Turtle Soup and Oyster Stew: A New England Jazz Age Thanksgiving

Hello everyone! As you know, tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and American tables will be overflowing with mashed potatoes, turkey, and pumpkin pie, to name but a few…though sea turtle soup, oyster stew, and broiled lobster probably won’t be on the menu!

While poking around for images for my Halloween How-To series, I came across some charming vintage Thanksgiving postcards from the 1920s. Each one contains a small illustrated menu, with suggestions for soups, entrees, sides, desserts, and drinks, as well as a short toast for guests to use. All the postcards were mailed during the Jazz Age, so it’s likely that many of these dishes wouldn’t look out completely of place on a Roaring Twenties Thanksgiving table—especially one in New England.

Check out the menus below. Notice anything different from our modern-day feast?

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Thanksgiving Menu

Succotash is a traditional New England dish. On sale at CardCow.com

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Thanksgiving Menu

I like how this is the only one that contains salad. On sale at CardCow.com

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Thanksgiving Menu

Green sea turtle? Really??! On sale at CardCow.com

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Thanksgiving

Mmmm, lobster! On sale at CardCow.com

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So what’s different about these menus? The seafood! As you can see, some kind of sea creature is on every single one of these menus, from oysters to lobsters. Why? Well, it’s likely because these menus are meant to evoke a Colonial New England Thanksgiving. Heck, there’s even succotash, and that’s a traditional New England dish as well. It’s not necessarily inaccurate either, as lobster, clams, oysters and mussels were part of the first Thanksgiving—but it’s doubtful that people in, say, 1920s Ohio were eating boiled lobster with their turkey. Oyster stew, maybe, but not fresh lobster. So why send these menu postcards to their friends?

Well, it’s probably part of the general trend throughout the Roaring Twenties to hearken back to “simpler times” during the holidays, choosing to emphasize tradition over the new modern age. And with its position as a uniquely American holiday, Thanksgiving became a time to emphasize a particular vision of America’s Colonial past, whether through reviving old recipes, making children put on pageants, or sending postcards like these.

Incorporating some seafood into your modern Thanksgiving feast, however, isn’t necessarily a bad idea. While fresh oysters aren’t as plentiful, cheap, or easy to obtain as they used to be (there’s a reason they used to be considered common workingman’s food), they’re still worth your time.

For example, the idea of stuffing a turkey full of fresh oysters is utterly foreign to me as a Midwesterner, but it’s not only part of New England’s food history, it also supposedly tastes great. Serious Eats assures me that its “just really freaking good,” with the brine from the fresh oysters making “deliciousness guaranteed.”

So, even though we’re no longer able to get fresh oysters as easily as our forefathers, let me offer you this vintage recipe for oyster stuffing, which is paraphrased from Hospitality (1922) by Mary M. Wright:

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Oyster Stuffing (1922) :

1 qt. bread crumbs

1 pint oysters, fresh, shucked and drained

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

1 tablespoon butter

Mix all ingredients together and stuff the bird, increasing amounts as needed for a larger turkey.

—paraphrased from page 46 of Hospitality (1922) by Mary M. Wright.

Or, if you’d rather try something with a bit more flavor, try this modern recipe from Serious Eats.

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Happy Thanksgiving everyone, and no matter what’s on your table, I hope you enjoy it! 😀

Thanksgiving

Now back to carving the turkey… ;). On sale at CardCow.com 

 

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About lupachi1927

My name's Megan, and I'm a writer with an interest in history. While I might not be a real historian, I'm a very thorough researcher. This blog is my place to post about all the interesting historical tidbits I find that can't use in the novel I'm working on, which takes place in Chicago in 1927. If you're looking for research help, writing feedback, or just want to say hi, feel free to drop me a line! :)
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