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Word on the Bird: Holiday turkey tradition has European roots
Word on the Bird: Holiday turkey tradition has European roots
While the turkey is indigenous to North America, there is no proof that a wishbone was broken after the Native Americans and colonists finished their meal. Most images of the first Thanksgiving celebrations include a plump turkey squarely in the middle of the early settlers' feast.

But the Plymouth Pilgrims may not have had the traditional Thanksgiving bird for dinner.

While the turkey is indigenous to North America, there is no proof that a wishbone was broken after the Native Americans and colonists finished their meal.

In fact, folklore suggests that they shared shellfish and boiled pumpkin.

The colonists did, however, introduce a European-bred turkey to eastern North America in the 17th century.

After the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln and magazine editor Sarah Joseph Hale collaborated on a holiday that would unite the country. Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, and Congress anchored Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday in November in 1941.

The holiday readily took on the theme of home, family and eating in abundance -- and the turkey became the entree of choice, perhaps because its size makes it perfect for family servings.

How to cook the bird can be a topic for debate in many households.

Owensboro caterer Kitty Board for four decades has been roasting turkeys the same way.

"I do just like my mom did," she said. "I wash it inside and out and put onion and celery leaves inside."

She also seasons the cavity and skin with salt and pepper.

"I put a little water in the roasting pan with more onion and celery," she said.

Board makes a traditional dressing but does not cook the stuffing in the bird.

"Everybody frowns on stuffing the turkey," she said. "I used to save leftover cornbread for the dressing, but now I splurge and get Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix."

It's recommended that dressing be cooked in a pan rather than in the bird, but if a turkey is stuffed, the meat and dressing must reach at least 165 degrees to be safe from food poisoning.

Roasting is not the only way to cook a turkey. Deep frying, with origins in the South, is becoming a popular cooking method for the Thanksgiving entree. It also can be a dangerous way of getting that perfectly browned bird. A special cooker is required with lots of cooking oil heated to 350 degrees.

A 12-pound turkey in a 40-quart cooker can be fried in 45 minutes. This should be an outdoor event.

There's also a debate over whether to go with frozen or fresh turkeys.

Wyndall's carries Honeysuckle vacuum-packed turkeys ranging from 10 to 20 pounds.

A fresh turkey does not contain additives, said Don Wright, who works in Wyndall's meat department. Frozen birds are injected with a salt solution, he said.

Fresh turkeys sell for about 40 cents more a pound and have a shelf life of about 14 days, he said.

Whether a frozen or fresh, brine will make the turkey better, according to a number of Web sites. Brine adds moisture and flavor to the bird and should be done the day before cooking.

Mix one cup of salt in one gallon of water. Add seasoning preference after the salt has dissolved. Do not add additional salt to the mix. Place the turkey in a container and cover bird with the brine. Leave a little room so the turkey can be easily turned during the 10- to 12-hour soaking. Also, the brine and bird must be refrigerated.

Whatever meal is eaten on Thanksgiving Day, the food can't outweigh the pleasure of getting together with friends and family.

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Copyright 2006, Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.