The Turkey

The Turkey: An American Story

ANDREW F. SMITH
Series: The Food Series
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 264
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt3fh66p
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  • Book Info
    The Turkey
    Book Description:

    Fondly remembered as the centerpiece of family Thanksgiving reunions, the turkey is a cultural symbol as well as a multi-billion dollar industry. As a bird, dinner, commodity, and national icon, the turkey has become as American as the bald eagle (with which it actually competed for supremacy on national insignias)._x000B__x000B_Food historian Andrew F. Smith's sweeping and multifaceted history of Meleagris gallopavo separates fact from fiction, serving as both a solid historical reference and a fascinating general read. With his characteristic wit and insatiable curiosity, Smith presents the turkey in ten courses, beginning with the bird itself (actually several different species of turkey) flying through the wild. The Turkey subsequently includes discussions of practically every aspect of the iconic bird, including the wild turkey in early America, how it came to be called "turkey," domestication, turkey mating habits, expansion into Europe, stuffing, conditions in modern industrial turkey factories, its surprising commercial history of boom and bust, and its eventual ascension to holiday mainstay. The second half of the book collects an amazing array of over one hundred historical and modern turkey recipes from across America and Europe. Historians will enjoy a look back at the varied appetites of their ancestors, and seasoned cooks will have an opportunity to reintroduce a familiar food in forgotten ways.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09242-8
    Subjects: Sociology, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Historical Recipes
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xv-xx)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  6. PART 1: THE HISTORY OF THE TURKEY

    • 1 THE PREHISTORIC TURKEY; OR, HOW THE TURKEY CONQUERED NORTH AMERICA
      (pp. 3-13)

      More than twelve thousand species of birds are dispersed throughout the world, and virtually all of them are edible. Fowl were an important part of early human diets. Their eggs were easily gathered, but the fowl themselves were more difficult to procure. Because it is not easy to hit birds on the wing, hunters devised methods of capturing them with traps, nets, and snares. Land or gallinaceous birds—heavy-bodied fowl that roost and largely feed on the ground—were easier to catch, especially when humans joined in group efforts. Some flushed birds from thickets while others clubbed, hit, or netted...

    • 2 THE GLOBE-TROTTING TURKEY; OR, HOW THE TURKEY CONQUERED EUROPE
      (pp. 14-25)

      Fifteenth-century Europe consisted of a patchwork of small kingdoms, duchies, and nominal empires. Spain was on its way to unification after the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella and the resulting union of Aragon and Castile. The re-conquest of Moorish areas of the Iberian Peninsula was a costly venture, and the Spanish needed funds to pay for the war. At that time, a major way of generating revenue was to trade spices. Many desirable ones, such as pepper and nutmeg, originated in India and the Spice Islands (now Indonesia). Spices were transported to Europe either by overland caravan to the Mediterranean...

    • 3 THE ENGLISH TURKEY; OR, HOW THE TURKEY COOKED THE CHRISTMAS GOOSE
      (pp. 26-38)

      Only English-speaking countries use the word turkey to refer to the Meleagris gallopavo. Many explanations, most of them fanciful, have been offered for its origin. Some have proposed an onomatopoetic derivation, claiming that the turkey named itself because it makes a “turk, turk” sound, but neither wild nor domesticated bird does that.¹ Others claim that the turkey’s head looks like a fez.² The fez, however, was introduced into Turkey in 1826 to replace the turban and therefore could not have been the source for a sixteenth-century word. Still others maintain that the name derived from the Hindi or Tamil word...

    • 4 THE CALL OF THE WILD TURKEY; OR, HOW THE WILD TURKEY CAME TO A FOWL ENDING
      (pp. 39-53)

      Many European expeditions explored what is today the United States during the sixteenth century. Some charted the coastline of eastern North America, others established settlements in the New World. In 1562 Jean Ribault, a French captain, explored the coast of southeastern North America. The French established a fort at La Carocine in what is now Jacksonville, Florida. Simultaneously, the Spanish built a fort at St. Augustine to protect the northern sea lanes traversed by their galleons bearing New World treasure back to Spain. The Spanish believed that the French colony threatened their hold on the region, and they destroyed it....

    • 5 THE WELL-DRESSED TURKEY; OR, HOW THE TURKEY TROTTED ONTO AMERICA’S TABLE
      (pp. 54-66)

      The disappearance of wildfowl did not present a problem for European colonists, who had imported domesticated poultry—particularly chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, and guinea fowl—shortly after colonization. Domesticated fowl generally foraged for themselves in the barnyard, and their diet was supplemented with kitchen scraps and grain. They needed protection from marauding predators, so most farmers constructed coops to protect them at night. But little else was necessary.

