Thanksgiving Turkey

By Patricia Lammerts

Unlike many new world foods, the turkey was accepted readily by the 16th century cook and diner. Why? Because the turkey is a very large bird, and, while its appearance would have been somewhat unusual for the 16th century person to behold, the concept of eating large birds was not foreign to them. Many people confused them with Guinea Fowl. They also were confused as to where turkeys came from. The common misconception was that they came from Turkey, hence the name.

References can be found concerning turkeys from England in 1541, where they were listed in sumptuary laws, along with other large birds. The price of purchasing a turkey was fixed in England in the mid-1550’s for the London markets and Thomas Tusser wrote in 1557 in his book entitled, “ A Hundreth Good Pointes of Husbandrie” of feeding turkeys on runcivall peas, and of eating them for Christmas.

Turkeys were not only accepted in England, but also in Italy and France. Liliane Plouvier wrote a learned paper on the history of turkeys in Europe. She found accounts of Queen Margueritte of Navarre raising turkeys in 1534, while 66 turkeys were served at a feast for Catherine de Medici in 1549. In Belgium, turkey was served three different ways [boiled with oysters, roasted and served cold, and baked in a pastry] for a banquet held in Liege in 1557.

Recipes for turkey can be found in Bartolomeo Scappi’s cookbook “Opera dell’arte del Cucinare”, printed in 1570. Recipes and a drawing of a turkey can be found in Marxen Rumpolt’s cookbook “Ein Neu Kochbuch” printed in 1581.

Here is the first recipe given by Rumpolt and the only one that talks about roasting and not grinding the meat for a terrine or a pie.

I.
Warm abgebraten mit einem Pobrat/ oder trucken gegeben/ Oder
kalt lassen werden/ denn es ist ein gut Essen/ wen{n}s kalt ist.
I.
Warm roasted off with a sauce/ or served dry/ Or
let it (get) cold/ because it is a good meal/ when it is cold.

This is a good sauce recipe from Robert May’s “The Accomplished Cook”:

_Sauces for all manner of roast Land-Fowl, as Turkey, Bustard, Peacock, Pheasant, Partridge_, &c.

4. Onions slic’t and boil’d in fair water, and a little salt, a few bread crumbs beaten, pepper, nutmeg, three spoonful of white wine, and some lemon-peel finely minced, and boil’d all together: being almost boil’d put in the juyce of an orange, beaten butter, and the gravy of the fowl.

Here is a stuffing recipe from Scappi:

To make various stuffings, of those one can stuff various joints of four legged animals, and many flying animals, the which one has to boil with water and salt. Cap CXVI

Take for every pound of old cheese grated, six ounces of fat cheese that is not too salty, & three ounces of nutmeg ground in the mortar and peeled, two ounces of crumb of bread soaked in [turkey] broth, & pounded in the mortar, three ounces of … fresh butter, three ounces of currants (dried grapes) peeled, half an ounce between pepper and cinnamon & saffron enough, mix everything together with eight eggs in the way that the stuffing is neither too liquid nor too firm.

Unfortunately, due to my mother’s recent death, I have been unable to redact these recipes into modern form. This will give a chance to those wishing to experiment.

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