Turkey has become symbolic of Thanksgiving. Over 46 million will be sold this year for the Thanksgiving meal, as part of a nearly $ 4 billion industry.
Colonialist William Bradford wrote an account of the first Thanksgiving meal between the Pilgrims and the local Native Americans, the Wampamoag tribe.
While wild turkeys were abundant in New England, he does not mention them by name as part of the feast. He does say that the meal included “some fowl” but it could have easily been duck or goose. We do know the local Wampamoag tribe contributed 5 deer to the meal.
The first Thanksgiving was actually a “harvest festival” giving thanks for the colonist's first successful crop season.
While cranberries were abundant, colonists lacked the sugar to make cranberry sauce. They also lacked the flour and butter to make pumpkin pies.
It was somehow natural that the turkey would become standard Thanksgiving fare. Turkeys are large birds and can feed an entire family. They are not utilitarian birds (not producing palatable eggs nor milk). They were “uncommon” fare at meals, which made them a “special” food item and were a uniquely American fowl.
Some interesting turkey “facts”: Most Thanksgiving turkeys will be hens, lacking the gristle found in the legs of “Tom” turkeys. The biggest turkey on record weighed 86 pounds, and was raised in England. Minnesota is the leading turkey-producing state, but Missouri is in the top 6 states.
Many Presidents choose to “pardon” the White House Turkey. President Harry Truman of Missouri chose to eat his as part of the annual White House Thanksgiving meal.
In 1863, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving as a national holiday to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November.