      Domesticated turkeys were reportedly raised in Jamestown by 1614, but they were evidently still rare in 1623 because a law was passed imposing the death penalty for the theft of turkeys if...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • 6 HALE’S TURKEY TALE; OR, THE INVENTION OF TURKEY DAY
      (pp. 67-82)

      The Separatists, a small splinter group of Puritanism, followed John Calvin’s teachings. Separatists believed that Scripture was the only guide to all matters of faith and that individuals had the right to interpret the meaning of Scripture. Each Separatist congregation selected its own pastor, whose responsibilities were limited to the jurisdiction of that single church. When the English Parliament banished those who refused to join in common prayer, many Separatists left England for Amsterdam. One group formed a church in Leyden, but in 1619 some decided to sail for North America. After leaving Holland, they stopped for repairs and provisions...

    • 7 THE WELL-BRED TURKEY; OR, HOW THE TURKEY LOST ITS FLAVOR
      (pp. 83-92)

      Of the six major subspecies of wild turkeys, only two contributed genetically to the modern commercial turkey. The Mexican turkey (M. g. gallopavo) is believed to be the progenitor of domesticated turkeys that the Spanish found in Central America.¹ These birds were exported to Europe, where they were bred in different countries. In Spain, the Black Spanish emerged; in Holland, turkey farmers developed a buff-yellow bird with a white topknot; and in Austria, an all-white variety was bred.²

      These domesticated turkeys were imported into North America shortly after the initial European settlements were established in the seventeenth century. The Dutch...

    • 8 THE INDUSTRIALIZED TURKEY; OR, HOW THE TURKEY BECAME A PROFIT CENTER
      (pp. 93-109)

      In the midst of the Civil War the U.S. Congress boldly launched two major efforts unrelated to the war: creation of what became the Department of Agriculture and passage of the Land Grant College Act. The latter established agricultural colleges throughout the nation. The Hatch Act twenty-five years later created agricultural experiment stations, which were frequently housed at the land grant colleges. In order to coordinate research at the experiment stations, which issued reports on a wide variety of agricultural matters, the act also launched the Office of Experiment Stations in the Department of Agriculture.¹

      Beginning in 1898, states began...

    • 9 THE SOCIAL TURKEY; OR, HOW THE TURKEY BECAME A CULTURAL ICON
      (pp. 110-129)

      The turkey was just a big bird to raise, hunt, and consume until the American War for Independence, when it began to acquire symbolic value. The new nation needed to differentiate itself from its English roots, and “American” foods began to take on nationalistic values. A main instigator for this change in the turkey’s symbolic shift was Benjamin Franklin, who had numerous turkey connections. First, he liked to eat the bird; indeed, one of the few surviving recipes directly associated with him is one for an oyster sauce for a boiled turkey.¹ Second, the turkey figured in Franklin’s scientific experiments....

    • 10 THE AMERICAN TURKEY; OR, HOW THE TURKEY CAME HOME TO ROOST
      (pp. 130-136)

      When wild turkeys were fast disappearing from the American landscape many states passed laws restricting hunting seasons and regulating the number of birds a hunter could kill.¹ These laws, however, were generally unenforced or ineffective. As many species became threatened, Congress enacted legislation intended to protect America’s remaining wildlife. The Lacey Act of 1905 blocked the sale of frozen wild turkeys between states and thus gave a small measure of protection to the surviving wild birds.

      Some attempts were made to transplant birds to environments that were more protected. In 1876, for instance, J. D. Caton transported wild turkeys to...

  7. PART 2 Historical Recipes
    (pp. 137-168)

    Thousands of turkey recipes were published in the United States and the United Kingdom, whether in cookbooks, agricultural and horticultural journals, newspapers, popular magazines, turkey processors’ promotional pamphlets, or a host of other sources. The recipes that follow form a representative sample of historical recipes; some were selected because they are typical, others because they are unusual. As a collection, they reflect the diversity of turkey recipes. The spelling, grammar, and style of the recipes have been left in their original form.

    Before the twentieth century, most cookbook authors took for granted a certain level of knowledge, understanding, and experience...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 169-204)
  9. Selected Bibliography and Resources
    (pp. 205-218)
  10. Index
    (pp. 219-224)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 225-229)