Thanksgiving means turkey in America. It’s so much a part of the Norman Rockwell vision of the holiday that millions of Americans, whatever their cultural origins, have come to accept it as an essential — like burgers and dogs on the Fourth of July and candy corn on Halloween. (Look at the cost of a Thanksgiving meal the year you were born.)
Our typical Thanksgiving menu today, turkey and all, is a fairly recent invention, though. The Pilgrims at that fabled “First Thanksgiving” back in 1621 probably ate fish and venison, among other things, but no turkey.
In her 1827 novel “Northwood,” New Hampshire-born writer Sarah Josepha Hale, known as “the Godmother of Thanksgiving,” offered what was probably the first detailed description of a Thanksgiving feast in something approximating the form we know it today. Her characters’ festive table was loaded with a leg of pork, a loin of mutton, a goose, a brace of ducklings, and a chicken pie, as well as “innumerable bowls of gravy and plates of vegetables.” But, she added, “The roasted turkey took precedence … being placed at the head of the table.”
Hale’s description is a good reminder that, as important as turkey may have become to Thanksgiving dinner, it is hardly the only celebratory main dish worth considering for the holiday table. For variety, or because you’re serving a particularly small (or particularly large) group, or even just for fun, it’s worth considering some delicious alternatives to the usual bird. (If you do decide to stick with tradition, however, here are 15 rules for thawing and roasting your Thanksgiving turkey.)
You won’t find recipes here, just photographs and brief descriptions, but an online search will return recipes galore.