Did you know it’s likely the Pilgrims didn’t eat turkey on what is traditionally recognized as “The First Thanksgiving”? It’s more likely they brought “wildfowl”, which was probably geese or ducks. However, turkey isn’t out of the realm of possibilities here, rather, it’s simply unlikely.
It wasn’t until the 19th century when turkey had become somewhat popular to serve for meals, especially larger gatherings since the birds were so large and could feed so many. While people raised livestock on farms, they often did not slaughter cows or chickens as long as they kept producing eggs and milk. Turkeys, however, were plentiful and mainly raised to eat.
Charles Dickens wrote of a turkey being eaten at a holiday meal in his masterpiece, A Christmas Carol, however, Sarah Josepha Hale, a female writer in 1827, published a work known as Northwood which features a turkey being served at a New England Thanksgiving meal. This same woman also began petitioning the day to become a national holiday and doubled her efforts during the Civil War. She wanted a holiday where the whole country could come together and be thankful, and this was the perfect day.
Abraham Lincoln must have agreed, for in 1863, he made a presidential proclamation that made the day a national holiday. Once it became a day celebrated by Americans every year, certain mythology sprung up regarding it. In a collection of writings from the Pilgrims, a man known as William Bradford had written in his journal that Plymouth had a “great store of wild turkeys” in the fall of 1621, and thus the legend was born.
Turkey has always been somewhat easy on the pocketbook, which makes for the perfect meat to serve in American households year after year. Turkeys number in the millions all throughout the country, and are bred for the generous amounts of meat we are so used to in modern times. It is certain turkeys in 1621 Plymouth were not the size of your average Butterball in stores today.
Even so, there are plenty of ways to cook your turkey and plenty of ways to argue about it too. Traditionally, roasting and basting seem to be the preferred method, but it involves tin foil tents and basting every half an hour. That alone lengthens roasting time as the oven is constantly letting out heat when it’s opened over and over again.
Some are adamant about frying their turkeys and are willing to brave the threat of an oil fire in their backyard in order to do it. There’s a certain science behind judging the amount of oil to put in your fryer versus the size of your bird. There is such a thing as displacement, and the last thing you want to do is ease your turkey into the vat only to realize your grass and surrounding bushes are now on fire from the overflow of superheated oil.
Believe it or not, others sous-vide their turkeys on #TurkeyDay, but the bird will have to be butchered first. However you slice it, turkey is firmly established as the main course of the Thanksgiving dinner tradition.
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