Tag Archives: Turkey

The Humble Turkey and Thanksgiving

Here are some fun and interesting facts about the turkey and Thanksgiving.

Turkey is native to North America and has two breeds:

Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)
This is found in eastern and central North America and Mexico.

Ocellated Turkey (Meleagris ocellata)
Found in the Yucatan Peninsula and Central America.

A wild turkey, photographed in Berkeley, California, 29 April 2010.
Image credit: Feezo
Image via Wikimedia Commons

Turkeys were domesticated by native peoples. The Spanish brought back turkeys to Spain and from there they gradually made their way into the cuisine of Europe. English explorers and settlers would bring back turkey to England where they were apparently domesticated since records indicate they were being eaten by the British in the 16th century.

Ocellated Turkey, Belize 2010.
Image credit: TonyCastro
Image via Wikimedia Commons

Due to its abundance in North America, Mexico, and Central America, the turkey was not seen as something special due to its availability. This is probably the reason why it was not mentioned as a meat served at the first Thanksgiving though it was likely served.

Beef and pork were seen as holiday meats and were generally only eaten on important days like Christmas, Easter, or other special events. The Irish, for example, preferred pork for St. Patrick’s Day since it was easier than cattle since they take up lots of space while pigs could be kept in a pen. This only changed when Irish came to America and found beef in easy abundance and luckily for them delicatessens had corned beef.

By the 18th and 19th centuries, turkey starts showing up more as a meat to be used when you did not want to slaughter a pig or a cow. Turkey also started becoming popular for feasts as well, though not at center stage just yet. In A Christmas Carol the kids were waiting excitedly for the goose to come back from the baker showing its importance for Christmas feasting. Turkey starts showing up more in books and illustrations as a Christmas food. In 18th and 19th century America lobster was seen as a poor man’s food since people of wealth could afford beef, pork, goose, or turkey.

During the latter part of the Victorian Era (1837-1901), turkey would replace beef and pork for Christmas. As upper-class people and Queen Victoria embraced it, others followed suit and it would replace the goose for Christmas. In the United States, turkey became associated with Thanksgiving due to both images and stories of it being eaten at the first Thanksgiving. As stated earlier, there is no mention of turkeys at that meal, but it is more than likely they were served. As the image of turkeys being part of that Thanksgiving seeped into the American consciousness, it eventually found its way to become part of the celebration itself. Turkey quickly displaced beef and pork (to the displeasure of their producers) as the central part of the feast. Today it is mostly unthinkable to not think of turkey as part of the Thanksgiving feast (with apologies to my vegetarian friends).

Today millions of turkeys are sold at Thanksgiving either frozen, fresh, or sometimes smoked. While the U.S. is a major consumer of the bird, more turkey is eaten in Israel than anywhere else. They really like turkey for their big feasts but of course it is served with Kosher accompaniments so you will not be having mashed potatoes made of milk and butter (since Kosher forbids the mixing of meat and dairy).

Despite their numbers being severely dropped for a while due to hunting and other things, the wild turkey is making a comeback and large flocks have been seen in the wild and sometimes in suburbs as well. Wild turkeys can fly short distances, but their domesticated cousins are flightless. The possible exception might be heritage turkeys raised outdoors and free to roam and eat.

Wild turkeys can be a bit of a nuisance though. They can get nasty, sometimes bite, and they leave some of their presence behind to be cleaned up. Sometimes it requires effort to chase them away though if a coyote or mountain lion should appear (and attack the flock) that generally gives them the hint to move on.

Thanksgiving Grace (1942)
Photo: Public Domain (US Library of Congress, digital id#fsa.8d10749)

Roasting turkey in an oven is traditional but, in many areas, not always possible. In the early days, many homes did not have ovens as we know them. They might have open hearths or perhaps an area where they could heat up and put a turkey in. This led to bakers, who had ovens, often for a fee leasing out their ovens to cook a bird. Others would cook them in fat in large open containers in pits dug for this purpose. Others found ways to roast over an open fire by turning them often (a sometimes risky and tiring task since you had to stand close and manually turn it like today’s rotisserie sans electricity).

