Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Let's Talk Turkey--All About The Turkey

Since the turkey will be the central star of most tables tomorrow, let's talk turkey.  
The turkey provided more than sustenance to Native Americans. The feathers were used for fletching their arrows and for decorations, Bones of the bird became tools, spurs for arrow heads and its leg bones were made into fish hooks.

Of course, Benjamin Franklin had wanted the turkey as our national bird, but the bald eagle won out. Surprisingly to say, the wild turkey of Ben Franklin's day was a brightly plumed, cunning bird of flight and able to defend its territory.

And though it most likely was something they may have eaten on Thanksgiving, but no one is really sure, it is pretty sure the Pilgrims ate venison on their three day celebration. Yes, three days, not one as we do it. Wild turkeys were probably first domesticated by native Mexicans. Spaniards brought tame Mexican turkeys to Europe in 1519, and they reached England by 1524. The Pilgrims actually brought several turkeys to America on the voyage in 1620.

Researchers know of two kinds of wild turkey. One is called the ocellated turkey, native to Yucatan and Guatemala and a brilliantly colored bird with eyelet spots on its tail similar to that of a peacock. The other is the wild turkey common to Mexico and the United States. At one time this wild turkey migrated as far north as Maine and southern Ontario, Canada. And the state that raises most of those turkeys you will find in the supermarkets? Minnesota. 

Turkeys are extremely curious by nature. Groups of domesticated turkey have been seen standing in the rain with their beaks pointed straight up toward the sky. What are they doing? According to poultry research at the University of Illinois, it is unclear. Some turkey experts speculate that these birds are curiously looking at raindrops falling from the sky. Or could they be attempting to get a drink of water? An old wives tale suggests that turkeys have been known to actually drown in this position. But even there is no proof yet on this.

A web search for turkey will generate a lot of information about the Republic of Turkey, an eastern European nation, yet there is no turkey to be found on the menu in that country. The name translates into “large bird.”

Heard of Kentucky Wild Turkey Bourbon? Well, back in 1940 Thomas McCarthy, a hunter and distillery executive, brought a private supply of bourbon along with him on an annual wild turkey hunt with his friends. The following year the good old boys requested more of the same bourbon referring to it as “Wild Turkey.” Mr. McCarthy later honored his friends by turning the nickname into a legendary brand of Kentucky bourbon. True story.

Big Bird, of Sesame Street fame, is actually dressed in turkey feathers. Although he is not a turkey, his costume is made of nearly 4,000 white turkey feathers, which have been dyed bright yellow.

In England, during the 1700's, turkeys were walked to market in large herds. Turkey farmers often covered the birds' feet with little booties to protect them on the long journey to the London market.

Only the adult male turkey makes the gobbler, gobble sound. The adult male is called the "tom" turkey. The female or hen turkey makes a gentle clucking or clicking sound. The hen never gobbles.

Why turkeys are called turkeys? Some say Columbus thought the land he discovered was connected to India which had a large population of peacocks and he thought turkeys were part of the peacock family. He decided to call them tuka, which is the word for peacock in the language of India. But there are those who say the name came from Native Americans who called the birds firkee, which sounds like turkey. While others says the name came from the sound turkeys make when they are afraid - "turk, turk, turk."

Charles Dickens' The Christmas Carol is credited for popularizing the serving of turkey for Christmas dinner.

In the sport of bowling, when a player bowls three strikes in a row—it is called a turkey.

Now, you learned more about turkeys then I assume you ever wanted to know about. But one thing I am sure about and you too—we’ll be enjoying the bird on Thanksgiving, lore or no lore.



Ray said...

Very interesting blog.The "firkee" might be the forerunner of the vegetarian "Tofurkey."

I just read that the first Thanksgiving was held a year earlier than the Massachusetts festival in December of 1619. It would be nice if we could celebrate both.

Pamela K. Kinney said...

Yes, the one here in Virginia. I also heard that out west, due to the Spaniards they may be even earlier than Virginia's. Can't remember the state--don't think California--but another place.

Janice Seagraves said...

Hi Pam,

A friend of mine swears he saw 'dumb turkeys' staring up at the rain, and one would tumble over dead from drowning.

I've seen wild turkeys in flocks near the Sacramento CA delta, and one walking by itself by Hensley Lake CA.

Our Thanksgiving day bird is rather pale in comparison to the wild turkey with its more colorful plumage. Didn't know it came originally from Mexico.