What is The Significance of These 5 Thanksgiving Dishes?

Thanksgiving is a day steeped in tradition, family, seriously good eating, and food comas.

As you are devouring the table’s offering, have you ever paused mid-bite and wondered, “Why am I eating this?” and had a real answer other than, “Because it tastes really good, and I’m rather enjoying the high levels of serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine showering from my brain?”

Well, wonder no more. Let’s dive into the history and significance behind five classic Thanksgiving dishes.

1. Turkey: The Centerpiece of the Feast

The turkey is the undisputed star of Thanksgiving.

While turkeys weren’t specifically mentioned in accounts of the first Thanksgiving, they were native to North America and a common food source for both Native Americans and settlers.

Before singing, “I am not throwing away my shot,” Alexander Hamilton quipped, “No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day.” 

Since then, turkey has become synonymous with the holiday, representing abundance and American tradition.

2. Cranberry Sauce: A Tart Tradition

Cranberries are one of the few fruits native to North America, making them a natural choice for early settlers’ meals. 

The Wampanoag, who shared the first Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims, were known to use cranberries. Cranberry sauce as we know it today (sweetened and cooked) likely became a Thanksgiving fixture in the 18th century when sugar became more widely available.

Now that’s a berry essential condiment. See what I did there? 

3. Stuffing: More Than Just Filler

The practice of stuffing birds for cooking is so ancient that there are recipes from Roman times. 

For real. 

However, the Thanksgiving tradition of stuffing (or dressing, depending on where you are in the country) likely has its roots in the early practices of English settlers. It’s a versatile dish, with each region and family boasting its unique recipe but all serve the purpose of soaking up delicious flavors and adding a hearty component to the meal.

Running out of stuffing at your dinner should be considered a sin. 

4. Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows: A Sugary Evolution

Sweet potatoes have been a part of the American diet since the colonial days, but the marshmallows? That’s a 20th-century addition. 

The combination can be traced back to a 1917 recipe book by the Angelus Marshmallows company, promoting the use of marshmallows in cooking. This dish exemplifies the innovation and adaptation of traditional foods, and it’s a perfect example of how a simple ingredient can transform a dish and create a new tradition. 

Missing from the Angelus Marshmallow recipe is the part where all the kids stick their fingers in the dish to get to the Marshmallows before anyone else. 

5. Pumpkin Pie: The Quintessential Dessert

Pumpkin, native to the land and a staple in Native American diets, was introduced to the Pilgrims by the indigenous people. 

The first Thanksgiving likely saw pumpkin in some form, but not as a pie. It wasn’t until the Pilgrims’ second Thanksgiving that the iconic pumpkin pie would have likely made its appearance, thanks to the settlers’ English traditions of making pies. 

By the 19th century, pumpkin pie had earned its place as the hallmark of Thanksgiving dessert, symbolizing the harvest and the ingenuity of the early settlers in adapting new foods into their culinary repertoire.

I doubt anyone back then could have predicted the Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts pumpkin spice latte craze. 


This holiday season, BasketWorks is thrilled to team up with Hunger Resource Network through our Gifting for Good initiative! For every Gifting for Good Pantry Gift Basket sold, we’re donating $25 to the pantry, making your gift even more meaningful. Plus, each basket includes a special card to let the recipient know about the donation made in their honor.

So what it’s in it? The real question is: what’s not in it! Check it out:

  • Everton butter toffee pretzels
  • English tea cookies
  • Dried fruit
  • Destrooper cookies
  • Butter toffee caramels
  • Toffee Break toffee
  • Peanut Brittle
  • Bali’s coffee candy
  • Cashews
  • Popcorn
  • Bahlsen cookies
  • Chocolate covered cherries

And that’s only three quarters of the items! Happy Thanksgiving. 

About BasketWorks

BasketWorks is a woman-owned gift basket company located in the north suburbs of Chicago (specifically Northbrook, IL) since 1997. We are proud to offer a variety of gifts and gift baskets appropriate for all occasions. Each of our packages is built to order, allowing for customization at no additional cost to our clients. Contact us today!

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