Thursday, November 18, 2010

Why Turkey?

Heap high the board with plenteous cheer and gather to the feast,
And toast the sturdy Pilgrim band whose courage never ceased.
Alice W. Brotherton

Did you ever wonder why we eat Turkey on Thanksgiving.  Was it served on the first Thanksgiving feast?

From my reading, there were two writings on the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth in the autumn of 1621.  The first was written by Edward Winslow writing in Mourt's Relation.

They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides, they had about a peck of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.

He suggests that wild turkeys were stored, along with corn and fish.  In fact, they stored more wild turkeys in the autumn.  But, he did not say that they were served at the first Thanksgiving feast.  One interesting thing that I noted in my research is that the pilgrims called all wild fowl "turkey".

The second account of the first Thanksgiving was written by William Bradford in Of Plymouth Plantation.

our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deer, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governor, and upon the Captain and others.  And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want,  that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

Beside deer, the Governor sent "four men on fowling".  There is no evidence to show that he meant hunting for turkeys.

Some believe that Benjamin Franklin's desire to have the turkey declared the national symbol of the United States of America may have contributed to serving turkey on Thanksgiving..  In a letter to his daughter, he wrote:

Others to the bald eagle as looking too much like a dindon, or turkey. For my own part, I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country; he is a bird of bad moral character; he does not get his living honestly; …
I am, on this account, not displeased that the figure is not known as a bald eagle, but looks more like a turkey. For in truth, the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America. Eagles have been found in all countries, but the turkey was peculiar to ours; the first of the species seen in Europe, being brought to France by the Jesuits from Canada, and served up at the wedding table of Charles the Ninth. He is, besides, (though a little vain and silly, it is true, but not the worse emblem for that,) a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British guards, who should presume to invade his farmyard with a red coat on.

A couple of facts:

  • Turkeys were and still are abundant in the United States.  Just ask my friends who live in the country.
  • The turkey is native to the northern Mexico and the eastern United States.  It was not brought to Europe until the 16th century.
  • For feasts, people like to serve big fowl to feed many guests, thus, a turkey.

In summary, no one exactly knows why we eat turkey on Thanksgiving.

Interesting Information

Fresh, frozen, or wild turkey?  What's the difference?

In my blog Turkeys - Happy Thanksgiving, I talked about the physical differences between wild and domesticated turkeys.  In this blog, I'll talk about the "taste" difference.  Yes, Mandie, they taste differently.
  • Fresh turkey is very chewy, almost tough, but it does have a lot of flavor.
  • Frozen turkey is what we are most used to and what we compare other turkeys to.  It is very tasty and just the right texture.
  • Wild Turkey, from what I read, is very lean, and has little breast fat and big thighs.  Many say that the white and dark meat alike are very tender, but it has a more intense turkey flavor, with a game taste.
So, when deciding what kind of turkey to buy, consider the above in making your choice.  And, if you are skeptical, like Mandie, try one that you have never tasted before, and taste the difference.

Gobble Gobble,
Aunt Janet

No comments:

Post a Comment

Pin It!