Today I drove over to a market in the next town to pick up a farm-fresh turkey for Thursday’s annual feast. Although I had reserved it last week, I still had to wait in line. The word is out: these turkeys are delicious! (However, it is a myth that supermarket Butterballs are injected with chemicals and hormones. They’re really only full of broth, which keeps them moist as they cook—makes them essentially self-basting—and enhances the flavor.) But any good chef knows that fresh is always preferable to frozen, as the freezing and thawing process breaks down texture and compromises flavor.
But that’s not what I’m here to write about. I’m here to share interesting facts you may not know about live turkeys.
* They’re not very smart (well, what were we expecting? a macaw? a crow?). I remember, years ago, getting our fresh turkey directly from a turkey farm. A few days before Thanksgiving, the local TV station went down and interviewed the farmer and I’ll never forget how he explained their intellect, or rather, lack of it. “I’ll be moving them from one pen to another”—here, he gestured to the reporter, exasperated. The pens were about two feet apart. “And they get lost on the way! They turn around, they mill about, they meander, they get all confused!” He refrained from telling how they look up when it’s raining and drown; that one is an old cliché.
* A gathering of turkeys is not a “flock.” It is not a “gobble,” as some elementary school teacher once told me. No, it is called a “rafter.” (However, male turkeys are called “gobblers”; females are “hens.”)
* Although the modern domesticated turkey is a descendant of the wild turkey, it cannot fly. Whereas the wild ones—which are a growing problem in some suburban areas around Boston, where I used to live—can not only fly, but attain speeds up to 55 mph. Normally, though, they make “short hops” as needed.
* Biologists have discovered that they are most closely related to pheasants. Makes sense, if you look at wild turkey appearance (color, size) and habits (walking, roosting, flight).
* Our national bird almost wasn’t the regal bald eagle (yes, both are Native Americans, not imports). Ben Franklin really wanted it to be the turkey. He argued that the turkey is “more respectable” and that eagles are “cowards.” Since most of what he said made sense most of the time, I am guessing that he had some basis for these opinions…I wonder if he made an impassioned speech about all this at some point?
I thought that turkeys did not lose out altogether. I thought the turkey was the State Bird of Massachusetts—-a bad illustration of one is on the signs when you drive onto the Mass Pike. But no, the Massachusetts state bird is the black-capped chickadee, and nobody has claimed the turkey at all!