trays with finger foods, such as olives, pickles and cheese cubes, can also be found on Thanksgiving tables. Desserts are popular Thanksgiving foods and include pies, such as pecan, apple and custard. Pies are often topped with whipped cream. A variety of cakes, cupcakes and cobblers are also served for dessert, including pineapple upside down cake, cherry cobbler and chocolate cupcakes. Bread pudding is a traditional Thanksgiving dessert, and eggnog is also a common holiday drink.

Occasionally, people will served roasted duck at Thanksgiving.
Occasionally, people will served roasted duck at Thanksgiving.
Turkey gravy is a Thanksgiving staple in some households.
Turkey gravy is a Thanksgiving staple in some households.
Thanksgiving guests may indulge in a cheesy ham and potato casserole.
Thanksgiving guests may indulge in a cheesy ham and potato casserole.
Homemade apple pie can be a sweet ending to a heavy Thanksgiving meal.
Homemade apple pie can be a sweet ending to a heavy Thanksgiving meal.
A selection of heavy hors d'oeuvres could be an elegant start to Thanksgiving dinner.
A selection of heavy hors d'oeuvres could be an elegant start to Thanksgiving dinner.

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Discussion Comments

Markerrag

@Melonlity -- I like the way you think here. We go a bit farther at my house and add some things that we just like and consider special. Burgundy mushrooms, for example, aren't exactly native to my area. Still, it is a family favorite that people remember when they visit our home for the holidays.

And it is surprisingly typical to find families throwing in a little something personal at Thanksgiving. I've gone to dinners where it was customary to have things like beef and noodles, apricot nectar cakes and all sorts of things that families just liked.

I see that as a way to make Thanksgiving highly personal and enjoyable. After all, you can get traditional thanksgiving food at any store in the country thanks to modern farming and distribution techniques. We don't have to use just local stuff, so why not start a few traditions and add them to the meal?

Melonlity

Local favorites can also show up on that Thanksgiving table and that is keeping with the spirit of Thanksgiving. After all, the story of Thanksgiving tells us that the Pilgrims and Native Americans shared a feast composed entirely of food native to the area.

There are certainly some established foods that everyone expects to see (Turkey, pumpkin pie, etc.), but throw in some local favorites to add a welcome twist to the holiday and to expose visitors to something new. What could be more American than that?

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