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Monday, November 23, 2009

Book of the Week: Thanksgiving Special!


With the Thanksgiving Day holiday approaching this week, it seemed appropriate to dedicate this week's book of the week to the Thanksgiving holiday staple - the turkey. Thus, this week's book of the week, Turkey Raising by Harry Miles Lamon (1922), served as a practical guide for turkey farmers during the first quarter of the twentieth century.

The turkey's origin is thought to come from the pheasant, as turkeys are thought to have diverged from this line around eleven million years ago. One of the first animals domesticated in America, the bird has had an interesting history in this continent, which included the dedication of two religious festivals held each year by the Aztec people in Mexico to the species, use of the bird in sacred Mayan ceremonies, as well as a long history as a hunted bird of prey among the native peoples in this land.

The name "turkey" has several proposed origins. For instance, some insist that Christopher Columbus called the birds "tuka," which is the Tamil word for peacock, and that turkey is a derivative of this word. Others postulate that Luis de Torres, a physician sailing with Columbus, called the animal "tukki," which means "big bird" in Hebrew. Still others say that the North American Indian name for the birds was "firkee," and turkey is simply a long-standing mis-pronunciation of the name.

There is also some disagreement over where the tradition of eating a turkey at Thanksgiving emerged from. For instance, it is possible that the early settlers of the Mayflower, being influenced by the Northeastern American Indians in their search for food, began hunting this abundant fowl at the instruction of their Native American friends, and that a turkey was actually present at the first Thanksgiving in 1621. Other experts believe that the first use of the turkey in a Thanksgiving meal was actually at the celebration of the English Harvest Home Festival observed by the early colonists at Jamestown.

Regardless of the origin of the use of the turkey at Thanksgiving feasts, guides such as Lamon's Turkey Raising strived to serve as an uncomplicated, concise yet inclusive discussion of the art of turkey raising, and this example includes such information as the history and extent of the industry, guidelines for mating and showing turkeys, tips of egg incubation, marketing, and insect, disease and predatory animal control. One interesting source of information within the book is a breakdown of the prices paid to producers of turkeys from the years 1915-1920 in various areas of the country. For example, on Nov. 15, 1915 in Texas, turkey meat fetched 11.3 cents per pound, while the same date and year in Washington, D.C. demanded an 18 cents per pound price. Constrastingly, on November 15, 1920 in Texas, a pound of turkey meat was worth 25 cents, and in Washington it earned 38 cents per pound. The national average for a pound of turkey meat in 1915 was 14.8 cents, while it raised to 31.8 cents per pound by 1920.

As you celebrate Thanksgiving this year, whether you do so with turkey, tofurkey, or some other food completely, consider taking a look at this interesting delve into the early history of turkey raising in the United States. Happy Thanksgiving!

This week's book of the week, Turkey Raising by Harry Miles Lamon (1922), was contributed by The University of California Digital Library.

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