Let’s Talk Turkey

In 1535, Spanish colonialist and historian Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés published his General and Natural History of the Indies in which he described for the old world some of the elements of the new, including hammocks, pineapples, and turkeys.

Though the turkey had already been imported to Europe by this time and had been greeted with enthusiasm by farmers who found that they were kind of delicious and got to work domesticating them, Oviedo’s work offers the earliest really good description of the bird that graces most US Thanksgiving tables.

By Jean Leon Gerome Ferris – Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=227219

But Europeans were far from the first to domesticate the wild turkey. More than two thousand years ago, the early people of Mexico could lay claim to that. Turkeys have long been an important part of most Native American cultures. Heavily featured in folklore, turkeys provided feathers for ceremonial headdresses, acted as insect control, and became a reliable food source when larger game proved more elusive. And in case you wanted to give one a try this Thanksgiving, the internet includes plenty of turkey recipes out of Mexico that claim to span millennia.

Image by MOHANN, via Pixabay.

Anthropological research from the last few years suggests Native Americans in what would become the southeastern US were also domesticating this most thankful of birds as early as 1200 AD. So, when Europeans started to do it, it wasn’t exactly a big deal.

It was, however, a pretty good idea because turkeys can be a challenge to hunt. They are incredibly skittish and can be difficult to lure in with calls, despite the fact that manufactured calls are better than they’ve ever been. And according to a lot of turkey hunters, it’s getting harder every year.

Part of the explanation for this is that in the early twentieth century, wild turkeys in North America were nearly extinct. They were facing increased habitat pressure and had been severely over-hunted. The fact that the population is flourishing today is a triumph of intense wildlife management, but also of the process of natural selection which obviously favored the birds that were too careful to get themselves successfully hunted.

As a person who has no particular desire to go turkey hunting, this doesn’t much bother me. But I do have friends and loved ones who enjoy the sport, or at least they are pretty sure they would if they could find success. Personally, I’m perfectly content to buy a domestic bird from the freezer section of my grocery store. Even if I have trouble finding the exact size I want, I have never failed to bag a turkey at the grocery store.

That is until this week.

If you read my post last week, you know that my family and I have been quarantined since my youngest son tested positive for Covid. He’s fully recovered and at this point none of the rest of us have developed symptoms, but the timing of our quarantine caused a problem.

Thanksgiving is saved!

With Thanksgiving coming up next week, we are really close to the time when we’d have to remove our frozen turkey to the refrigerator to begin thawing. Trouble is, though we did have plenty of toilet paper on hand, we didn’t yet have our frozen bird when we went into lockdown.

We do live in an area where it’s easy to get grocery delivery, but when my husband and I started thinking about a stranger picking out our Thanksgiving turkey for us, we hesitated. We realize this doesn’t make a lot of sense, but if you’re looking for a precise size, this close to Thanksgiving, sometimes the perfect turkey can prove a little elusive. And we didn’t want our delivery person to substitute seven Cornish game hens and some AA batteries when they couldn’t find the bird we wanted.

A smell this delicious transfers over Zoom I bet. Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

It seems even domesticated turkey hunting can be a little tricky.

Fortunately, a hero emerged to rescue us from our predicament. My wonderful sister-in-law who lives a little more than an hour away from us, drove to our house to drop the perfect frozen bird on our doorstep. It should thaw in plenty of time for our favorite turkey recipe that doesn’t span millennia, but is still awfully good.

Barring any additional illness in the household, we should emerge from quarantine in time to hunt for all our own side dish ingredients, too. We have much to be thankful for this year!

I will be eating turkey next Thursday with my family, some live and most virtually, so I won’t be posting in this space. If you celebrate American Thanksgiving, I wish you and your loved ones a very happy holiday! If you don’t, then I wish you a very thankful Thursday!

19 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Turkey

  1. Oh no! I did miss last week’s post. Sorry to hear about your son, but glad he’s on the mend. However, I think you should have taken up the chance on those Cornish game hens and batteries…I mean, just think of the science experiments you could conduct at the table. Or perhaps making your own movie mash up of Chicken Run and Frankenstein! But, if you want to stick with the boring old turkey, so be it. Have a great Thanksgiving and stay healthy 😋

  2. I’m so glad your son has gotten better and the rest of you are staying healthy! And how sweet of your sister-in-law to bring you the perfect bird specimen for Turkey Day! I didn’t realize they had gotten so hard to hunt. Wild turkeys were quite common around where I grew up. One used to come peck at his reflection on the glass sliding door downstairs every morning and wake me up hahaha.

  3. Here in Ireland our turkeys (for Christmas, we don’t do Thanksgiving, though I personally think it’s a lovely idea) are apparently too big this year. It seems that everyone is looking for smaller ones because we’re not going to have the same gigantic family gatherings.
    Hope you have a great holiday, Tin

    1. We didn’t need a big turkey this year, either, but I am married to something of a leftover-obsessed nutjob (which I say with great affection). Our first Thanksgiving as a married couple, he picked out a 17 pound turkey for the two of us.

  4. Happy Thanksgiving! Great post! My Thanksgiving message to my American friends is to be like a wild Turkey. I am sure you will be a bit puzzled by this message. I invite you to read the full article I wrote on this subject to understand my Thanksgiving Message – https://authorjoannereed.net/thanksgiving-message-be-like-a-wild-turkey/. I also talked about this beautiful tradition of granting a pardon to a lucky Turkey started by President Lincoln in my article. Feel free to check it out!

  5. It’s amazing to know that turkey has been around so long ago and someone actually found the good taste in it. It’s not my favorite meat but once a year is okay 😊

I love comments! Please keep them PG, though. I blush easily.

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