For many, Thanksgiving is a holiday that serves up our culinary histories on a platter. Recipes handed down from family members are pulled out and shared with the next generation. In honor of these food traditions, here’s a brief look at Los Angeles’ Thanksgiving menus as seen through the lens presented in Josh Kun’s book To Live and Dine in L.A.: Menus and the Making of a Modern City. Kun’s book explores the history of Los Angeles through the menus archived at the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL). As the New Yorker reported in 2015, Kun’s research described how menus mapped “the growth of the city, tying together eating habits and urban infrastructure as Los Angeles spread out from its downtown core over the course of the twentieth century.”
Recently, LAPL shared a link to its database of menus to encourage readers to look up vintage Thanksgiving Day menus. Doing so yields a series of menus that were printed in local Los Angeles newspapers. As Kun explained in his book:
In the early days of the L.A. restaurant, menus as we now know them had not fully come into their own. Until the early 1900s, restaurants tended to write their fixed-price menus on boards or print them on small sheets which were then often reproduced in full in advertisements in local papers (the menu as print ad).
Here’s a sample of those menus:
More elaborately designed, hand-held menus were typically reserved for luxury hotel dining rooms, banquets, and event dinners of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's. Hotel Raymond in Pasadena, Hotel Arcadia in Santa Monica, and the Hotel Rosslyn used printed menu cards before the turn of the twentieth century…
As friends and family discuss recipes and share food traditions (sweetbreads???) over the Thanksgiving Day meal, To Live and Dine in L.A. makes an excellent hostess gift to deepen these conversations about a family’s food history in Los Angeles.
Wishing all a Happy Thanksgiving filled with family, friends and sharing!