Fried Turkey
Image: Cygnus921

Deep frying turkey may have started in the American South but went back further possibly to England, France and perhaps even to the Romans. Deep frying does cook faster and keeps it moist, but the key is the amount of oil used and how stable the platform to cook is. Some used deep pits, so this prevented fires or leakage. Above the ground requires the cooking platform to be kept clear of anything that might burn if there is a leak resulting in a fire.

The most common reason for mishaps with deep frying turkey is people do not pay attention to the amount of oil used to the weight of the bird. One hilarious video on YouTube had this guy lowering the turkey into the pot outdoors while saying he had followed the Archimedes rule of displacement. He miscalculated, hot oil spilled out of the pot and ignited with the open flame below, and then fully ignited. The other common reason is that people put a frozen bird into hot oil thinking there will be no problem. I am not sure if they didn’t pay attention in chemistry class or never heard why you do not put water into a hot pan with oil in it. The result in an explosion that can, if too close to the home (or foolishly enough inside it) means your home or apartment is going to be severely damaged. Or worse.

During World War II, the military tried to make sure troops everywhere had Thanksgiving even front-line troops. Those who served on military bases, ships, or in London probably had the best. For submarines the cook(s) had to contend with the unexpected action of the sub diving as they were cooking made Thanksgiving meal an adventure both in cooking and serving. And for those on the field with Germans in sight, getting those meals meant coming under direct enemy fire causing some commanders to question the wisdom of delivering meals while in an active fire zone.

And of course, Thanksgiving can be a source of humor as well. Just look at some vintage clips from shows past and present about it. The most classic one of course is the famous and never duplicated one from WKRP. As a promotion they decided to drop turkeys into a parking lot in front of a mall. And, well, you have to watch to find out.


Food Served on Titanic; Tragedy Strikes Couple Trying To Recreate Famous Movie Scene


Titanic Lunch Menu 14 April 1912
Photo: AP

What Did People On The Titanic Eat Onboard?
Cruise.blog, 23 May 2022

Enjoying fine cuisine has been a long-standing tradition for ocean liners, which continues to be an integral part of cruising. On cruises today, the entire experience revolves around indulging in delicious meals, whether that’s in the main dining room or specialty dining options.Because of artifacts saved from the sunken ship, we have a pretty clear picture of what Titanic passengers ate during their 4 day voyage.


The following news story is a sad one. A couple in Turkey walked out on a pier to recreate the famous scene in Cameron’s Titanic where Jack and Rose were on the bow of the ship. Unfortunately in doing so, they both fell into the water. Nearby fishermen rushed  to assist. The woman was saved but alas her friend did not survive and he drowned. Truly a sad outcome that was supposed to be a happy moment in both of their lives. Our prayers go out to her and the family and friends of the young man who died.

Man Drowns While Recreating Titanic ‘King Of The World’ Pose
Daily Mail, 17 May 2022

George Hodan, publicdomainpictures.net

A man has drowned while recreating the ‘king of the world’ pose from the Titanic with his girlfriend on a Turkish pier after the couple slipped and plunged into the sea. Furkan Ciftci and his girlfriend Mine Dinar, both 23, had stood at the edge of the Izmit Marina Pier in the north-western Turkish province of Kocaeli to recreate Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet’s famous flying pose in the 1997 film. But the couple, who had been drinking alcohol before coming up with the idea of recreating the ‘King of the World’ pose from the Oscar-winning film, fell into the ocean at around 9.15pm on Sunday. Local fishermen saw the couple fall off the pier and rushed to help them.

Video of Ship Breaking in Two

Cargo ship Arkin, 2018
Photo: Ersen Aktan, vesselfinder

It is not often you see something this dramatic. This freighter was in heavy seas off the coast of Turkey in the Black Sea. As the video shows, you can see the ship bend that indicates it is going to break up (which it does). They do send an SOS and get off the ship. The incident took place on 17 Jan 2021.

