Victorian Thanksgiving

victorian_thanksgiving.jpgIn a Thanksgiving article Harper’s Bazaar published in 1900, the author, Anna Wentworth Sears, recommends a jolly game of Pin The Head On The Turkey.  Rather than a tail and donkey, this requires a large paper bird missing his noggin which, given the bill of fare, seems to me not so jolly and also somewhat tragic.  But that’s just me. She also suggests, should this game grow tiresome, that ‘reciting Longfellow’s poetry to music’ makes for swell after-dinner fun.

It’s not clear to me that those Victorians had the whole party-hardy thing down pat.  But it is clear, from a November 1984 piece in Gourmet entitled “The Victorian Thanksgiving,” that they sure knew a thing or two about abundance.  And sumptuousness.  And absolute divinity.  

These are two of the ten recipes.  They are now at the very top of my family’s all-time hit parade.  We do not have Thanksgiving without them.  

Make them both.  And recite ‘Hiawatha’ to a Bach Concerto at your own risk.



½ pound shallots, chopped
1 large yellow onion, halved lengthwise and sliced thin
6 – 8 leeks, white and pale green parts, washed well, halved lengthwise and chopped
2 - 4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons butter
1-pound bag of frozen tiny pearl onions
2 cups of heavy cream
¼ cup or more minced fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon of fine, dry, plain breadcrumbs

In a large skillet, sauté shallots, yellow onion, leeks and garlic in the butter over moderately low heat.  Stir until onions are softened.  Add the frozen pearl onions and cook, stirring, until the tiny onions are just tender (10 – 15 minutes).  Stir in cream, bring to a boil and simmer till the cream has thickened.  Add salt and pepper and minced parsley. 

(You can prepare the onions up till this point several hours in advance.  Cover loosely with a dish towel and set aside.)

Spoon mixture into a buttered 2 quart baking dish.  Sprinkle bread crumbs over the top.

Bake at 475°  F for 15 – 20 minutes or until cream is bubbling.


Adapted from Gourmet, November 1984


4 pounds of Anjou pears, cored, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
½ cup fresh lemon juice (or more, to taste)
½ cup honey or to taste
½ teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ cup dried currants

In a large saucepan, cook pears, lemon juice, honey, cloves and cinnamon over moderate heat, stirring until liquid begins to bubble.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture is thickened (this can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 1½ hours for reasons that elude me but there it is).  Add currants and simmer, partially covered, for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Transfer to a bowl.  Cool.  Chill overnight.  Can be made a week in advance.


Adapted from Gourmet, November 1984



Katherine Reback was born and raised in Connecticut.  She is a screenwriter, speechwriter and essayist.  She lives in Beverly Hills, California with her husband, the artist Sonny King and their cat, Harry.