A Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving

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As a staple in the seasonal meme circuit, Freedom from Want by Norman Rockwell is perhaps the most iconic image of Thanksgiving. Over the years, its appropriately sumptuous meal of turkey, cranberry sauce, celery, and an unspecified casserole has been reinterpreted to create new meaning from its initial publication in the Saturday Evening Post in 1943 to the present day. 



It has been re-imagined by artists from Charles Schulz, the creator of "Peanuts," another Thanksgiving institution, who replaces the family members with characters from the cartoon, to George Kennedy, who inserts the Republican leaders Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and Donald Trump into the image and replaces the turkey with a turkey carcass.



Another rendition by Ross MacDonald which was published in Vanity Fair includes the infamously incarcerated, including Bernie Madoff. It is appropriately titled Wanting for Freedom.



After decades of reproduction, Norman Rockwell’s Thanksgiving menu may be the canonical bill of fare. Adapted from "The Norman Rockwell Illustrated Cookbook", here are his recipes for roast turkey with chestnut dressing, mashed potatoes, French-style green beans, cranberry holiday salad, and pumpkin pie which pairs perfectly with a plate of raw celery on the side.



Roast Turkey with Chestnut Dressing

Six to eight servings

1 ten to twelve pound turkey, thawed if frozen


Chestnut Dressing

¼ cup of butter or margarine

1 large onion, peeled and chopped

2 stalks of celery

¼ pound of ground veal

¼ pound of ground pork

1 turkey liver, chopped

¾ tsp salt

Freshly ground pepper

½ tsp Hungarian sweet paprika

6 cups soft bread cubes

¼ cup parsley, chopped

1 pound chestnuts, roasted, skinned, and chopped

1 egg, beaten


5 slices of bacon


  1. Wash turkey well, remove giblet pack and save the liver for the dressing. Lightly salt the cavity and set aside while preparing the dressing.
  2. Melt butter in a large skillet. Add onion and celery; saute until tender. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
  3. Add veal, pork and liver to the skillet and saute until lightly browned. Season with salt, pepper, and paprika.
  4. Add meat to the onion and celery mixture followed by the bread, parsley, chestnuts, and egg.
  5. Stuff turkey with the dressing and place in a roasting pan, breast-side up. Lay bacon strips in a single layer over the turkey.
  6. Roast for four hours at 325 F to an internal temperature of 185 F. Let it sit for 20 minutes before carving.
  7. Make gravy using the pan drippings.



Mashed Potatoes

Six servings

6 medium potatoes, washed and peeled

3 tbsp butter

1 tsp salt

⅓ cup hot milk or cream


  1. Cook potatoes covered for 15-20 minutes in boiling salted water until tender.
  2. Drain and mash potatoes with fork or potato masher.
  3. Add butter, salt, and cream and beat it with fork or whisk until creamy



French-style Green Beans

Six servings

2 pounds fresh green beans

1 small clove garlic, crushed

¼ cup butter

2 tsp salt

⅛ tsp pepper, freshly ground

2 tsp, parsley, finely chopped


  1. Trim ends off green beans and place on top of a vegetable steamer in a pot. Steam until beans are crisp-tender, around 5-8 minutes.
  2. In a pan, add garlic and butter and saute until fragrant, around 3 minutes. Then add beans and saute for another 2 minutes.
  3. Add parsley, salt, and pepper and mix well.



Cranberry Holiday Salad

Six servings

2 cups raw cranberries

1 orange

1 cup water

¼ cup sugar

1 packet unflavored gelatin

¼ cup cold water

½ cup seedless grapes, sliced

1 cup celery, diced

¼ cup nuts, chopped


  1. Cook cranberries, orange, and water in a covered saucepan until cranberry skins pop. Strain through a fine sieve.
  2. Add sugar to strained liquid and heat until boiling.
  3. Soften gelatin in cold water. Add liquid until the gelatin is dissolved and chill until syrupy.
  4. Add grapes, celery, and nuts and pour mixture into a ring mold. Chill until firm.



Pumpkin Pie

Six servings

1 unbaked eight-inch pastry shell

1 cup canned pumpkin

½ tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp ginger

¼ tsp nutmeg

⅛ tsp cloves

1 cup milk, half-and-half, or evaporated milk

½ cup sugar

1 egg, beaten

½ tsp salt


  1. Prepare the unbaked pastry shell and preheat the oven to 400 F.
  2. In a bowl, mix pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Next, stir in the milk, sugar, egg, and salt.
  3. Pour mixture into the pastry shell and bake for 1 hour.
  4. Pie is done when a table knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Filling may be soft but will set when cooled. Cool for at least two hours before serving.



Additional resources about Norman Rockwell you may find interesting:


"My Adventures as an Illustrator: The Definitive Edition" by Norman Rockwell

"Norman Rockwell's Faith of America" by Fred Bauer

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Abby Li

Sr. Contributor