Sheepshead and Pigeon Pie: Vintage Thanksgiving Menus Reveal Some Odd Dishes

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A traditional Thanksgiving turkey

This Thanksgiving, be grateful that menus and palates have changed over the past 100 years.

Gothamist culled the New York Public Library’s menu archives and unearthed some real head-scratchers of Thanksgiving menus past. Some highlights of their findings include a potted quail stuff with nuts served by the Clover Club at the Bellevue-Stratford in 1907 and a more mysterious-sounding “broiled bluefish sauce admiral” served by the St. Charles Hotel around 1900.

(LIST: Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Thanksgiving)

Further research into the Thanksgiving menu vault revealed some truly inedible-sounding dishes. A sampling:

-Sheepshead with Hollandaise Sauce: A 1908 Thanksgiving menu from the Waldorf Hotel (now part of the Waldorf=Astoria) had this suspect delicacy on its hoity-toity menu. Fear not, though — sheepshead is actually a white meat fish. Even if it was an actual decapitated head, everything tastes better with Hollandaise sauce, right?

-Baked Tautog: It sounds like an inlet in the Hamptons, and if it were on more menus today it would probably garner at least a few dinner table iPhone investigations. However, Tautog is a fish, affectionately termed the “poor man’s lobster.” It is fitting, then, that a 1905 cookbook titled Family Living on $500 A Year (sign of the times!) included a Thanksgiving recipe for the blackfish.

-Pigeon pie: Most people would rather step on a pigeon than eat it during Thanksgiving. Not so for 19th century diners, who were instructed to “place young pigeons in a dish” to cook them to perfection.

-Broiled quail on toast: Quail is still a commonly-consumed game bird, but placing it on toast doesn’t happen quite as often as it used to. In 1899, Sturtevant House touted the dish as part of its 75-cent (again, things have changed) Thanksgiving dinner menu.

-Terrapin a la Maryland: UMD fans, lay your weapons down. This offering appeared on several turn-of-the-century menus during a time when turtle was a delicacy. An 1894 Delmonico’s recipe thoughtfully suggests preparing the dish by blanching a live terrapin in boiling water before removing the skin from its feet.

Bon appétit!

LIST: Thanksgiving Recipes: Turkey Day Alternatives

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