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.
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.