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November 23, 2011

A Little Turkey History and A Wish

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Happy Thanksgiving! Tomorrow all of America will be celebrating the American version of the “Harvest Festival” by gathering their families together and watching football. Some may be aware that the annual holiday originated as a celebration to give thanks for the annual harvest.


Perhaps because of my family’s long agricultural history, Thanksgiving has always been a special holiday in Carroll County. Besides, I’m a fan of any holiday in which food is involved, especially turkey.


I stand in good company because the turkey is a uniquely American contribution to the global palette.


According to numerous sources, including Andrew F. Smith’s “The Turkey: An American Story,” “The Spanish encountered domesticated turkeys in Mexico by 1518, and within a few years they had been introduced into the West Indies and Spain. Shortly thereafter, turkeys were widely disseminated throughout Western Europe.”


Mr. Smith notes that the turkey was introduced in England before 1541 “where it was immediately adopted by the upper classes… By 1577 English growers raised vast flocks… As turkeys became plentiful they became affordable to the middle class and soon were the least expensive bird on the English market.”


Long before “English settlers arrived in North America, turkey recipes appeared in British cookbooks,” Mr. Smith observes.


Mike Bell, an extension educator in agriculture science in the University of Maryland’s Carroll County office, recently wrote an article for The Carroll County Times, “Turkey recipes started in the 1500s.”


Mr. Bell writes that turkey was so popular “that a turkey recipe made its way into an old English cookbook, ‘The Good Huswifes Jewell,’ published in 1586.”


As for the turkey becoming synonymous with Thanksgiving, Mr. Bell explains that “when the pilgrims arrived in America, they were already familiar with raising and eating turkey and naturally included it as part of their Thanksgiving feast.”


Turkey production in the United States has come a long way since the days of the pilgrims. Mr. Bell recites some pretty amazing statistics.


“Last year, about 267 million turkeys were raised with an estimated 45 million eaten at Thanksgiving, 22 million at Christmas and 19 million at Easter,” Mr. Bell notes.


“Turkey consumption has more than doubled over the past 25 years. In 2000, per capita consumption was 18 pounds compared to 8.7 pounds in 1974.”


For those counting calories this Thanksgiving, you may want to stick with the white meat. “White meat is generally preferred in the U.S.” notes Mr. Bell. “A 15-pound turkey typically has about 70 percent white meat and 30 percent dark meat.”


Of course, since I usually go for the dark meat, it has the most calories. “White meat has fewer calories and less fat than dark meat,” says Mr. Bell.


According to many historical accounts, Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be the official bird of the United States and was unhappy when the bald eagle was chosen over the turkey.


“The turkey is a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America,” Mr. Franklin is supposed to have lamented.


Besides, you can’t eat bald eagles.


However, Mr. Smith disputes that Mr. Franklin proposed that the turkey be our national emblem. He asserts that “in 1776 the Continental Congress appointed a committee to recommend a national seal and Franklin did propose a design jointly with Thomas Jefferson, but it was of a biblical scene – Moses crossing the Red Sea chased by the pharaoh, nary a turkey in sight.


“Numerous other designs were also proposed, and the committee ended its tenure without recommending one. A second committee followed and again was dissolved without making a recommendation.


“The third committee finally selected the bald eagle as the national emblem on the seal, and Congress passed that recommendation into law on June 20, 1782. It was that legislation that Franklin lamented to his daughter.”


Hopefully your Thanksgiving will be full of smiles and laughs, family and friends – and plenty of food – and no lament.


And as we gather with our families over a Thanksgiving meal, remember our firefighters, police officers and our men and women in uniform who are in harm’s way, defending our freedom to enjoy this great country and a safe holiday – and eat all the turkey we want.


Let our Thanksgiving be revealed in the compassionate support our community renders to fellow citizens who are less fortunate as we begin the holiday season.


Let us reach out with care to those in need of food, shelter, and words of hope.


As we gather with our families over a Thanksgiving meal, may we ask that we be given patience, resolve, and wisdom in all that lies ahead for our great nation.


. . . . .I’m just saying.


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