Let’s Talk Turkey—and Book Giveaway

 

One of the things I like to do at holiday time is regale my guests with fascinating facts.  This takes their minds off the burnt rolls and lumpy gravy–works every time.  Below are some interesting tidbits to share at your own table. They work even without culinary disasters.

 

 Now Let’s Talk Turkey

 

  • We all know that Columbus was geograpically dyslexic and thought the land he discovered was part of India. Since he’d heard that India was highly populated with peacocks he named the large birds “tuka,” which  means “peacock” in  the Tamil language.  Actually turkeys are related to peasants.

 

  • Turkeys happened to be the most plentiful meat available at the time of the first Thanksgiving in 1621, which is how the tradition started.  (Aren’t you glad the most plentiful meat wasn’t squirrel or ‘possum?)

 

  • Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be the national bird and one day a year he gets his wish: 91% of us eat turkey on Thanksgiving.

 

  • The Apache Indians thought the turkey timid and refused to eat it or use its feathers on their arrows.

 

  • Only toms gobble.  Hens make a clicking sound.

 

  • Be warned:  If you want to go “natural” and catch your own turkey you better get yourself a good pair of running shoes. A spooked wild turkey can run up to twenty miles per hour. They can also burst into flight with speeds of at least fifty miles per hours in a matter of seconds.  Domesticated turkeys can’t fly.

 

  • Turkeys are more delicate than they look. They can drown if they look up in the rain and have been known to have heart attacks. When the Air Force was conducting test runs and breaking the sound barrier, fields of turkeys dropped dead.

 

  • The first meal in outer space was—you guessed it—turkey!

 

  • We’re told to be extra careful in handling poultry but that wasn’t always true.  It was common practice for store owners to hang turkeys in the window for display.  A 1910 edition of The National Provisioner ran an article on why butchers lose money on turkeys.  According to the article turkeys often had a “foul” smell on Thanksgiving day, resulting in the customer storming the store the following day for a refund.    (We now know the day after Thanksgiving as Black Friday but back then it was more like Red Friday since store owners had to appease disgruntled housewives with refunds.

 

  • From the same article: “Those turkeys are on the road two or three days or more before the butcher gets them….then they hang in his window in foul air all night.” The  writer goes on to say, “The customer who buys one puts it in a dinky little icebox—if she has one.  If not the windowsill will do as well, or so she thinks.”  The writer urged butchers to store turkeys in coolers and stop the habit of window displays.

 

  • Not all turkeys hung from windows.  The Los Angeles Fruit store in Tombstone in 1886 advertised fine live turkeys.

 

  • And in Arizona Territory turkey shoots were popular on the day prior to the holiday.

 

  • Wild turkeys have a very different taste from farm-raised turkeys. Almost all of the meat is “dark” (even the breasts) with a more intense flavor

 

  • We have the turkey to thank for TV dinners.  In 1953 Swanson created the dinners because they needed to do something with the 250 tons of frozen turkeys left over from Thanksgiving. 

 

See if you can answer this question: What every day item on your Thanksgiving table was not on the pilgrim’s table in 1621?   Try to guess for a chance to win a copy of the New York Times Bestseller A Log Cabin Christmas. 

 

Have a Blessed Thanksgiving

 

 

 

 

 

Margaret Brownley
Margaret has published more than 46 books and is a N.Y. Times Bestselling author and two-time Romance Writers of America Rita Finalist. She writes historical novels set--where else?--in the Old West! She has written for a day time soap and is currently working on a new series. Not bad for someone who flunked 8th grade English. Just don't ask her to diagram a sentence.
Updated: November 18, 2011 — 8:06 am

51 Comments

  1. My guess is that in 1621 they did not have pies or desserts of any kind. Thanks for the fun facts.

  2. Awesome post, Margaret. I am guessing mashed potatoes, or potatoes of any kind. Enjoyed this so much!

  3. Great post Margaret. My guess would be stuffing. I learned a little bit about turkeys this morning. Don’t enter me for the book I already have it.

  4. Cindy, I guess it depends on what you call a dessert. They had pumpkin which was probably stewed, and berries and nuts. The pilgrims did bring sugar on the Mayflower, but they could have used it all up by Thanksgiving.

