by Marcia Napier, Grain Valley Historical Society
Did your family enjoy turkey for your Thanksgiving dinner? Roasted of Fried? Growing up, turkey was synonymous with Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m told some families enjoyed ham at Christmas. For me, well, I loved ring bologna, and being the spoiled child that I admit I was, it could usually be found among the foods on our table. Fortunately, I “grew up” and learned to eat turkey, although I still prefer the dark meat!
Did you know that no 17th-century reference to Thanksgiving exists beyond a letter written by Plymouth colonist Edward Winslow? The tradition is rooted in European harvest festivals and Christian religious observances when “days of thanksgiving” were fairly common among the colonists of New England. If fact, colonial American communities routinely held unofficial Thanksgiving celebrations, and few people associated them with the Plymouth settlers.
Likewise, while turkeys may have been served in Plymouth, most historians think it was probably duck or geese which they ate along with the deer provided by the Wampanoag Indian tribe. So why is turkey our Thanksgiving fowl? Some credit Bradford’s stories of the early colonists hunting wild turkeys. Some credit Ben Franklin who wanted to make the turkey our national bird, rather than the Bald Eagle. Still others give credit to President Abraham Lincoln. On Oct. 3, 1863, he issued a proclamation declaring the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving.
According to the internet (the authority!), by the turn of the 19th century, turkey had become a popular dish to serve on such occasions. There were a few reasons for this. First the bird was rather plentiful. One expert estimated that there were at least 10 million turkeys in America at the time of European contact. Second, turkeys on a family farm were almost always available for slaughter. Cows provided milk and chickens provided eggs, but turkeys, they were expendable. Third, a single turkey was usually big enough to feed a family. From a more practical perspective, turkey has also remained relatively affordable.
While turkeys were roasted for years, future food historians will no doubt talk about the early 2000s as the beginning of fried turkeys! While I would not think of telling you how to cook your turkey, I will share an old recipe and a great use for your leftover turkey!
3 cups Spaghetti 2 cups of broth (chicken or turkey)
½ cup chopped mushrooms Salt & Pepper to taste
½ cup chopped celery 3 cups of cooked chopped turkey
½ cup chopped green pepper 1 cup of cream (can substitute 1 can
½ cup chopped onion Mushroom soup)
½ cup chopped pimiento 2 cups grated Cheddar cheese
2 tbsp flour 3 tbsp butter
Saute the mushrooms, celery, green pepper, onion and pimiento. Boil the spaghetti, until tender, in salted water to which 1 tablespoon cooking oil has been added. Make a sauce of the butter, flour, broth and salt and pepper. Remove sauce from heat and add cream (or soup). Combine all ingredients with the turkey and cheese; spoon into baking dish. Optional: add crushed potato chip topping and brown in over at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes. Serves 10-12.