Thanksgiving with turkey

The pilgrims were indebted to the Wampanoag, especially to Squanto, who showed them how to cultivate corn, to fish and hunt for native game, and generally how to survive their first year in the New World. It is believed that some of the table fare at this first Thanksgiving included waterfowl, turkey, lobster, clams, venison, corn, vegetables, and plum and pumpkin puddings. The pilgrims had exhausted their supplies of flour and sugar, so it is unlikely that many pies or other desserts were enjoyed.

Over the years, governors from the individual colonies would declare days of Thanksgiving especially after a good harvest season. The English tradition of cooking a goose or turkey spilled over to colonial English families who usually saw fit to include turkey during these celebrations. President Lincoln proclaimed that the last Thursday in November to be observed as a national day of Thanksgiving in 1863. President Franklin Roosevelt tried unsuccessfully to change Thanksgiving to the third week of November in 1939 to lengthen the Christmas season, but after much protest changed it back the following year.

Eastern wild turkey

Credit: - Maslowski/NWTF

Today's Thanksgiving centerpiece

The domesticated turkey is an important part of many Thanksgiving dinners. The turkey is native to North America. It is believed that indigenous Indian tribes in Mexico were the first to begin domesticating the southwestern variety of wild turkey.

By the time the Spanish explorers arrived, the Aztec and Hopi Indians were raising domestic flocks of turkey. These explorers brought turkeys back to Spain in 1519, and from there they were introduced in England in 1524. The Europeans are credited with developing many of our early varieties of domestic turkey.

It is interesting to note that the pilgrims are thought to have brought domestic turkey over with them on the Mayflower and might have introduced them to the Indian tribes that were harvesting wild turkey for food.

After World War II, a number of active breeding programs in England and the U.S. developed many of the domestic strains of turkey we now enjoy at Thanksgiving.

There is some debate on how turkeys got their name, but one account was that early explorers thought that turkey were part of the peacock family and they were given the name "tuku," which means peacock. Another states that turkeys say turk-turk-turk when they are excited or scared.

Wild turkey were very plentiful in colonial times and they were a staple of Indian and European settlers' diets. Over-hunting and destruction of habitat nearly wiped these wild flocks out, and it was estimated that by 1900 less than 30,000 wild turkeys remained. Conservation efforts and reintroduction of wild flocks have brought back turkey numbers in a big way; today it is estimated that nearly 3 million wild turkey roam the forests of the U.S.

Maryland had an active wild turkey reintroduction program in the 1970s and 1980s and now turkey are so plentiful that most Maryland counties have an open hunting season.

Article by FCFCDB

Nature Notes for 11/21/2010