A Very Lincoln Thanksgiving

by Taylor Horst

Here at the Cottage, we tend to focus on Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, but since Thanksgiving is upon us, we thought we would highlight another one of Lincoln’s proclamations: the Proclamation of Thanksgiving. On October 3, 1863, Abraham Lincoln invited the nation to “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November…as a day of Thanksgiving.” Prior to this moment, the country celebrated Thanksgiving differently in each state. “In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity,” Lincoln saw it fit to nationalize the holiday in the spirit of unity.

Lincoln undoubtedly understood that one of the best places to give thanks and unify was around the table. As we all sit down to give thanks this year, consider one of these historic dishes for your Thanksgiving feast. They just might have been on Lincoln’s table as well.

Proclamation of Thanksgiving, National Archives and Records Administration

Knob Creek Corn Cakes

As a child growing up in Kentucky, young Abraham loved starting off his day with corn cakes. In fact, he once joked to his cousin that he could “eat corn cakes twice as fast as two women could make them.”

Lincoln’s corn cakes


These are delicious with butter and maple syrup. These are best when eaten hot off the griddle, and a cold glass of buttermilk makes them even more Lincolnesque.

(Makes 32-36 two-inch cakes)

2 cups cornmeal

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon soda

1 egg, lightly beaten

3 cups buttermilk

Sift together cornmeal, salt, soda. Add the egg and buttermilk. Mix well to blend, but do not overbeat. (The batter should be thin enough to form a lacy edge when baking.) Drop by small spoonfuls on a hot griddle; cook until golden, turn, and finish cooking. Stack cakes on a cookie sheet and place in a 250 degree oven to keep warm. For the online recipe, click here.

[Recipe from: Donna D. McCreary, Lincoln’s Table (Lincoln Presentations, 2008), 3.]

Potatoes au Gratin

Pommes de Terre, au Gratin

Lincoln enjoyed this dish on February 20, 1861, at the Astor House in New York. He stopped there as a part of his inaugural trip to Washington. The day prior, poet Walt Whitman described the first time he saw the President, writing:

Presently two or three shabby hack barouches [carriages] made their way with difficulty through the crowd and drew up at the Astor House entrance.

A tall figure stepped out of the center of these barouches, paused leisurely on the sidewalk, looked up at the granite walls and looming architecture of the grand old hotel — then, after a relieving stretch of arms and legs, turned around for over a minute to slowly and good-humoredly scan the appearance of the vast and silent crowds.

Lincoln’s arrival at Astor House


1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon flour

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon white pepper

1 cup milk

Peel and boil about 2 pounds of white potatoes until tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cool. Slice potatoes into thick slices of half-inch cubes. Melt butter in a saucepan over low to medium heat. Add other ingredients in the order given. Slowly add milk being careful not to scald the milk. Cook until slightly thickened.

Butter a baking dish. Put in a layer of sauce, then a layer of potatoes. Continue until all ingredients are in the dish.

To one cupful of dried and sifted bread crumbs, add 1 teaspoon of melted butter and stir until it is evenly mixed. Spread over the contents of the baking dish and place in a quick oven (about 375 degrees) for 20 minutes, or until nicely browned. For variations in flavor, add a little onion juice, chopped parsley, or grated cheese to the sauce.

[Recipe from McCreary Lincoln’s Table 120.]

Boned Turkey

The Grand Presidential Party at the White House, Washington—Wednesday Evening February 5th (White House Collection)

This turkey dish appeared on the menu for a White House party on the evening of February 5, 1862. Instead of the usual state dinner, Mary proposed a grand party to be held at the White House. The party provided the perfect opportunity to show off the extensive White House renovations she had recently overseen. According to the New York Herald the next day, “Such a display of elegance and taste and loveliness has perhaps never before been witnessed within the walls of the White House.” In fact, if you’re looking for Thanksgiving decorating ideas, you might consider Mary Lincoln’s “double cornucopias, resting on a shell, supported by mermaids, and surmounted by a crystal star.”

President Lincoln reportedly “greeted the guests with courteous warmth, and chatted familiarly with whom he recognized as old friends.” Dinner, however, wasn’t served until half past eleven. New York confectioner Henri Malliard provided the feast, which included oysters, quail, duck, and beef in addition to this turkey. (For more, see Chapter 12 of Lincoln’s James B. Conroy, White House: The People’s House in Wartime (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers: 2016).)


(This is a very difficult dish and should only be attempted by the most skilled hands)

Clear the fowl as usual with a sharp and pointed knife down close to the bone, cutting all the flesh from the bone, and preserving the skin whole. Run the knife down each side of the breast bone and up the legs, keeping close to the bone. Split the back half way up, and draw out the bones.

Fill the places where the bones had been with stuffing, restoring the fowl to its natural shape and sew up all the incisions made in the skin.

Lard the meat with two or three rows of fatty bacon on top of the turkey breast. Place in a roasting pan and roast on medium heat (325-350 degrees) until turkey is well done and stuffing has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Use a meat thermometer to determine the internal temperature.

While cooking, baste often with salt, water, and a little butter.

When done, carve across in slices and serve with tomato sauce if desired.

Stuffing Option 1:

1 loaf stale bread

½ pound butter

1 whole nutmeg

Salt and pepper to taste

2 eggs

Mixture of sweet herbs

Mix well until very smooth. Stuff into turkey cavity, or bake separately in a baking dish.

Stuffing Option 2:

Equal parts of stale bread and cornbread

Pecan nuts


1 egg

Mixture of sweet herbs

Salt and pepper to taste

Mix well until smooth. Stuff into turkey cavity, or bake separately in a baking dish.

[Recipe from McCreary Lincoln’s Table 148]

Molasses Pecan Pie

Lincoln reportedly had a sweet tooth and was fond of all sorts of sweet treats. A receipt book of a Washington baker suggests that Lincoln regularly indulged in this pecan pie during his presidency.

What Thanksgiving table is complete without pecan pie?


3 eggs

¾ cup unsulphured molasses

¾ cup white corn syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon flour

2 tablespoons melted butter

⅛ tablespoon salt

1 cup chopped pecans

1 unbaked 8-inch pie shell

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Beat eggs until light and frothy. Add melted butter; mix well. Add molasses, white corn syrup, salt, and vanilla. Mix well. Coat the pecans with the flour; then add floured nuts to the egg-butter mixture. Mix thoroughly and pour into pie shell. Bake for 40 minutes or until the filling sets and becomes firm.

[Recipe from McCreary Lincoln’s Table 156]


If anyone tackles any of these Lincoln foods, let us know how it turns out! Tag us at @LincolnsCottage or use #AVeryAbeFeast

Happy cooking!


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