From the Homestead Kitchen: Talking about Everything but the Turkey

by Gennie Truelock

On Sunday, November 15, From the Homestead Kitchen contributors Alex Rasic, Jennifer Scerra, and I got together (in a socially distanced way, of course) to cook, present, and eat from a 1929 Thanksgiving menu for the online program Everything but the Turkey, and let me tell you, it was so much fun!

From the Homestead Kitchen to Everything but the Turkey

The idea for this program developed from our experiences researching and writing for the From the Homestead Kitchen blog series. As Jennifer explained in the program,

“…back in April when this pandemic was still new, Alex and Gennie decided that since they were spending so much of their time cooking and thinking about food, that they wanted to turn this into a chance to think about food preparation in the past. 

Luckily, the Homestead Museum has a pretty lovely collection of early Los Angeles cookbooks and other food ephemera, and it was the perfect chance to really dig into those items. So that’s what they did. I joined them later this summer and every week we have been cooking, eating, and writing about these historic recipes on our museum’s blog. 

Six months later, we’ve eaten all kinds of things: from baked Alaska, to spaghetti relish, to wine soup. And of course, each of those things have such interesting stories and people who are connected to them… [when] we realized that fall was coming and Thanksgiving was rapidly approaching, we wanted to turn our attention to that most food loving of American holidays.”

And instead of another series of posts on the blog, we decided that a live program with an online audience being able to interact, share memories, and ask questions was an exciting way to explore the history of Thanksgiving and its associated food traditions, but first we needed to find a menu.

Thanksgiving menus and discovering Jessie Marie DeBoth

We, of course, turned to the Museum’s collection of cookbooks and discovered an interesting, and by today’s standards, perhaps unusual, Thanksgiving menu from the Modernistic Recipe-Menu Book edited by Jessie Marie DeBoth.

This cookbook took us on quite a culinary journey. Modernistic Recipe-Menu Book edited by Jessie Marie DeBoth. From the Homestead’s collection.

This is the menu that we selected for our Everything but the Turkey program, where we recreated every recipe except for the turkey. From the Modernistic Recipe-Menu Book edited by Jessie Marie DeBoth. From the Homestead’s collection.

As Alex explained in the program, DeBoth was “a culinary rock star!” and “one could argue was among the first food celebrities of the 20th century.”

Image of Jessie Marie DeBoth when she arrived in Los Angeles to give a series of programs at the Shrine Auditorium. From the Los Angeles Times, October 31, 1937.

“…she is the best-known and best-paid cooking impresario in the country. She travels thousands of miles, writes millions of words, lectures, broadcasts, ballyhoos—all to the greater glory and increased sales of the food manufacturers whose products she plugs. ”

-On Jessie Marie DeBoth, from Life magazine, May 1940.

Alex went on to explain that cooking was actually a second career for Jessie, who was born in 1890 and worked for many years as a teacher of English and science in Westfield, Wisconsin. At the age of 37, she moved to Chicago and began her career as what we would refer to today as a celebrity chef. “Her programs included giveaways, amateur shows, sing-alongs and musical performances. She loved inviting people on stage to share the spotlight.”

Knowing that we had such an interesting cook and performer behind this menu, we felt that her recipes would be as unique and surprising as her personality. With our road map in hand, we set about recreating the dishes to share and taste, as well as digging into the history behind the various food items and traditions. While every dish was not necessarily a winner in our opinions, what we discovered about the history surrounding the seven dishes that we covered in the program, did not disappoint.

While I am not going to cover the history of every dish from the program in this post, I am going to say that the stories we covered touched on a variety of topics including how canning influenced our food traditions; what freshwater shell mounds tell us about early civilizations; how Prohibition created finger foods; tomatoes and tuberculosis; the discovery of vitamins; and Mark Twain’s favorite squash. If you are curious about how these topics are covered within the space of a Thanksgiving menu, or which dish we thought was a keeper, I recommend that you watch a recording of the program, which can be found here.

If you are curious about trying the menu yourself, here is a link to the recipes for the dishes we prepared. And just for fun, we also asked Robert Barron, the Homestead Museum’s Operations Coordinator and a person who knows a thing or two about wine and its history, what modern off-the-shelf wines would best be paired with this menu. His recommendation for a white was Justin Sauvignon Blanc, and for a red, Josh Cabernet Sauvignon.

We hope that you have and will continue to enjoy the stories and recipes that we bring you From the Homestead Kitchen and if you try any of the recipes from the Thanksgiving menu, let us know what you think by tagging us on social media @homesteadmuseum or drop us a line in the comments below.

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