As we approach Thanksgiving, you're welcome to 10 helpings of these turkey facts:
1 Hunting a wild turkey is exceedingly difficult. The bird may appear dumb and slow, but looks can be deceiving. In fact, Tom Turkey has fantastic hearing, amazing eyesight, can flat-out run (15 mph and three-foot strides) and can fly even faster. And he is paranoid — because everyone is out to get him — so he'll flee at the slightest provocation.
2 Eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes liked Swanson's frozen TV dinners, especially the turkey entree. But Hughes was a picky eater. He didn't approve of Swanson's mixing of white and dark meat. And he wished the dinner came with a dessert of peach cobbler rather than apple cobbler. Through an aide, Hughes asked Swanson's to switch to peach cobbler in its turkey dinners. When Swanson's refused, Hughes tried to buy the company but was unsuccessful.
3 In the spring, a wild male turkey's head can turn a brilliant red, white or blue, often changing in just seconds. That fact was not one of Benjamin Franklin's arguments for why the turkey would be a better national symbol than the bald eagle.
4 Joe Engel, an executive with the minor league Chattanooga Lookouts baseball team, was famous for stunts, such as having his players ride into the ballpark on elephants. The topper came in 1931 when he traded his shortstop to Charlotte for a Thanksgiving turkey. The trade turned out badly, he said, because the turkey meat was tough.
5 Before the Turkey Trot became the go-to name for a 5K race in November, it was a controversial ragtime-style dance in the early 1900s. It was considered quite vulgar, and it was often banned, which, of course, just made it insanely popular.
6 Italian composer Gioacchino Rossini claimed that he wept only three times in his life: when his opera "Tancredi" was booed on opening night, when he heard Nicolo Paganini play the violin and when his truffle-stuffed turkey fell out of a boat during a picnic.
7 Playwright Arthur Miller and his wife, photographer Inge Morath, were counterfeit carnivores during Thanksgiving. "Since we're vegetarians," Morath told The New York Times in 1981, "I usually make a pretend turkey out of vegetables — a piece montee. I put a loaf of bread underneath, and over the top I arrange carrots, leeks, beans, apples, all kinds of cold cooked and raw vegetables, Chinese vegetables bought at Korean markets, like a painting. With pieces of avocado I make beautiful wings. It looks more like a live turkey than a dead one."
8 If an adult male turkey is a tom, what's a young male turkey? A jake.
9 During family Christmas celebrations, Gen. George Patton turned the carving of the turkey into a circus act. He waved the knife like a saber, explained that the warrior Saladin wielded a sword so sharp it could cut a floating feather in half, then he shouted a rebel yell and plunged a carving fork into the turkey's breast. His daughter Ruth Ellen recalled: "Then he would carefully withdraw the fork, put his ear to the turkey's breast, nod in a sad, wise way, and say, 'She's gone alright,' and then start carving."
10 If you feel like taking a nap after your Thanksgiving feast, don't blame the turkey. The whole tryptophan-in-the-turkey-makes-you-sleepy idea is a myth. In fact, turkey doesn't contain any more tryptophan than many other meats. The real culprit is the sheer quantity of food you just inhaled.
Mark Jacob is a deputy metro editor at the Tribune; Stephan Benzkofer is the Tribune's weekend editor.
Sources: "Hunting Tough Turkeys" by Brian Lovett; "Hunting the First State: A Guide to Delaware Hunting" by Steven Kendus; "Howard Hughes: The Hidden Years" by James Phelan; "The Private Correspondence of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. 1"; National Wildlife Turkey Federation; "The Gourmet Cookbook" edited by Ruth Reichl; "The Wicked Waltz and Other Scandalous Dances" by Mark Knowles; "General Patton: A Soldier's Life" by Stanley Hirshson; heritageturkeyfoundation.org; snopes.com; baseball-reference.com; engelfoundation.com; New York Times; Tribune archives.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun