An Ingredient’s Tale: Turkey!

by Erin Cabana.

Fall. It’s a return to school, to cooler days and nights. The scent of crisp leaves tinges the air and our thoughts move to warmer, heartier fare. Appetites turn towards soups, stews, pies and crisps. The air is scented with ginger, cardamom and allspice…that is unless you’re at King Richard’s Faire!


That’s right! Fall is the time for that southeastern Massachusetts tradition: a trip to King Richard’s, where you can cheer on your favorite jouster, watch as gypsies twirl on stage in their multi-colored skirts, vendors attempting to run you over with their pickle carts and the scent of kettle corn wafting on the air. And who can forget the ever popular, ever present smoked turkey leg! What a treat! Surely King Henry VIII himself must surely have had his fill of this delight!

Strickland Coat of Arms

Strickland Coat of Arms

Sadly, King Richard, or even King Henry VIII, was never able to enjoy this fair treat. Turkey, alas, is native to North and Central America and didn’t make its way to Europe until 1550. Turkey was originally brought to Europe by the Spanish, then brought to England by William Strickland. The crown thought so much of the turkeys that William brought with him from Spain that they allowed him to include a turkey on his coat of arms. From there, turkeys were brought to Jamestown by the colonists. There they became a diet staple of the colonists, helping them to survive those first few years. So while the first Thanksgiving (as have many since then) included turkeys, they would never have been a featured item on the table of the Pre-Renaissance kings and queens. Roasted peacocks, pheasants and grouse yes. Turkeys, no.


Instead the tables of King Richard, or Henry VIII for that matter would have fairly groaned under the weight of whole roasted pigs, haunches of venison, roast sides of beef and legs of mutton. These feasts were not without their whimsy though, as dishes such as a cockatrice (The head of a chicken and the back end of a pig sewed together and then roasted) or a peacock with it’s plumage returned after it had been roasted in the oven. And while these are dishes worthy of a table of the king, I think I’ll take the anachronistic, yet deliciously smoked turkey leg any day of the year. Sometimes, tradition just has to trump history.

Erin Cabana works full time at a biopharmaceutical company in town. When not ordering chemicals for her team, she spends her time knitting, practicing yoga, gardening and researching both ancient and medieval foods. She can be found wandering the Plymouth Farmer’s Market looking for ingredients to use in her translations of recipes from Ancient to Modern or poking around Plimoth Plantation asking about their heirloom varieties of vegetables and animals.


About eSS&SC

The South Shore and South Coast has been home to hunting, gathering, fishing, farming––and great eating––for over 10,000 years. We are committed to identifying, devouring, and sharing all that Southeastern Massachusetts has to offer today and preserving local options for future generations.
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2 Responses to An Ingredient’s Tale: Turkey!

  1. Anonymous says:

    It’s interesting to learn a bit of the history about the foods we eat. Hope to enjoy many more tales.

  2. Barabbas says:

    I enjoyed this article and I look forward to reading more as they are posted. I hope you keep history involved. now if you will excuse me time to go Grouse and Pheasant hunting.

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