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Why its called Turkey Day
By John Schlageck, Kansas Farm Bureau
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How did the turkey reserve its place on our traditional Thanksgiving table?
That bird is what the pilgrims feasted upon according to fact and fable.
You’ve all heard how our ancestors hunted this bird. But here is the real story – the turkey scoop.
Seems our forefathers remembered to take their muskets that day, but forgot to take their ammunition. As the men marched toward the woods, they took one addition, an Indian scout.
You guessed it. To take the scout along was tradition. Besides, the pilgrims needed someone who knew where the turkeys were.
As the story played out, the great white hunters spotted an elk. It was a fine animal for a Thanksgiving feast. It sported a trophy rack no doubt.
Several hunters took aim, pulled back their triggers and clicked. They soon discovered their muskets had no shot.
This realization made them sick to their stomachs.
What could they do?
What would they have for their Thanksgiving feast?
On what would they sup that night?
One wise, or unwise lad suggested stewing their shoes.
“I’ll gobble them up,” he said.
Well, the rest of the hunting party was in no mood for jokes. One of the hunters threw the lad’s musket into the field just as an old Tom turkey – who had heard the gobble – popped up his head.
The critter’s fate was sealed. What senses he had were knocked out that day. The turkey was plucked, stuffed and roasted.
In exchange for his silence, the scout was invited to eat while the hunters boasted and embellished the story about the day’s hunt.
They truthfully said, “We didn’t fire a shot.”
Those early-day hunters had no need for ammunition. That’s why today turkeys are raised on farms – to shoot them would break with tradition.
On a more historical note, Thanksgiving, or Thanksgiving Day, is a traditional North American holiday, which is a form of harvest festival. Although this feast is considered by many to be the very first Thanksgiving celebration, it was actually in keeping with a long tradition of celebrating the harvest and giving thanks for a successful bounty of crops.
The date and location of the first Thanksgiving celebration is a topic of discussion, though the earliest attested Thanksgiving celebration was on Sept. 8, 1565 in what is now Saint Augustine, Florida. Despite research to the contrary, the traditional “first Thanksgiving” is venerated as having occurred at the site of Plymouth Plantation, in 1621.
What foods topped the table at the first harvest feast?
Historians aren’t completely certain about the full bounty, but it’s safe to say the pilgrims weren’t gobbling up pumpkin pie or playing with their mashed potatoes. It’s a relatively safe bet the only two items on the menu for sure were venison and wild fowl.
Today, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States. Thanksgiving is usually a gathering of friends and/or family. At this time you say all your thanks and wishes.
In our country, certain kinds of food are traditionally served at Thanksgiving meals. First and foremost, baked or roasted turkey is usually the featured item on any Thanksgiving feast table (so much so that Thanksgiving is sometimes referred to as “Turkey Day”). Stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, other fall vegetables, and pumpkin pie are commonly associated with Thanksgiving dinner.
All of these dishes are actually native to the Americas or were introduced as a new food source to the Europeans when they arrived.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving and don’t forget to count your blessings.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.