A Gilded Age Thanksgiving Feast

Nov 06, 2023 at 01:10 pm by RMGadmin

This Thanksgiving, treat family and friends to an authentic Gilded Age menu of roast turkey garnished with chicken forcemeat balls and served with a side of sweet potato croquettes using the recipes and cooking tips contained in The Gilded Age Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from America’s Golden Era, from food writer and historian Becky Libourel Diamond.
With a tasteful combination of easy-to-follow recipes, artistry and history, readers can expect to get a good sense of what the Gilded Age looked (and tasted) like through The Gilded Age Cookbook.
Gilded Age Thanksgiving celebrations were sophisticated events emphasizing décor and elegance. Harvest-themed decorations such as autumn leaves, chrysanthemums, asters, dried grasses, and grains would be placed throughout the house, particularly the dining room. Fresh fruit piled high on a silver or pewter platter, embellished with vines and clusters of grapes, would create a stunning centerpiece.
Other dining table decorations included fruit-filled cornucopias and baskets of chrysanthemums and other autumn flowers. If the dinner was served in the late afternoon, the hostess would often close the blinds, illuminating the room with soft, mellow candlelight. A glowing fireplace provided an atmosphere of comfort and good cheer.
The meal preparations were similar to the way we plan our Thanksgiving meal today, with much of the cooking done in advance. Items like puddings and mincemeat were made at least a week or two ahead, allowing the flavors to blend. Women’s magazines from the time also recommended never trying a new recipe without first testing it in smaller proportions. The goal was to strike a balance between old and new traditions.
Before the mid-nineteenth century, bringing out all the Thanksgiving food at once was customary. But the Gilded Age ushered in the à la russe style of dining, where dinner was served in multiple courses. As a result, the meal would typically start with oyster soup or bouillon, then a second course featuring roast turkey, stuffing, and cranberry jelly, followed by a cleansing sorbet to restore the palate. The next course was chicken pie, stewed corn, mashed potatoes, and squash, followed by celery, wafers, and cheese salad. Desserts were often served in two parts — a first course of Thanksgiving pudding, pumpkin pie, cake, and ice cream, and a final course of fruit, bonbons, and nuts. Coffee was offered at the end of the meal, sometimes at the table, but most hostesses preferred serving it in the parlor.
Thanksgiving was one occasion when children, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins came together. The needs of children were considered, including special arrangements such as a large hall or room for them to eat and play. This included a miniature version of the adult table decorated with colorful chrysanthemums and the placement of food and utensils within easy reach. Their turkey was given to them on a separate platter, along with an “abundance of nuts, apples, oranges and wholesome confectionery.”

Pumpkin Cake


1 stick unsalted butter, softened

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup packed brown sugar

2 large eggs, beaten

1 cup cooked (or canned) pumpkin

3 cups cake flour

4 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/2 cup milk

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 tsp maple extract


Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans and set aside. 
Beat butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer until creamy. Mix well with granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs, and pumpkin.
Sift together flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Add alternately with milk to the butter mixture. Fold in walnuts and maple extract.
Pour batter into cake pans and bake for 30–40 minutes. Cool on wire racks for 10 minutes, then remove from pans to cool completely. Frost with maple butter frosting

Maple Butter Frosting


6 tbsp butter, softened

3 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

3 tbsp milk

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp maple extract


Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until creamy, adding another Tbsp of milk if necessary to achieve a good spreading consistency.

Sweet Potato Croquettes


2 large sweet potatoes (2 cups cooked)

1 egg yolk

2 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1 large egg, slightly beaten

1 cup breadcrumbs.

3/4–1 cup canola oil, for frying Fresh parsley, for garnish



Rinse sweet potatoes and pierce in several places with a fork. Wrap each in a paper towel, place on a microwave-safe plate, and cook on high for 5 minutes in the microwave. Check for tenderness with a fork. If still not cooked through, microwave in 1-minute intervals until tender. Remove from the microwave and allow to cool.
When cool, scrape out the cooked sweet potato and place in a large mixing bowl. Add the egg yolk, butter, salt, and nutmeg, then mash with a potato masher until smooth. Chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
Place the beaten egg in a small bowl and the breadcrumbs in a separate low dish (a pie plate works well). Shape the sweet potato mixture into 1-inch balls using a cookie scoop or melon baller. Dip the sweet potato balls into the beaten egg mixture, then roll in the breadcrumbs until completely covered.
Add the oil to a deep drying pan or skillet and place over medium-high heat. When the temperature reaches 350–370°F on a candy thermometer, add croquettes and fry until golden brown (about 2 minutes per side), working in batches. Drain on wire racks set on top of paper towels.
To serve, arrange on a large plate in a circle and garnish the center with sprigs of fresh parsley.

Tea Cakes


2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

¼ tsp salt

1/4 cup sugar

2 large eggs, beaten

1 stick unsalted butter, melted

Cold water

1 egg yolk, beaten

Additional granulated sugar



Preheat oven to 375°F. Sift the flour with the salt into a large bowl. Add the sugar, eggs, and melted butter and stir together, adding cold water a tsp to make a rather stiff paste.
Transfer the dough to a pasteboard or clean counter dusted with flour. Knead into a ball and then roll to about 1/4 inch thickness. Cut the dough into shapes with a cookie cutter or roll into a log shape and slice into 1/4 inch thick circles. Place on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
Brush the top of each cake with beaten egg yolk and then sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 10–12 minutes. Cool on wire racks.