Ah, the festive season. It’s all about family, food and fun. For turkeys everywhere, it’s not such a fun time, and for home cooks, it can be terrifying cooking a giant bird in an oven usually reserved for re-heating pizza deliveries.
Cooking a turkey for the family, friends, maybe even guests from abroad, can be daunting, and there’s a great deal of pressure to provide that dramatic table centrepiece.
While some might opt for a different meat, or even vegetarian options, there’s no replacement for the traditional turkey at the heart of the festivities.
While fossils reveal turkeys have been around for ten million years, and originated in Mexico, today, a staggering 300 million are eaten each year. Native Americans enjoyed the bird’s sweet meat as early as 1000 AD.
The ingrained tradition – at least in the UK – goes back to 1526, when Yorkshireman William Strickland brought six of the birds back from the Americas, and sold them for tuppence each. His family crest features a turkey.
The then king, Henry VIII, ate turkey at Christmas time, replacing the likes of goose, peacock and boar, but it wasn’t until the time of King Edward VII, in the early 20th century, that eating turkey became more fashionable at Christmas.
In 18th century Britain, up to 250,000 turkeys were walked from Norfolk to the markets of London in small flocks of 300-1000. They started in August, and fed on stubble fields and feeding stations along the road.
Today, we are more likely to see a refrigerated truck than a farmer walking his flock, but the bird remains the most popular dish for Thanksgiving, Christmas and other special occasions.