Caught on Cam: Ship Actually Breaks in Two (Weather.com, 9 Feb 2020)

Here are two  news reports on this sinking:

Ukrainian freighter sinks off Turkey’s Black Sea coast (MSN, 17 Jan 21)

Three bodies found after ARVIN ship sinks off Turkey’s Black Sea (UNIAN, 18 Jan 2021)


Amazon’s Best Books of the Year

Singing The Turkey Blues

Male wild turkey
Photo: Public domain

Thanksgiving is over, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are over as well. One final note about Thanksgiving is about the turkey. There are many ways to prepare this bird. One favorite technique is deep frying. Now this has become a rage in the past few years. And I have pointed out the pitfalls of not doing it right. You get one very delicious turkey when done right. Personally the deep fryer is the way to go (east to clean, close the lid etc) but many get those hulking turkey fryers available all over the place these days. No need to play the warnings here. Go to You Tube and see the disasters of turkey frying. Here is a satirical melody about turkey ruined by deep frying the wrong way.

Titanic Hotel In….Turkey

Titanic Beach Lara, Antalya, Turkey  Photo: www.touristica.com.tr
Titanic Beach Lara, Antalya, Turkey
Photo: www.touristica.com.tr

Over in China they are building a full scale Titanic replica (no, not Clive Palmer’s Titanic II which appears to be shuttered)for a theme park. It will even have a Titanic sinking simulation with lights and other things for that special Titanic experience. Over in Turkey though they went a different route. The Titanic Beach Lara resort has taken the whole idea of a replica and raised the stakes. The hotel is designed to look like a ship and has the name Titanic emblazoned on it. There are actual lifeboats that hang from it but likely will never be used considering the resort is far away from the Mediterranean Sea. It is an all inclusive resort, which means all the basics are included in the price (sort of like Club Med). Of course there are lots of extras you can buy (which they hope you do). I have to admit after looking at the photos it is spectacular to behold. No Titanic sinking simulator here and none needed. Just be sure to bring good sunscreen. You are going to need it.

Science Friday: Turkey The Bird

Male wild turkey Photo: Public domain
Male wild turkey
Photo: Public domain

*The turkey is native to North America–the U.S. and Mexico–and is in the genus Meleagris. The common wild turkey and its domestic cousin is Meleagris gallopavo. Another species is ocellated turkey and it only resides in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.

*Archaeological evidence indicates Mesoamericans domesticated turkeys and the Aztecs as well. Turkey feathers were used for decorative purposes.

*Europeans first thought the Americas were part of Asia so the turkey was considered part of the guineafowl family. It was called guineaturkey and then shortened to just turkey. There are guineafowl in Turkey and back then giving a bird an exotic name added to its mystique. The name stuck.

*The Spanish brought turkeys to Spain where it was domesticated and new breeds resulted. English navigator William Strickland is credited with bringing turkey to England in the 16th century and his coat of arms has a turkey in it.

*Domesticated turkeys were considered a luxury food. Most people could not afford it until the late 19th century. Most people in had goose, duck, or beef for Christmas dinner (Bob Cratchit in A Christmas Carol had a goose). Scrooge bought a turkey for Cratchit which was something very special in those days.

*Turkey producers worked to lower the cost (by breeding birds to be plump and cheaper by the pound to sell)but it was the advent of refrigeration that allowed turkeys to be sent whole to markets (first by rail then by truck). Home refrigeration opened up the turkey market for everyone and with turkey prices lower than good cuts of beef, a better alternative. Today turkeys are sold fresh and frozen year round.

*Breeder farms supply turkey eggs to hatcheries (they are often artificially inseminated). After they hatch, they are sent to special grow farms and later to a main area. The are mostly indoor these days to prevent infection from being outside and to maximize production cost. It does keep the costs down but also has some problems. Turkeys can be aggressive and will peck each other, sometimes to death. Some producers clip their beaks when they are young. Some turkeys can develop health issues which means some die before reaching maturity becoming a loss to the producer. In recent years efforts have been made to make these areas more conducive to turkey roosting.

*Heritage turkeys (turkeys raised the old fashioned way-outdoors)has gained popularity in recent years. These use breeds that were more common long ago before the full domestication began. They are allowed to free range, reproduce naturally, and mature longer. Cook’s Illustrated reports they have more fat as a result of this longer maturity. The average domestic has more meat but more lean because once they mature, they are sent to the butcher. Heritage turkeys are more expensive than the mass produced turkeys.

