November 22, 2012

FROM THE ARCHIVES: WHO CARES WHERE IT CAME FROM....:

On the origin of the species: Where did today's bird come from? The answer may surprise you. (John Bemelmans Marciano, November 25, 2010, LA Times)

The first Europeans to lay eyes on the bird we today call a turkey were likely Christopher Columbus and the crew of his fourth American voyage. They called the animal gallina de la tierra, or land chicken. In Mexico, Spanish conquistadors came across a domesticated version of the bird that they sent back home, to wide culinary success. By 1530, the bird was common on Spanish poultry farms, and not long after in British barnyards as well. It was there that this New World creature became confused with another, somewhat similar-looking species of bird.

This avian doppelganger was an African species known to Europeans as far back as Aristotle and the great naturalist Pliny, who called the bird meleagris. The English had two names for this animal, both having to do with where the bird was thought to come from. The first was guinea fowl, after the Guinea region of Africa, from which Portuguese traders imported the birds. The other was Turkey cock, for reasons that are today mysterious. Was there some Turkish merchant who brought the animals to England? Or were the English just atrocious with geography? The confusion got sorted out in utterly arbitrary fashion, with the Old World species taking the name guinea fowl and the newcomers winning sole English-language possession of the word turkey.

About 100 years after the New World turkey arrived in Europe, the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts. There, they found an animal that bore a strong resemblance to the turkey they knew back home, although this wild variety did not take kindly to attempts at being domesticated. None of this deterred the natives, for whom the animal was a chief food source and their favorite bird to hunt. It is by no means certain that these wild northern turkeys were served at the first Thanksgiving in 1621, but it is quite possible.


...provided it ends up in your belly?

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[originally posted: 11/25/11]

Posted by at November 22, 2012 12:00 AM
  
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