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Thanksgiving Day Series: FDR and The Making of a Federal Holiday

Chess pie, recipes below

So when and how did Thanksgiving become a legit federal holiday in the United States? Until the 1940s the country observed Thanksgiving on a variety of different dates in each state in November During the Great Depression U. S. retailers started a campaign to make Thanksgiving a federal holiday celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. They insisted that it would create robust commercial activity in both the food and transportation that the national economy needed. Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) agreed and for two years he threw is political capital behind the passage of a law that finally pinned down the date in 1941. In doing research for my book Hog and Hominy http://cup.columbia.edu/book/978-0-231-14638-8/hog-and-hominy, I conducted some thirty interviews with African Americans most of them born before 1941. These are oral histories of southerners talking about food, family, and friends. Some shared memories of foods that reminded them of special occasions from their childhood like Thanksgiving. Lamenta D. [Watkins] Crouch was born in the 1940s in Greenbay, Virginia, in Prince Edward County, about ninety miles from Richmond. She recalled growing up in Virginia eating chess pie, and “very rarely apple pie.” Here is a recipe for this traditional southern custard pie.

Chess Pie Recipe


4 ounces of butter

½ cup brown sugar, packed

1 cup granulated sugar

3 large eggs

1 tablespoon vinegar

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 tablespoon cornmeal


Melt butter, blend with sugars. Add eggs and other ingredients and stir until blended. Do not beat. Bake in unbaked pie shell for one hour at 350 degrees.

Lemon Chess Pie Recipe: http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1994-10-19/features/1994292005_1_chess-pie-pie-shell-recipe-requests

Thanksgiving Day Series: The History Behind Kale, Collards, and Mustard Greens

Who Got Out the Vote In Depression Era St. Louis?