*Wild turkeys, once thought to be nearly extinct, are now quite numerous again in North America. While domesticated versions can barely fly when they are young, their wilder cousins can fly,roost in trees and avoid predators (foxes, owls, snakes). Their eggs are often targets for raccoons and opossums. Wild turkeys travel in same sex flocks (male/male or female/female)with the exception of young turkeys that follow their mothers for about five months. They eat a wide assortment from insects, spiders and small frogs to fruits, flowers, acorns and grasses. They roam about during the day seeking food and in flocks. It is rare to see a turkey by itself in the wild. Males are four feet long and females three. Their breast feathers indicate which sex they are (males have breast feathers with black tips, females are brown). They are fast runners.

*Turkey flocks do not tolerate new members easily. If a turkey from a unknown pack or another nearby should come into their group, it may be attacked and killed.

*Turkey flocks can be a threat to agriculture because they are rapacious eaters. So in areas where turkey flocks exist (generally in woodlands, forests, and meadows), growers and farmers have to take special precautions to deter them from eating up their crops or their food to livestock. Turkeys are not seasonal and will stay year round even when there is snow on the ground.

*Homeowners in areas where turkey flocks roam have to take precautions as well like making sure not to feed them or leave out food they can get to (like bird seed). Turkeys can be aggressive and try to dominate (they are not territorial though, they just want to dominate). If they are not discouraged early on, they can become a real problem in the area because the behavior is impossible to change after that point. Often this results in them being killed since relocation rarely solves the problem. They can attack small children and seniors (they have sharp beaks) so chasing them away with brooms or other significant non-lethal methods usually works. Because their numbers have gotten large, annual hunts are allowed (by permit)in some areas to keep the turkey population from getting out of hand.

*The biggest consumer per capita of turkey are Israelis. In the early days refrigeration was not common and meat was hard to come by. Turkeys though are easy to domesticate and provide good meat. Which is why turkey is very big in Israel and why you find turkey pastrami is very popular. Kosher turkey is available in the United States from producers in Pennsylvania. Unlike other birds, if you brine this bird you do not need salt as the Kosher process adds salt.

How Not To Deep Fry A Turkey For Thanksgiving

Turkey fryer used the wrong way. Photo: State Farm
Turkey fryer used the wrong way.
Photo: State Farm

Thanksgiving is almost here and every year injuries or damage result from deep frying turkey. Now you have read the postings here and elsewhere warning about the unsafe ways to avoid. So this is short and sweet. The indoor electric deep fryers are the best way to go if you have no outdoor area to cook in (they keep the oil at the right temperature and you have a lid to close it up). General safety rules always apply but for the traditional outdoor variety the safety rules are simple:

1. Never put the turkey fryer in a garage, on a balcony, or back porch. It needs to be on level ground and not close to any structure should the worst happen. And it goes without saying never use these outdoor ones inside unless you want to burn down your home.

2. Keep pets and kids away from the actual cooking.

3. Always make sure to put in the correct amount of oil. People often forget displacement occurs when the turkey is put in resulting in hot oil hitting the flames. Always test with water and mark exactly where the oil line is. Never assume the oil line inside the container is where it ought to be.

4. Remember to pat dry the turkey before you put it in. And this next part is important: NEVER EVER PUT A FROZEN TURKEY INTO HOT OIL. The resulting fireball will cause damage to people and property. Make sure it is completely defrosted and dry when you put it in the oil.

5. Wear appropriate clothing. This is hot oil and it will burn on bare skin. Wear long sleeve shirts or chefs coat.

6. Lower the turkey carefully into the hot oil.

Deep fried turkey is delicious but you must be careful or Thanksgiving will be ruined.

Now for some videos. The first one is a guy who thinks he knows what he is doing. Notice where he has the turkey fryer and how it is not set up right at all. This idiot even mentions Archimedes principle of displacement but clearly does not understand it when applied to liquid in a container. A heavy object in liquid displaces liquid around and over it. If the objects mass is greater than the liquid overflow results. [Update 25 Nov 2015-The first video is no longer available except in compilations. A different video has been substituted in its place.]

Here is a demonstration on the correct way to deep fry a turkey.

And because, just like those guys on Mythbusters who like their explosions, here is what happens when you put a frozen turkey in hot oil.

Have a safe Thanksgiving everyone!

