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Kevin Dayhoff: Enjoy your Thanksgiving turkey — and don’t overdo the dark meat

Happy Thanksgiving. This Thursday, all of America will be celebrating the first day of the winter solstice holiday season — the American version of the “Harvest Festival.” Others know it as the “Harvest Festival Bowl,” and celebrate by gathering together and arguing over football.

Best wishes for a happy and safe Thanksgiving weekend. Courtesy of the Historical Society of Carroll County.
Best wishes for a happy and safe Thanksgiving weekend. Courtesy of the Historical Society of Carroll County. (Kevin Dayhoff)

Some may be aware that the holiday originated as a celebration to give thanks for the seasonal fall harvest. Today, historians bicker over when and where the first Thanksgiving took place in America and pundits opine upon its meaning.

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According to some, the roots of our American Thanksgiving tradition began when 102 Pilgrims left Plymouth, England, in July, 1620, to escape religious persecution.

Perhaps because of my family’s long agricultural history, Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. I have written many articles about Thanksgiving, so some of this discussion comes from leftovers found in the Tupperware container on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator and have been published before.

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“Happy Turkey,” digitally enhanced drawing by Kevin Dayhoff, Nov. 19, 2009-Dec. 5, 2013
“Happy Turkey,” digitally enhanced drawing by Kevin Dayhoff, Nov. 19, 2009-Dec. 5, 2013 (Kevin Dayhoff)

Traditionally, Thanksgiving has been a special holiday in Carroll County. I’m a fan of any holiday that involves food, especially turkey. I stand in good company because the turkey is a uniquely American contribution to the global palate.

According to numerous sources, including Andrew F. Smith’s “The Turkey: An American Story,” “The Spanish encountered domesticated turkeys in Mexico by 1518, and within a few years they had been introduced into the West Indies and Spain. Shortly thereafter, turkeys were widely disseminated throughout Western Europe. …”

Smith notes that the turkey was introduced in England before 1541, “where it was immediately adopted by the upper classes. … By 1577 English growers raised vast flocks. … As turkeys became plentiful they became affordable to the middle class. …”

Long before “English settlers arrived in North America, turkey recipes appeared in British cookbooks,” observes Mr. Smith.

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On Nov. 19, 2011, Mike Bell, then an extension educator in agriculture science in the University of Maryland’s Carroll County office, wrote an article for the Carroll County Times, “Turkey recipes started in the 1500s.”

On Nov. 19, 2011, Mike Bell, then an extension educator in agriculture science in the University of Maryland’s Carroll County office (and fellow Marine), wrote an article for the Carroll County Times, “Turkey recipes started in the 1500s.” Submitted photo
On Nov. 19, 2011, Mike Bell, then an extension educator in agriculture science in the University of Maryland’s Carroll County office (and fellow Marine), wrote an article for the Carroll County Times, “Turkey recipes started in the 1500s.” Submitted photo (Kevin Dayhoff)

Bell writes that turkey was so popular “that a turkey recipe made its way into an old English cookbook, ‘The Good Huswifes Jewell,’ published in 1586.”

As for the turkey becoming synonymous with Thanksgiving, Bell explained: “When the pilgrims arrived in America, they were already familiar with raising and eating turkey and naturally included it as part of their Thanksgiving feast.”

Turkey production in the United States has come a long way since the days of the pilgrims. In 2011, Bell recited some pretty amazing statistics.

“Last year, about 267 million turkeys were raised with an estimated 45 million eaten at Thanksgiving, 22 million at Christmas and 19 million at Easter,” he noted.

“Turkey consumption has more than doubled over the past 25 years. In 2000, per capita consumption was 18 pounds compared to 8.7 pounds in 1974.” It often seems that I eat all of my annual 18-pound portion in one afternoon on Thanksgiving.

For those counting calories this Thanksgiving, you may want to stick with the white meat. “White meat is generally preferred in the U.S.” noted Bell. “A 15-pound turkey typically has about 70 percent white meat and 30 percent dark meat.” Of course, since I usually go for the dark meat, it must have the most calories. “White meat has fewer calories and less fat than dark meat,” Bell reported.

According to many historical accounts, Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be the official bird of the United States and was unhappy when the bald eagle was chosen instead.

“The turkey is a much more respectable bird … a true original native of America,” Franklin is said to have lamented.

Besides, you can’t eat bald eagles.

However, Smith disputes that Franklin proposed that the turkey be our national emblem. Smith asserts, “In 1776 the Continental Congress appointed a committee to recommend a national seal and Franklin did propose a design jointly with Thomas Jefferson, but it was of a biblical scene — Moses crossing the Red Sea chased by the pharaoh, nary a turkey in sight.

“Numerous other designs were also proposed, and the committee ended its tenure without recommending one. A second committee followed and again was dissolved without making a recommendation.

“The third committee finally selected the bald eagle as the national emblem on the seal, and Congress passed that recommendation into law on June 20, 1782. It was that legislation that Franklin lamented to his daughter. …”

“Happy Thanksgiving,” photograph by Kevin Dayhoff, November 2010.
“Happy Thanksgiving,” photograph by Kevin Dayhoff, November 2010. (Kevin Dayhoff)

Hopefully your Thanksgiving will be full of smiles and laughs, family and friends, plenty of food — and no lament.

And as we gather with our families over the Thanksgiving meal, please remember our firefighters, police officers and our men and women in uniform, who are in harm’s way, defending our freedom to enjoy this great country, to have a safe holiday, to argue over football — and to eat all the turkey we want.

Let our Thanksgiving be revealed in the compassionate support our community renders to fellow citizens who are less fortunate as we begin the holiday season.

Let us reach out with care to those in need of food, shelter, and words of hope.

As we gather with our families over a Thanksgiving meal, may we ask that we be given patience, resolve, and wisdom in all that lies ahead for our great nation.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.

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