Only one bird is synonymous with traditional Thanksgiving recipes today: turkey, that free-range New England fowl. But in the kitchens of 19th century New York City, other poultry–partridge, pigeon, goose, duck and chicken–were widely available to domestic chefs and featured in the popular cookbooks of the day.
One of the most widely-published newspaperwomen of the late 19th century, Jane Cunningham Croly, authored a popular New York cookbook in 1866 under her journalistic nom-de-plume Jennie June. The book bore a contemporarily cumbersome title–Jennie June’s American Cookery Book, containing upwards of twelve hundred choice and carefully tested receipts; embracing all the popular dishes, and the best results of modern science, reduced to a simple and practical form. But its emphasis on nutrition, economy and cooking technique–and its reliance on “modern science” to ensure healthful eating–placed the American Cookery Book in thousands of middle-class homes. Croly knew who her audience was: she dedicated the book to “the young housekeepers of America.”
When the American New Company published the American Cookery Book, only three years had elapsed since then-president Abraham Lincoln announced an annual celebration of Thanksgiving to held on the fourth Thursday of November. Traditional Thanksgiving recipes already used native New England ingredients like corn, squash (especially in pumpkin pies), berries, fowl and venison, but regional twists on the traditional Thanksgiving meal were still rare.
Jennie June was, therefore, a trailblazer when she recommended her “receipt” [recipe] for Thanksgiving Chicken Pie, boldly departing from the nascent turkey theme. Savory pies were a common entree in 19th century meals, but this holiday treat exemplifies the elaborate, over-the-top quality to New York haute cuisine at the time. With no concern for saturated fat, cholesterol or the need for fresh produce, Jennie June’s decadent pot pie is a far cry from Plymouth’s sparse menu.
Thanksgiving Chicken Pie.
Cut two chickens into small members as for fricasee; cover the bottom of the pie-dish with layers of veal and ham placed alternately; season with chopped mushrooms and parsley, pepper and salt, then add a little gravy; next place in the dish the pieces of chicken in neat order, and round these put slices of hard boiled egg in each cavity; repeat the seasoning and the sauce, lay a few thin slices of dressed ham neatly trimmed, on the top; cover the pie with puff-paste [pastry], ornament this with pieces of the same cut into the form of leaves, etc.; egg the pie over with a paste-brush, and bake it for one hour and a half.