Titanic Musings: The Day After The Great Bird Feast

Another year, another Thanksgiving. This year some retailers decided to open to get early shoppers in. They hope to cash in on the pre-Black Friday crush that is often the case. Out here in the San Francisco Bay Area, a cold blast from the north has sent temps down to freezing in some places. It is cold enough that produce growers have to work covering plants to prevent frost from ruining the citrus crop. Many though decided to brave the very cold temperatures to camp outside of stores that open early in Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving). People were camped outside the local Target store for two days so that when it opened at 4 a.m. this morning, they would be one of the first inside.

Of course the local media was excited. They rolled out with their vans and cameras to show people at home the spectacle of grown men and women choosing to sleep outside a store to be the first inside when it opens. Stores are not displeased hoping the attention will bolster sales. Some even handed out store maps so that shoppers will know exactly where to go when the doors open. Sometimes it does get out of hand. A jerk tries to sneak ahead causing tensions and even a minor altercation. Or worse, someone brandishes a weapon threatening anyone who gets in their way.

Turkey is the center of a Thanksgiving feast. Long ago these flightless birds roamed around in flocks and had to be hunted. Now you just go to the grocery store and decide fresh or frozen. Or organic and free range. Heritage turkeys are being bred and available either online or through speciality retail stores. Those birds cost more and can be less fatty than their cousins in the store. When I was a kid, most people roasted their birds using butter, herbs and other seasonings. Getting a moist bird was an art but today brining has become the preferred method. This presoaking allows the turkey to retain moisture as it cooks allowing for a moist and tender bird.

Another fad is frying the whole turkey. This is popular in the south but requires lots of preparation and care. It requires a large container full of hot oil (usually peanut or vegetable). You cannot do this indoors, on a balcony or fire escape. Too many people have tried it resulting in fire departments coming out to put out fires. You must do this outdoors and away from any structure. And never ever think of putting a frozen bird into the hot oil! The results are explosive and life threatening. And you have to set up a system of lowering the bird in and out of the oil to avoid oil splattering out of the pot. Is it worth it? Many say yes but I have heard people complain kosher birds do not come out as well. Since you cannot brine a kosher bird (it already is salted) it may not be as tender as a bird brined before frying.

Mashed potatoes are a favorite. The trick is getting them light and fluffy. America’s Test Kitchen believes Yukon Gold potatoes are the best to use for this. After trying both Russets and Yukons, they are right on. For light and fluffy, put down the hand masher and either use a hand ricer or food mill. I use a food mill and the results are terrific. Warm not hot milk (you choose the type but half and half is decent but for out of this world use heavy cream) and melted unsalted butter are then added. For those practicing Kosher, warm turkey or chicken broth (or stock if you have it). Then lightly fold it all in and taste for seasoning (usually salt and pepper). I sometimes add a scallion and prepared horseradish for extra zing.

While enjoying the turkey feast with all the trimmings, I remarked how back in the days of Titanic this would at least a seven course meal. Perhaps even more depending on the restaurant and its clientele. You would have the appetizer, salad, several meats, breads and sauces, a palate cleanser, followed by fruits, cheeses and sweet desert items (with coffee or tea). You can only imagine the food nannies going crazy if this was done today. They would go ballistic with the fat, calories, and decadence of it all. I wonder sometimes if the food nannies were deprived as children since they often dislike so many popular foods! 🙂

One tradition after dinner, and usually with dessert, is watching A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Every year I watch this show and always enjoy it. We learn the meaning of Thanksgiving and also forgiveness as well. Charlie Brown has to come up with a quick Thanksgiving meal. Thanks to Linus, Snoopy, and that strange bird, they come up with one with toast, popcorn, and pretzels. Patty gets angry but later apologizes when she realizes she imposed on Charlie to come up with a meal. It all works out in the end since Charlie’s grandmother invites them all to her home for Thanksgiving dinner.

Now that Thanksgiving has passed, the Christmas season is right around the corner. Already the music is in the air and decorations are going up. Children are getting excited in many parts of Europe. The feast of St. Nicholas is coming up (6 December) and he brings good kids presents heralding in the official start of Christmas season. Time to get the pans out and make Christmas favorites for the holidays. And prepare for some happy times ahead.