Monday, November 21, 2011

Turkey Lurkey

Thursday is Thanksgiving Day in the United States, a holiday that honors turkey farmers and cranberry growers.  Although the occasion is not generally observed in Istanbul, there is a connection between the land of the Turks and the gobbler that graces our tables. 

The name of the country Turkey stems from Türkiyei in the Turkish language and is formed from the components Türk—derived from Tu-kin, a name of unknown meaning that the Chinese applied in the second century B. C. to people living south of the Altai Mountains—and the suffix –iyei, which means “land of.” 

In the early sixteenth century Europeans began to import guinea fowl (Numida meleagris) from Africa via a route that came through Turkey. As a result they were sometimes called “Turkey birds.” A similar, but much larger fowl, Meleagris gallopavo, native to the Americas, had been domesticated by the Aztecs and was introduced to Spain in 1523 by the conquistadores.  From there this bird spread to others parts of Europe.

The word turkey was first applied to the bigger bird in the 1550s because the English mistakenly assumed it was a version of the same guinea fowl they got via Turkey.  By 1575, turkey was the usual main course at an English Christmas dinner.  The Pilgrims in Massachusetts possibly served wild turkey for their Thanksgiving feast, and to this very day many Americans enjoy Wild Turkey on Thanksgiving--and eat roast turkey as well.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou, widely known as a turkey himself, provides ample reason for that appellation with gobbled…er, garbled…verses such as the following:

            Some think a pheasant
            For dinner is pleasant,
            And others prefer a fat goose.
            Some pulses quicken
            At hot roasted chicken
            Bursting with flavorful juice.

            Some hunters’ cartridges
            Bag lots of plump partridges
            To grace their holiday table,
            And others munch duck
            For a tasty pot-luck           
            Just as long as their jaws remain able.

            Some like a smidgen
            Of quail or of pigeon,
            If they can’t get their teeth round a squab.
            Or perhaps they’ll espouse
            A morsel of grouse
            That’s skewered and served as kabob.

            But when I want to howl
            With a fine-feathered fowl
            That makes me feel peppy and perky,
            You can have all those birds,
            I refuse to mince words,
            For I much prefer to talk turkey.

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