Points to Ponder


For lots of people, it just wouldn’t be Christmas without a turkey. But in fact, in this country  the tradition of eating turkey at Christmas only dates from the 19th century, when they  gradually began to replace goose as the Christmas meal, even though it was originally introduced into Europe from the Northern and Central America during the 16th Century – about 1511. 

This is good news in terms of healthy eating, because turkey contains more protein and much less fat (only 1g per oz of skinless flesh) than goose or duck. 

It is low in calories (140 per 100g). 

 Valuable nutrients in turkey include niacin, vitamins B6 and B12, selenium and zinc.  

100g of turkey will provide 50% of the recommended daily allowance of folic acid for pregnant women.

In a recent publication called “Superfoods:   Fourteen foods that will change your life” by Dr Steven Pratt, Turkey is the only meat product that features among these 14.  He says, “that turkey is the leanest meat source of protein available on the planet, and suggests everyone should eat at least 3-4 ounces of it each week.  (The remaining thirteen superfoods include:  broccoli, tomatoes, blueberries, tea, beans, oats, pumpkin, yoghurt, walnuts, spinach, salmon, soya and oranges).

Kim Burgess of the British Turkey Federation said “with evidence that turkey can add years to your life, there is no excuse for leaving it as a once-a-year treat”.

It has been estimated (NFU data) that 33 million birds are eaten every year, over a third of which, are eaten during the Christmas period.

In this country we call our male turkeys “stags” and our female ones “hens”.  In America, they call their male turkeys “Toms”.

Wild turkeys can fly up to 55 mph for short distances.

There are about 28 different breeds of turkey bred by turkey producers in the UK, all derived from the White, Bronze and Norfolk Black.  Ours, this year, 2018, are Bronze and are all Hens.

According to Michael Roberts in his book* “Turkeys at Home”, the origin of the name – TURKEY could be:

“Whilst the correct origin of the word has not been irrefutably established, here are several interesting theories on possible derivations:

1.               The mis-pronunciation of the Red Indian workd for turkey “firkee”.

2.              The bird was new (in Europe) and looked, perhaps, something akin to a Turkish soldier, a “turkoman” (Victorian legend).
3.              The call the bird makes (anyone who has kept turkeys knows they don’t go “turk, turk”, but “keow, keow”).
4.              “Turkish” being slang for something foreign.
5.             mix-up in the Latin names of turkeys and guinea fowl, both thought to come originally from Turkey.
6.             The Tamil word  for peacock being “Tali”.
7.              The Aramaic-Jewish word for bustard (Otis tarda) “Tahki”. 

This last one rather appeals as possibly being nearest to the truth because the bulk of domestic turkeys arrived in Spain in approx 1511 and people have a habit of calling something new after something they know.

* Published by The Domestic Fowl Trust – 1989

The book continues with the history of the turkey:

The Aztec Indians of Mexico, who lived in cities, first domesticated the turkey and kept them in huge flocks.  The birds were not only kept for their flesh but also for their feathers, an important part of Aztec culture.  Being one of the few domesticated creatures at that time, they were revered by the Aztecs and used as subjects for paintings; place names containing the Aztec word for Turkey – Toto – can still be found in that area.

There are six subspecies of turkey, only two varieties playing a part in the make-up of the domestic bird.  Meleagris gallopavo is the nominate race and found in Mexico and was the basis of the domestic turkey.  The othersubspecies was Meleagris gallapavo Silvestris that had a huge range on the wooded eastern seaboard stretching from the southern states bordering the Gulf of Mexico up to Canada.  Silvestris has brown instead of white in the tail feathers.  The Latin name is shared with the guinea fowl (Numidia Meleagris) presumably because both guineas and turkeys have the same naked head and neck.  

The eastern wild turkey was never domesticated to the same extend by the  North American Indians as they were mainly nomadic.  The turkeys were very plentiful and it was not until the advent of the gun that they became shy.  Among the Cherokee Indians, turkey was the prey of children, adults, having more difficult prey to cope with.  The birds were “called up” by imitating their calls, and then grabbed by the legs by a child hiding behind some logs or in a pit, or shot with bow and arrow. 

The wild turkey is still hunted today by this method of calling up which is more difficult than it sounds – in some States there are turkey calling competitions, not as you may think judged by turkeys but by people who the birds and their habits best, the hunters.

The abundance of turkey played a part in the diet of the first arrivals from Europe and has since always been associated with Thanksgiving Day.

 See below for the Strickland Family history with Turkeys ……..

The Strickland family

The arrival of the first turkeys into England is attributed to William Strickland of Yorkshire.  Son of Roger Strickland of Marsk, William was inspired by Cabot’s voyages, circa 1497, to the New World, and sailed later about 1520, bringing some turkeys back home with him. 

The first known date of turkeys in England is about 1524 when “it happened that diverse things were newly brought to England, whereupon this rhyme was made:  Turkeys, Carps, Hoppers, Piccarell and Beer, came in England all in one year William Strickland made a fortune from his voyages, buying land extensively near to Bridlington and Boynton Hall in 1549.  During the Herald’s visit to Yorkshire in 1550 William Strickland was granted a coat of arms, which included a “Turkey cock in its pride”. 

He became MP for Scarborough in 1558 and died and was buried, together with his wife Elizabeth, at Wintringham, near Malton in 1598. 

The church of Boynton contains a stained glass window of a turkey, together with a wooden lectern with a carved turkey instead of the normal eagle, but this is a memorial to Frederick Strickland who died in the 1930. 

A branch of the Strickland family headed south to Deerhurst, near Tewkesbury, in the 1759s and a small stone-carved turkey can be found in the church there.