Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner History
By Cara J. Stevens
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Turkey: It's What's for Dinner
When the Wampanoag people and the Colonists sat down to their three-day feast to give thanks, they dined on lobster, fish packed in salt, dried and smoked meats, and freshly caught wild game. They did not eat corn on the cob (as Indian corn was only good for making corn meal, not eating whole) or eat pumpkin pie or cranberry sauce since sugar, yams, or sweet potatoes had not yet been introduced to the New England region.
Turkey is the big centerpiece of most Thanksgiving celebrations across the United States. Since records of exactly what was eaten at that first celebration in 1621 are fuzzy at best, wild turkey may or may not have even been eaten at the feast.
The thing is, turkey was one of the staples of the settlers' diets at that time anyway, as turkeys were in great supply and were enjoyed for their eggs as well as their abundant meat. So, even if the feathered bird wasn't there at the first Thanksgiving, the turkey quickly became a fixture at future tables.
Today, many families opt instead for a roast goose (which was almost definitely present at the first feast), a ham (which was almost definitely not present), or the new "gourmet" tradition of turducken (a turkey stuffed with a duck that's stuffed with a chicken).
Thanksgiving is one of the few feasts where even the vegetarians can go home full without much modification of the standard menu. Leave out the roast turkey and you still have sweet potatoes, stuffing, corn, cranberry sauce, apple and pumpkin pie, roast squash, brussels sprouts and a host of other seasonal sides and desserts to pig out on. Of course, you can always add Tofurkey (turkey-flavored tofu) or another meat substitute for the non-carnivores and turkey-pardoners of the group.
All the President's Turkeys
And just where did that US Presidential pardoning of the turkey tradition come from? Well, the tradition of officially pardoning a turkey dates back as far as Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, or George H. Bush, depending on whom you ask. Photos depict President Truman accepting a turkey at the White House, although it is not known whether the bird ended up on the table or at the farm after the cameras left the scene.
John F. Kennedy was presented with a turkey at Thanksgiving and decided to "just keep it" instead of serve it up. And when President Bush Senior was presented with a holiday turkey, he gave a lighthearted speech where he decided to officially pardon the turkey. Turkeys have been officially pardoned since that day.