Posts Tagged ‘thanksgiving’

Happy Thanksgiving

November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving to our U.S. readers and we hope you share your holiday with wild birds.

By the way, the first Thanksgiving dinner may not have featured wild turkey. Eel was more likely. Any readers having eel for dinner today?


November 25, 2008
Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

Benjamin Franklin famously believed that the national bird of the United States should be the wild turkey.  Of course, he also thought the rattlesnake would be a good symbol for the new country; because this is a bird blog, we’ll let that go.

In a letter to his daughter Franklin wrote about the bald eagle,

He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

On the other hand, Franklin asserted,

For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America . . . He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.

Franklin was right about the turkey being a native of North America.  It has been here a long time. Because of its large size and historical use as human food, the turkey has a good fossil record.  Fossils have been found as far back as the Miocene and the Pleistocene in North America. Archeology established long ago that many subsistence cultures ate them.

Female Wild Turkey with chicks

Female Wild Turkey with chicks

Hunting them must have been a challenge to those early hunters. Franklin aside, the birds are extremely wary; no wild turkey would have attacked a British Grenadier.  But it would have seen and heard that Red Coat coming from miles away and fled.  Wild turkeys possess keen eyesight and exquisite hearing which makes them hunting challenges even for their primary modern predator, humans.  Males prefer running away; females, flying.  Both can fly and at speeds up to 50mph.

That turkey in your kitchen for this Thanksgiving is a pale imitation of the real thing.  Because of the popularity of white meat — white because it is different muscle with less ability to store oxygen than dark muscle — your turkey was bred for a large breast.  In fact, domesticated turkeys raised for food have such large breasts they are incapable of mounting females for the cloacal kiss.  Instead the males are artificially manipulated and then milked for their semen which is then injected into the females to fertilize their eggs. Confined to quarters, these domesticated turkeys are tricked by artificial light into breeding year round so that the supply, especially now, is adequate.  Far too heavy for flight, it could never have escaped a British soldier.

But even though that Broad-breasted White Turkey you cut into this Thanksgiving is not the same as his wild, shrewd cousin, you partake of a North American tradition far older than Thanksgiving.


If you need any help carving a turkey, here is a video of a pretty good way to do it.

Cooking the Thanksgiving Phoenix

November 19, 2008

The phoenix is a mythical bird.  For that reason good recipes for cooking one are hard to find.  Not that there is much demand; only one phoenix is alive at any given moment.  It is the world’s rarest game bird. Worse, at the moment of its death, the bird spontaneously bursts into flame, which complicates cooking it.

phoenixNonetheless, via the New Yorker, comes news that a recipe has been published for cooking one. Called “How to Cook a Phoenix,”  Allen S. Weiss has written an entire book on the subject. Written in French, it is available in translation at cabinet magazine.

We know you are busy, and are about to get a lot busier if you intend to serve phoenix to your Thanksgiving dinner guests, so we have reduced the book to its essence, the recipe.

1.  After plucking, hang the phoenix until its flesh smells gamy, much as you would hang any fresh game.

2.  Marinate in a mixture of red wine, herbs and spices.  (Weiss explains that the usual purpose of marinating wild game — to tenderize it, because wild game has more muscle and less fat — does not apply to the phoenix which lives a very long, sedentary life (in excess of 500 years) and is already tender; rather it is to retard its tendency to spontaneously burst into flame.)

3.  Stuff the bird with onions and garlic together with a wide mixture of aromatic herbs and spices such as cinnamon, cassia, frankincense, myrrh, and nard, cardamom, ginger, turmeric, cumin, nutmeg, mace, sumac, allspice, etc. As Weiss says, “. . . many of the riches of the spice trade are appropriate; they judiciously harmonize with the phoenix’s flesh.”  (As with all game, the flesh is flavored by what the animal fed on while alive.  I once ate wild turkey that had fed on the tunas of prickly pear cacti.  Not only was the meat sweet, it was tinged purple like the prickly pear fruit.  The phoenix — the singular is correct because only one is alive at a time — feeds on gum of incense, sap of balsam, and diverse savory herbs and berries.)

I would add green chile.

4.  Roast the bird outdoors on a grill fired by resinous woods such as cedar, juniper, pinon or pine.

5.  Because of its high fat content and extreme volatility it is imperative to marinate and rotate the bird constantly until done.  Otherwise you are certain to end up with nothing but a pile of ashes.  (But hang on to those ashes.  You can never tell what might happen next.  It could be a really interesting dinner party.)

Mr. Weiss suggests a truffe sous cendres [truffle cooked in ashes] and some pomegranate jelly as an accompaniment.  If you happen to be out of truffles, any hallucinogenic mushroom would be a good substitute.

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