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All hail the festive season: Time for turkey


Photo credit: by Alison Marras 

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.

The bronze feather colour is the original breed colour, but from 1950 to 1957 all turkeys had been bred from having bronze feathers to white feathers.

Male turkey’s heads change colour, depending on their mood. Blue for excited, red for angry.

Most of the turkeys raised commercially are “White Hollands” which have all white plumage.

Female turkeys are called hens, male turkeys are stags and baby turkeys are called poults until they are five weeks old.

The turkey is believed to have been sacred in ancient Mexican cultures. They were referred to as the “Great Xolotl” or “jewelled birds” by the Mayans, Aztecs and Toltecs. In 1776, after the bald eagle was chosen to be the national bird of the United States, Benjamin Franklin expressed his disapproval in a letter to his daughter. He said the turkey was a “much more respectable bird” than the bald eagle who was a scavenger.

Turkeys not bred in captivity can live for up to ten years.

Turkey eggs hatch in 28 days.

Turkeys do not have ears like ours but have very good hearing.

Turkeys can see in colour although they do not see well at night.

There are 43 different breeds of turkey. The white turkey is the second-fastest growing animal in the world.

The average weight of a Christmas turkey is 5.5kg/12lb.

According to the Guinness Book of Records, the world record fastest time to pluck three turkeys is 11 min 30.16 sec, by Paul Kelly of Kelly Turkeys, at Little Claydon Farm, Essex, United Kingdom, on 13 November 2008.This was attempted as part of Gordon Ramsay’s Cookalong show and Paul went head to head against Gordon Ramsay who plucked three turkeys in 11 min 31.78 sec.

Domesticated turkeys cannot fly. However wild turkeys can fly short for distances up to 88 kilometres per hour and can run up to 32 kilometres per hour.

Turkey isn’t the most popular festive meal in every country.

Norway: The big festive feast takes place on Christmas Eve. Most people around the coastal regions eat fish – concoctions of cod and haddock and a variety called lutefisk. Inland they go for chops, specially prepared sausages and occasionally lamb.

Sweden: The Christmas feast consists of a smorgasbord of caviar, shellfish, cooked and raw fish and cheeses. Ukraine: The people here prepare huge broths brimming with meat for Christmas Eve rather than Christmas day.

Czech Republic: Tradition dictates that the tree is not lit before Christmas Eve then they have a big dinner of fish soup, salads, eggs and carp. Germany: The Germans tend to have a game feast on Christmas day, usually wild boar or venison.

Jamaica: Christmas dinner usually consists of rice, gungo peas, chicken, oxtail and curried goat.

Italy: Christmas dinner in Italy can last for more than four hours. Most families will have seven or more courses including antipasti, a small portion of pasta, a roast meal, followed by two salads and two desserts – then cheese fruit, brandy and chocolates.

Austria: A typical Christmas dinner would consist of braised carp served with gingerbread and beer sauce.

Poland: The traditional Christmas Eve supper consists of 12 dishes, representing the months of the year and featuring fish such as pike, herring and carp. Other typical Polish dishes are fish soup, sauerkraut with wild mushrooms or peas and Polish dumplings with various fillings.

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