One hundred years ago, many Cincinnatians sat down to dinner on Thanksgiving day for a feast featuring roast goose. Yes, goose with all the trimmings we now associate with turkey. Sometimes, it was a matter of taste. According to the Cincinnati Post [23 Nov 1916]:
“Turkey is safe from the appetites of the grand opera stars who will be in Cincinnati Thanksgiving for the grand opera season at Music Hall. Mark Byron, manager, has arranged a Thanksgiving dinner for the singers, who have voted that the bird to be served shall be a goose.”
In his wonderful little book, Queen City Yesterdays: Sketches of Cincinnati In The Eighties, William C. Smith suggests that this preference for goose might have been cultural:
“The Jewish residents in the vicinity paid a sort of token attention to the holidays, but their taste ran to goose rather than turkey as the main dish. I once dined with a Jewish family who served roast goose stuffed with sauerkraut; it didn’t work out—ruined the kraut.”
For other Cincinnatians, goose trumped turkey because of price. One hundred years ago, the Cincinnati Post [29 November 1916] reported that Queen City shoppers were boycotting turkey because of the high cost:
“‘The housewife,’ a commission man said, ‘made up her mind not to buy turkeys when it was predicted a week ago the price would reach 40 cents. The result is that the market is heavily overstocked.’”
Even though this boycott drove turkey prices downward to 25 cents per pound, goose was still a comparative bargain in 1916 at 15 cents to 18 cents per pound. According to that news report, turkey and goose had been similarly priced at 20 cents per pound a decade previously in 1906. Over the intervening ten years, turkey rose in price while goose dropped.
Inflation had most certainly increased the price of both turkey and goose since 1881, when the Cincinnati Gazette reported dressed turkeys fetching 12.5 cents per pound while whole geese brought just 60 cents to 75 cents apiece. Game was more plentiful in 1881 and Cincinnatians had a choice between farm-raised turkeys and wild turkeys. For the wild birds, customers paid between $1.25 and $1.50 apiece.
While the roasted fowl at the center of a Cincinnati Thanksgiving dinner was negotiable, dessert most certainly was not. Pumpkin pie was essential, no matter what the main course turned out to be. George M. Henzel reminisced about childhood Thanksgiving feasts in his old Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, and remembered those made-from-scratch treats:
“Thanksgiving, when the pumpkins appeared on market, several batches of “punkin pie” were baked. A large pumpkin was halved and cleaned, and one half put in the ice-box. The half to be cooked was cut into large slices and peeled, a slippery, tricky task, reserved for grown-ups. Cooked and seasoned, it was baked into half a dozen pies, and consumed for breakfast, dinner, and supper. Not to mention in-between snacks. A week later, and before it dried out, the second half was baked into pies. You guessed it, no “punkin pie” was consumed, or wanted, before the next year.”
If you would like to experience that home-made delight yourself, you might try to decipher this Civil War-era recipe from the Cincinnati Enquirer [6 November 1861]. Like most newspaper recipes of the day, it leaves the measurement of many ingredients up to the cook and appears to assume that you have already lined a pie tin with some good, old-fashioned, lard-based dough:
“Take a teacupfull of grated pumpkin, one pint of good milk, one egg, a little salt, two large spoonsfull of sugar, cinnamon, spice or nutmeg. Line the tin and bake until done. The remainder of the pumpkin can be cleared out and kept in a cool pantry for several days, and new pies baked each day with little trouble.”
Try that recipe on a wood-fired or coal-fueled stove.
This article was reposted with permission from Greg Hand, editor of Cincinnati Curiosities