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The Turkey

An American Story

Andrew F. Smith

Publication Year: 2006

Fondly remembered as the centerpiece of family Thanksgiving reunions, the turkey is a cultural symbol as well as a multi-billion dollar industry. As a bird, dinner, commodity, and national icon, the turkey has become as American as the bald eagle (with which it actually competed for supremacy on national insignias)._x000B__x000B_Food historian Andrew F. Smith's sweeping and multifaceted history of Meleagris gallopavo separates fact from fiction, serving as both a solid historical reference and a fascinating general read. With his characteristic wit and insatiable curiosity, Smith presents the turkey in ten courses, beginning with the bird itself (actually several different species of turkey) flying through the wild. The Turkey subsequently includes discussions of practically every aspect of the iconic bird, including the wild turkey in early America, how it came to be called "turkey," domestication, turkey mating habits, expansion into Europe, stuffing, conditions in modern industrial turkey factories, its surprising commercial history of boom and bust, and its eventual ascension to holiday mainstay. The second half of the book collects an amazing array of over one hundred historical and modern turkey recipes from across America and Europe. Historians will enjoy a look back at the varied appetites of their ancestors, and seasoned cooks will have an opportunity to reintroduce a familiar food in forgotten ways._x000B_

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Series: The Food Series

front cover

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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. ix-x

List of Recipes

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pp. xi-xiv

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pp. xv-xx

My fondest childhood food memories relate to the traditional Thanksgiving feast and its centerpiece, the turkey. In southern California in the 1950s the celebration started at school with Thanksgiving-related arts and crafts such as tracing our hands on construction paper and then coloring in the gobbler’s features and tail feathers. ...

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pp. xxi-xxii

Many problems confront anyone writing about the history of the turkey. Among the mass of information available are tens of thousands of references, descriptions, and depictions in American and European literature, newspapers, diaries, letters, legal documents, paintings, engravings, poems, zoological works, and cookbooks. ...

Part 1: The History of the Turkey

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1. The Prehistoric Turkey; or, How the Turkey Conquered North America

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pp. 3-13

More than twelve thousand species of birds are dispersed throughout the world, and virtually all of them are edible. Fowl were an important part of early human diets. Their eggs were easily gathered, but the fowl themselves were more difficult to procure. Because it is not easy to hit birds on the wing, hunters devised methods of capturing them with traps, nets, and snares. ...

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2. The Globe-trotting Turkey; or, How the Turkey Conquered Europe

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pp. 14-25

Fifteenth-century Europe consisted of a patchwork of small kingdoms, duchies, and nominal empires. Spain was on its way to unification after the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella and the resulting union of Aragon and Castile. The re-conquest of Moorish areas of the Iberian Peninsula was a costly venture, ...

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3. The English Turkey; or, How the Turkey Cooked the Christmas Goose

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pp. 26-38

nly English-speaking countries use the word turkey to refer to the Meleagris gallopavo. Many explanations, most of them fanciful, have been offered for its origin. Some have proposed an onomatopoetic derivation, claiming that the turkey named itself because it makes a “turk, turk” sound, but neither wild nor domesticated bird does that.1 ...

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4. The Call of the Wild Turkey; or, How the Wild Turkey Came to a Fowl Ending

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pp. 39-53

Many European expeditions explored what is today the United States during the sixteenth century. Some charted the coastline of eastern North America, others established settlements in the New World. In 1562 Jean Ribault, a French captain, explored the coast of southeastern North America. ...

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5. The Well-dressed Turkey; or, How the Turkey Trotted onto America's Table

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pp. 54-66

The disappearance of wildfowl did not present a problem for European colonists, who had imported domesticated poultry— particularly chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, and guinea fowl— shortly after colonization. Domesticated fowl generally foraged for themselves in the barnyard, and their diet was supplemented with kitchen scraps and grain. ...

Illustrations follow page 66.

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6. Hale's Turkey Tale; or, The Invention of Turkey Day

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pp. 67-82

The Separatists, a small splinter group of Puritanism, followed John Calvin’s teachings. Separatists believed that Scripture was the only guide to all matters of faith and that individuals had the right to interpret the meaning of Scripture. Each Separatist congregation selected its own pastor, whose responsibilities were limited to the jurisdiction of that single church. ...

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7. The Well-bred Turkey; or, How the Turkey Lost its Flavor

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pp. 83-92

Of the six major subspecies of wild turkeys, only two contributed genetically to the modern commercial turkey. The Mexican turkey (M. g. gallopavo) is believed to be the progenitor of domesticated turkeys that the Spanish found in Central America.1 These birds were exported to Europe, where they were bred in different countries. ...

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8. The Industrialized Turkey; or, How the Turkey Became a Profit Center

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pp. 93-109

In the midst of the Civil War the U.S. Congress boldly launched two major efforts unrelated to the war: creation of what became the Department of Agriculture and passage of the Land Grant College Act. The latter established agricultural colleges throughout the nation. ...

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9. The Social Turkey; or, How the Turkey Became a Cultural Icon

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pp. 110-129

The turkey was just a big bird to raise, hunt, and consume until the American War for Independence, when it began to acquire symbolic value. The new nation needed to differentiate itself from its English roots, and “American” foods began to take on nationalistic values. ...

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10. The American Turkey; or, How the Turkey Came Home to Roost

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pp. 130-136

When wild turkeys were fast disappearing from the American landscape many states passed laws restricting hunting seasons and regulating the number of birds a hunter could kill.1 These laws, however, were generally unenforced or ineffective. As many species became threatened, Congress enacted legislation intended to protect America’s remaining wildlife. ...

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Part 2: Historical Recipes

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pp. 137-168

Thousands of turkey recipes were published in the United States and the United Kingdom, whether in cookbooks, agricultural and horticultural journals, newspapers, popular magazines, turkey processors’ promotional pamphlets, or a host of other sources. The recipes that follow form a representative sample of historical recipes; ...


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pp. 169-204

Selected Bibliography and Resources

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pp. 205-218


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pp. 219-224

back cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780252092428
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252076879

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: The Food Series