  5. Tanya, you’re right. Potatoes hadn’t yet been introduced to America. It’s not the answer I’m looking for but it’s a good one.

  6. Hi Margaret,

    Fun post for a Friday! And you’re right about wild turkeys having a different taste. One year we tried wild turkey and no one could stomach it. Thank goodness my aunt cooked a Butterball, as well. :o)

    My guess would be cranberry sauce.

    –Kirsten

  7. I enjoyed reading the turkey info. Cranberries?? I don’t know if they knew about cranberry bogs.

  8. Margaret, Interesting information about turkeys. My guess is bread/rolls. Gobble! Gobble!

  9. Hi Quilt Lady!

    That’s a good guess. Stuffing or dressing has a long history and goes all the way back to the middle ages. Though the terms are interchangeable today, The joy of Cooking says that the mixture is stuffing if inside the bird and dressing if outside. This brings us to the first Thanksgiving. They had herbs so there’s a good chance they either dressed or stuffed the birds.

  10. Hi Laurie,
    Would you believe that the cranberry is one of only three fruits that is native to North America?
    The other two are blueberries and Concord grapes.
    The Indians used cranberries for medicine and dyes. Cranberries or sassamanesh as the Indians called them grew wild and my guess is that you would have found them on that first Thanksgiving.

  11. Hi Lori,
    According to General Bradford’s account they had cornmeal so I’m thinking they may have had corn bread. They also had wheat. There were four English women cooking that day (for 150 guests) and they probably brought some of their recipes from home.

  12. Hi Kirsten, thanks for stopping by. As I explained above they did indeed have cranberries!

  13. Hi Margaret, I’m guessing black pepper. They would have had salt for preserving, etc.. Or would they? Hmmmm. Anyhow, fun post! My turkey is thawing in the refrigerator. As usual, I was a day late getting it out of the freezer, which means I’ll be wrestling with it in the sink with cold water, etc.. Looking forward to a day of fun and feasting.

  14. Victoria, You just reminded me to take my turkey out of the freezer! (Something the pilgrims didn’t have to do.)

    Pepper is an interesting guess. The pilgrims brought spices on the Mayflower and I suspect that pepper was one of them.

  15. How about the classic green bean casserole? I KNOW they didn’t have cans of cream of mushroom soup. 🙂

    Fun turkey facts, Margaret.
    ~Karen

  16. I’m trying to think of what’s classic?

    Turkey
    Mashed potatoes and gravy
    Dressing (stuffing)
    Sweet Potatoes
    Jello (okay, maybe that’s not exactly classic)
    Bread
    BUTTER??? Did they have milk and milk cows?
    Pumpkin Pie

    I could swear there are one zillion things on my table on Thanksgiving, now which am I leaving out?

    A relish tray perhaps? No olives at the first Thanksgiving.

    And yeah, Karen, I’ll bet they didn’t have those little cans of crispy onion rings. 😀

  17. Karen Witemeyer pointed out a funny typo. Instead of writing turkeys are related to pheasants I wrote peasants. Oh, well, you know what I meant.

    I could correct it but maybe it will give someone else a good laugh.

  18. This is fun. I think the thing missing on the Pilgrims’ table was probably dressing. Can’t wait to see the answer. I read your story in A Log Cabin Christmas and loved it. I’m just glad I’m not snowed in with some rowdy children. That would not be fun. 🙂 But the handsome sheriff is another story. One thing I found especially humorous in your story were the rules written by children. So funny.

  19. If the answer isn’t potatoes, is it gravy? I make mine from the drippings in the roasting pan. How did the pilgrims cook the turkey? On a spit? Open fire? I have no clue…

    My other guess is rhuttabagas 🙂 That’s a Bylin family tradition . . . kind of a Swedish thing.

  20. Fun post Margaret. Gumbo is part of our Thanksgiving fare but I’m guessing that’s not the answer. How about sweet potatoes/yams?

  21. Karen, they probably had green beans but not mushroom soup. Green beans without mushroom soup? I can’t imagine. I’m still trying to envision those peasant turkeys.

