Let's talk turkey trivia

| 15 Feb 2012 | 10:15

    Interesting and little-known facts about the star of your Thanksgiving dinner Most people know that each year some lucky turkey gets a presidential pardon and lives to see another day. While the tradition has been commonly attributed to the Truman administration there are no documents to back that up. It’s reported that the turkeys given to the White House during Dwight Eisenhower’s two terms met the same fate as most turkeys and appeared on the family table, browned and stuffed. In 1989 President George H. W. Bush initiated the first “pardon” and sent his turkey to live on a farm, and so began the tradition. The freed birds often hold a place of honor at Thanksgiving Day parades. The national bird? Founding Father Benjamin Franklin would have been pleased at this turn of events since he disagreed with the selection of the bald eagle as the national bird, considering the eagle to be of “low moral character.” The turkey, he thought, was a better choice because it was a Native American bird and had a respectable and courageous nature. He went so far as to say that a turkey would surely attack a Red Coat should he invade his farm yard, perhaps a bit of an over-statement. Ben Franklin’s bird was nothing like the domesticated turkeys we know today. The brightly plumed wild turkeys lived in flocks and could fly. They had longer necks and smaller breasts. But then, where’s the white meat? Today's domesticated turkeys, descendants of the wild birds, have been bred to produce large chests to satisfy the American preference for white meat. While that sounds like a step forward, the enlarged breasts have made the birds clumsy and have precluded the mating process intended by Mother Nature. Most turkey eggs are now artificially inseminated for the hatcheries. While you may not have given this much thought, the dark meat of the legs and thighs results from a particular muscle type, its functionality and its oxygen storage capacity. Getting to know you The female turkey is referred to as a hen, the male is a tom and the chick is a poult. While the wild turkey’s colorful feathers were once used for decoration, the modern turkey is bred with white feathers to make the pin feathers less visible when the turkey is dressed. The soft growth that hangs over the beak is the snood and the pouch-like area at the throat is the wattle, all reddish in color until mating time when the tom’s color glows a brilliant red. Only the tom expresses himself with the well-known “gobble-gobble” while the hen makes soft clicking or clucking sounds. Larger and more colorful than hens, the toms like to show off several times a day. Standing tall, his chest jutting forward, feathers separated and his tail fanned out, he gobbles loudly and stomps around the barn yard to get the female’s attention. Something like cruising by in a red sports car, top down, music blaring? There are several theories as to how the turkey got its name. Possibly the Native American’s word for the bird, 'firkee,’ is the root. But then again a frightened turkey’s 'turk, turk, turk’ sound may be it. By the way, a turkey in Turkey is called a 'hindi.’ Go figure. Domestic turkeys can’t get off the ground while the wild turkey can fly up to 55 miles per hour for a short distance. Turkeys have been known to succumb to heart attacks when subjected to loud, sudden noises. Americans love their turkey When the early explorers came to the New World they developed a taste for turkey, brought some birds home with them and by the 1500s the Europeans were araising their own flocks. The Pilgrims were already acquainted with turkeys and so included the gobblers in the first Thanksgiving feast in 1621. How many turkeys were roasted over open hearths in America that day is anyone’s guess. Fast forward 389 years. According to the National Turkey Federation, more than 226 million turkeys were consumed in 2010; 46 million of them at Thanksgiving, 22 million at Christmas and 19 million at Easter. The average weight of the turkey served at Thanksgiving is 16 pounds and that adds up to 736 million pounds of turkey. Don’t forget that’s before the mashed and sweet potatoes, stuffing, gravy, green bean casserole and pies. It’s no wonder we fall asleep. Don’t blame it all on the turkey. While the turkey dinner is a must for the holidays and deli turkey sandwiches are commonplace, don’t look for turkey eggs for breakfast. Because of the high demand for whole turkeys and the low egg output by the hens you can expect to pay $3.50 for a single egg. Think what an omelet for the family would cost. When your family and guests sit at your Thanksgiving table, their mouths watering at the sight of your perfectly roasted turkey, remember to pause and give thanks for your blessings. You may also want to give a nod to the geniuses who figured out how to engineer those big, juicy breasts. Happy Thanksgiving. Sources: www.snopes, en.wikipedia.org, veggierevolution.com, http://urbanext.illinois.edu, www.infoplease.com, www.eatturky.com, http://wikianswers.com. Did you know? According to the National Turkey Federation, more than 226 million turkeys were consumed in 2010; 46 million of them at Thanksgiving, 22 million at Christmas and 19 million at Easter.