Straddlin’ the Fence: Thanksgiving’s rising cost

Jean Schwieder

Thanksgiving dinner is over and most of us are walking around like stuffed turkeys, uncomfortable because we ate too much.

Let’s have a look at what a traditional Thanksgiving meal cost us this year as compared to some years previously.

Cost of Thanksgiving meal for 10 people

ITEM 2017 1911

Turkey 16 pounds @ $0.98/ pound $15.68 @$.28/lb 4.48

Pumpkin pie (mix) $2.68 (from scratch) $.84

Pie shells $1.88

Whip cream ½ pint $1.74 .20

Relish tray, carrots and celery $.73

Green beans, 2 cans $1 $.10

Cream of mushroom soup $.91

French fried onion rings $2

Potatoes, 2½ pounds $.76 $.15

Sweet potatoes 3 pounds $3 $.20

Marshmallows $.98

Cranberries $.78/can $.13/quart

Cubed stuffing , 3 boxes $3 $.05/lb

Frozen rolls, 3 dozen $2.98 $.05/lb

Butter, 1 pound $2.98 $.37

Total $41.10 $6.57

That comes to about $4.10 per person in 2017 and close to $.66 in 1911. Of course, these prices don’t take inflation into account.

In the early 1900s, most of the Thanksgiving dinner would be home grown, at least for those people living in rural areas. They would have their gardens from which they would get potatoes, onions, green beans, carrots, peas and squash. Many would have orchards to get apples from. If they wanted a turkey for Thanksgiving, they would raise one through the summer and butcher it in time for the holiday. If they didn’t have turkey, they probably had a smokehouse and raised pigs, so they would cook a ham and maybe roast a couple of their bigger chickens, as everyone raised chickens. There were no mixes so the stuffing was made with bread, onions and spices from home.

Women baked their own bread, so the rolls would be made from scratch. Most of them would grow the wheat and get it to the miller to have it ground for their flour. Sugar had to be purchased, but butter was churned from the milk of their cow or cows, which was also where their whipping cream came from.

I doubt if green bean casserole was fixed back then, but very likely they fixed beans with bacon. Pumpkins or winter squash were probably raised in the garden to make the pie. Mincemeat pie also was common.

The turkeys back then were probably smaller and it is doubtful you would find a turkey larger than 8 pounds. Thanks to decades of breeding and better feed we now see humongous turkeys in the market. It is interesting to note that at that in 1929, ready-made pies were available at $4 each, and stove-top stuffing was being introduced about that time.

In 1950, things were a bit different. Turkeys could be purchased easily at the stores, there wasn’t any stuffing mixes, but the ingredients for stuffing was readily available. I can’t remember bags to cook the turkey in, but I do remember Mom getting up at 5 a.m. to get the stuffing in the turkey and the turkey in the oven. It seemed like it took forever to cook the turkey. Because the oven would be busy on Thanksgiving morning, the pies and rolls were usually baked the day before. As we would have a big extended family gathering for Thanksgiving, Mom wouldn’t have to furnish the entire meal

Now, in 2017, food is probably the cheapest thing we have to spend our money on. Also, with the cooking bags for turkeys, the time to bake them has been cut in half. And some people deep fry their turkeys, which is even faster. Plus, I know some families of Italian descent who have an Italian-based meal, not the turkey-based one have common in American tradition.

Another thing that is different is the after-dinner activities. We never watched football at our home in the 1950s, so after dinner the adults would sit around and visit, the men usually taking a nap. But for the kids it was a time to go outside and play football, catch or just run around. There’s a lot of sitting around, playing with phones and hand-held devices, or watching TV after dinner now.

In the 1920s, Thanksgiving was a time for giving thanks for the harvest, for having fuel to burn to keep our homes warm, for family who lived close by. People then knew where their food came from, usually had family who were involved in the production or harvest of food for their families and knew the work that went into those things.

Hopefully we have taken time this Thanksgiving season to be recognize and be thankful for the blessings we have in our lives.

Jean Schwieder is a writer who has spent her life involved in eastern Idaho agriculture. Her books, including past columns, are available by calling 208-522-8098 or by email at