Gobble Up These Turkey Stats

by Curt Kovener

A cornucopia is a symbol of abundance, Sometimes called the Horn of Plenty, it traditionally is a woven container in the shape of a curved horn filled with fruits & vegetables. In ancient time, it was a goat’s horn.
The cornucopia has long been associated with Thanksgiving and being grateful for the abundance that we have. On NPR this week, I learned that about half of the food that is prepared annually-either at home or in a restaurant-is thrown out…wasted. We need to re-learn my parents’ admonition when I was young to “clean your plate.”
Please take smaller portions tomorrow and remember what my momma said.
Of a cornucopia of another sort, here is some abundance about the bird of the day: the turkey.
•Benjamin Franklin did not really suggest that the wild turkey become the nation’s symbol in place of the bald eagle. But he did write in a letter to his daughter that he was disappointed the bald eagle was chosen, and in so doing he explained that the turkey was “in comparison a much more respectable bird.” Wild turkeys are, in fact, native to North America.
•Natives in south central Mexico domesticated wild turkeys about 2,000 years ago, primarily for their feathers. Native Americans in the southwest United States also domesticated the big, colorful bird – and also likely for its feathers.
•The Pilgrims may have eaten wild turkey on the first Thanksgiving, although it’s more likely they ate other wild fowl, such as goose or duck.
•The Large White or Broad-Breasted White is the most common commercial variety. It’s what most consumers are likely to purchase at the market for their Thanksgiving feast. These birds have been bred for large breasts and short, meaty legs. A mature tom can weigh as much as 50 pounds, and hens can weigh up to 34 pounds, although birds sold to processors at 20 to 24 weeks are about a third of that size. (Does anyone have an oven big enough for a 40-50 pound bird?)
They’re bred for their white plumage because white feathers do not discolor the skin as colorful feathers do.
The Broad-Breasted White is an efficient grower. Its “feed conversion ratio” – the rate at which it converts feed to flesh – is 2 to 1. In comparison, beef feed conversion ratio is 6 to 1; pork is 3 to 1.
•Wild Turkey Facts
Turkey fossils from 5 million years ago have been unearthed in the southwest United States. Male wild turkeys weigh between 16 and 24 pounds. Females are much smaller; hens weigh between 8 and 10 pounds.
A wild turkey can run up to 25 miles per hour and can fly at up to 55 miles per hour.
Wild turkeys have between 5,000 and 6,000 feathers covering their bodies. Each wing has 10 stiff primary feathers and 18 or 19 secondary feathers. The tail has 18 quill feathers.
The fleshy flap that hangs from the top of a turkey’s beak is called a snood. The fleshy bumps on a turkey’s head are called carnucles, and the fleshy flap that hangs beneath its neck is called a wattle.
Males have beards – and some hens do, too. But let’s not get into a discussion on gender identity.
Wild turkeys are omnivores. They’ll eat grass, seeds, flowers, fruit, insects, small lizards and amphibians— whatever they can get their beaks around.
•Most whole turkeys in the stores are hens. The toms are more often processed into sliced deli meats, sausage, ground turkey and other products. This is because whole-cooked hens are generally considered to be more tender and flavorful than whole-cooked toms. But let’s not get into a discussion on sexism.
•Minnesota is the nation’s No. 1 turkey producer, raising 46 million turkeys annually. The nation as a whole raises about 240 million turkeys every year.
•Americans eat 46 million turkeys every year on Thanksgiving. We eat another 22 million for Christmas and 19 million on Easter. Nearly 90 percent of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving Day.
•And perhaps the oddest portion of this turkey cornucopia: November is not National Turkey Month but June is National Turkey Lovers Month.
But maybe this is even odder: if there is a lull in the conversation around your Thanksgiving table, try some of these fractured thoughts:
•Do many people prefer frozen turkeys? No, they should always be cooked first.
•If the turkey gets chilled, should I cover it? Why do you think they invented the term “dressing?”
•How does one stuff a turkey? We suggest you consult a taxidermist.
•What does one serve with turkey? Some offer mashed potatoes, green peas, or cranberry sauce. My cheap friend Ralph grinds it in a blender, serves it in milkshake glasses, and calls it “turkey in the straw.”