A typical Thanksgiving Day dinner often includes roast bird with stuffing, cranberry sauce, lots of vegetables, and mince, apple, or pumpkin pies, plus plum pudding or Indian pudding.
But variations on the Thanksgiving dinner have become increasingly popular over the years. Menus from the Victorian era of elegance show the addition of coconut cake, Meringue Custard Tarts, and fancy French versions of the traditional vegetables.
Contemporary menus include shrimp, crab, oysters, other seafood, and even Japanese sushi as the first course.
But food was not the most important thing at the very first Thanksgivings. These were days of prayer with a rather meager holiday meal sandwiched in between two church services, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. As harvests became more abundant, the meal grew in size, and by the early 1700s the table was set with more places as relatives who had left the farms to work in the city returned home for the holiday.
Turkey was served at these dinners, but several other kinds of meat were part of the tradition, too. In general, though, food choices were limited to fare such as pumpkin, game, fruit, and boiled or steamed corn as Indian pudding.
Cranberries were probably sweetened with maple syrup or wild honey, a recipe learned from the Indians.
''Thanksgiving: An American Holiday, An American History,'' by Diana Karter Applebaum (Facts on File, $15.95), traces the evolution of the holiday, from festivities at Plymouth to celebrations overseas by Americans living abroad and in the armed forces. Photographs, songs, and poems accompany the many anecdotes recounted in the book.
Another book, ''Chef Wolfe's New American Turkey Cookery,'' by Ken Wolfe and Olga Bier (Aris Books, $8.95), brings readers more up to date with a collection of less traditional recipes for preparing turkey. The dishes he presents can be a welcome change for the holiday, but are also excellent any time of year.
Mr. Wolfe, a former chef at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Montreal, and later executive chef at the Mark Hopkins in San Francisco, cooks turkey breast with pasta, quiche, ginger, and peppers, and paprikash - or in turkey curry.
His book includes recipes for Broiled Roquefort Patties, Turkey Wings Cacciatore, plus many others. Almond-Crusted Medallions 8 medallions of turkey breast (l inch thick) Salt 1/4 cup flour 2 eggs, well beaten 1 cup sliced almonds, blanched 1 1/2 sticks butter 1 lemon Watercress Lemon wedges
Pound and salt medallions. Using 3 shallow pans, place flour in one, eggs in next, and almonds in third.
Dip a medallion in flour, coat well, shake off excess, then place in egg pan, coating only one side. Drain excess egg and place coated side down into almonds.
With dry other hand, pat floured side to press in almonds. Place almond side up on ungreased jelly-roll pan. Rearrange almonds so they cover medallion.
Repeat. This can be done hours in advance, covered with plastic wrap, and refrigerated until cooked.
At serving time, melt 1/2 stick butter in skillet large enough for 4 medallions. Place 4, almond side down, in butter and saute over medium heat until almonds are golden.
Turn carefully and saute 1 minute longer. Remove to a heat-proof platter and keep warm. Melt another 1/2 stick butter and saute remaining meat.
To serve, arrange all on serving platter, almond side up. Squeeze lemon juice over all.
In a small skillet melt remaining butter until foamy and pour over all. Garnish with watercress and lemon wedges. Serves 4. Stir-Fry with Bok Choy and Green Onions 2 or 3 cups raw turkey breast trimmings, sliced across the grain as thin as possible 2 cloves garlic, minced 1 teaspoon grated ginger Hot pepper flakes Peanut oil 1 cup turkey stock 2 to 3 tablespoons soy sauce 1 tablespoon sugar 2 or 3 tablespoons cornstarch 2 bunches green onions, with stems, in 1/4-inch slices 1 small head bok choy or Napa cabbage, washed, thinly cut Sesame oil
Salt meat slices. In a bowl mix garlic, ginger, pepper flakes, and 2 tablespoons peanut oil. Add meat and toss to coat well. Marinate about 1 hour.
In another bowl mix until blended the turkey stock, soy sauce, sugar, and cornstarch .
Heat a wok or large skillet and add peanut oil to cover bottom and sides. Saute onions 1 minute, add cabbage, and salt to taste.
Cover and cook no longer than 3 minutes. Remove vegetables and keep warm.
Rinse or wipe wok, reheat, and add a little oil. Add marinated meat and stir-fry quickly. Add a few drops sesame oil, then onions and cabbage.
Stir stock and soy mixture well and pour over meat and vegetables. Bring to a good boil and turn off heat. Serve with cooked rice. Serves 4.