Thanksgiving is considered to be an uniquely American holiday, somewhat different than the European harvest festival that it is presumed to take after. The serving of turkey for Thanksgiving is another totally American tradition, one steeped in a number of stories devoted to this unassuming, yet majestic fowl.
How we here in the U.S. came to eat turkey instead of other fowl on Thanksgiving is an interesting bit of history, all by itself. It is said that Queen Elizabeth, of 16th century England, while eating goose during the harvest festival was brought word of the sinking of the Spanish armada.
She was so thrilled that she ordered a second goose to be roasted, thus setting the tradition of eating geese for the harvest festival for years to come. When our European ancestors came to America, they found wild turkeys to be in abundance, and used them instead of geese.
It was Benjamin Franklin who almost took our turkey dinner off the table. In 1782, there was great debate going on over the final design of the Great Seal of the United States. It boiled down to what animal was going to be on the seal.
It is well known that Franklin suggested the turkey as the bird to be considered for national prominence. He penned a letter to his daughter and shared some thoughts about His idea for a new symbol of America. He wrote,
“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly.”
Franklin likened the turkey to be a much more respectable bird, and without a doubt a true American. Their courage was such that though they seemed to be somewhat “silly,” they would not back down from a fight.
If Franklin had made inroads into getting the turkey chosen as our national bird, then what would we have ended up eating for Thanksgiving? We could have ended up dining on roast peacock, believe it or not.
It was not unusual to dine on peacock in many European countries in the 1600s and 1700s, particularly if you were part of the nobility. The peacock’s resemblance to the turkey was partly the reason the turkey was singled out as a food source in this country. As a matter of fact, wild turkeys were mistakenly called “peafowl” or “peahens.”
Many people can;t get past the resemblance between the two birds, with the exception of the tails, of course, and it is said that peacock meat is a bit dry. Anyone for some mashed potatoes and peacock gravy?