  22. Linda, thanks for saying nice things about my Log Cabin Christmas story. It was fun to write.

    Take care and have a great Thanksgiving!

  23. Mary, you covered almost all the bases but no one has come up with the answer I’m looking for.

    They didn’thave goats or cattle. The pilgrims bought butter with them on the Mayflower but that was probably long gone (and it wouldn’t have kept for a year, anyway.) No olives but they did have olive oil.

  24. Hi Margaret – your turkey blog is really getting me in the mood for Thanksgiving!!

    I would say, they didn’t have cranberry sauce. 🙂

  25. I am stumped… a table cloth, dishes, forks???

  26. Brown n’ Serve rolls????

    I’m still wondering about gravy…

  27. Another guess would be those festive candle holders and salt and pepper shakers in the shape of pilgrims. :o)

  28. Hi Charlene, they had cranberries but probably not sauced or jellied. That also means they didn’t have the “artistic” lines from a can.

  29. Colleen, some of the pilgrims were English and it’s hard to imagine them without china or tablecloths.

  30. Winnie, they had fish stew. Is that the same as gumbo?

  31. Re: Four women. I think only four women survived the first winter at Plymouth Plantation.

    How about corn? (I know this is my second guess.) I know the natives had maize but I don’t know if the Pilgrims ate it yet. ???

    C’mon, Margaret. The suspense is killing me LOL.

  32. Victoria, you get the prize for persistence. I don’t know about gravy. They mostly roasted meat on a spit over a fire or boiled it.

  33. For all you anxious people out there, I’ll announce the answer at 4 p.m. Pacific Time. Do we have a winner? You’ll have to wait and see.

  34. Tanya, the corn wasn’t good to eat from a cob and, contrary to myth, it also didn’t pop. It was ground up and used as corn meal. I think they also made beer from it.

  35. Kirsten, I’m sure they had candles but not festive ones. I’m also willing to bet they didn’t have those paper turkeys that fan out.

  36. How come nobody guessed beer or wine? That’s not the answer but they probably had one if not the other on their table (that is if they didn’t drink up the supply reportedly on the Mayflower.

  37. Pies were not available at that time.

  38. Anne, you’re right and now that Marie Callendar has closed its doors they aren’t available here, either.

  39. My guess would be dressing as we call it in the south ,,(stuffing)

    vlbelk(at)hotmail.com

  40. Dressing sounds so much more elegant.

  41. Mashed potatoes and gravy but that’s really been kind of mentioned. How about no sweet potatoes. Or butter – did they have cows lol. We always have a pasta dish but I’m sure you’re not looking for that either. How about a regular salad?

  42. I learned in the paper today it’s called dressing if it hasn’t been cooked inside the bird; and stuffing if it has LOL.

    The Pilgrims would have had beer. They might have brought wine from Europe, maybe. (They actually left from Holland.)I don’t know if they had grapes yet or enough time to have made wine. Water in Europe was so polluted nobody dared drink it and it didn’t occur to the new settlers that the water in the new world was pure and uncontaminated and yummy enough to drink all by itself.

    Okay, counting down to four p.m.PST.

  43. LOL… I throw in my guess. Napkins? I bet they would’ve used their sleeve or apron. hahaha…

    If not napkins I might have to guess deviled eggs. Probably the pilgrims wouldn’t have wanted anything “devilish” on their table!!

    Ok, I’m stumped, I can’t wait to hear the answer!!

  44. Going with string beans.

    Fun post. Poultry still hangs in English markets.

  45. Tanya they did leave from Holland but stopped to pick up passengers in England. Concord grapes are natural to North America. Can you make wine out of concords?

  46. Stephanie, Napkins! I think you’re the first one to mention those. I think they probably used a sleeve.

  47. Liz, I don’t know if they had string beans but they had string…I mean beans.

  48. Wow, a lot of guesses there and I can only guess something my family likes is sweet and sour red cabbage!
    Will be downloading the book…looks like a good one!

  49. Silverware!

  50. I was going to say silverware or salt & pepper! I was thinking napkins too!

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