Roasted turkey is the main meat of many a Christmas table up and down the country, but it wasn’t always the case.
Turkeys originate from Central & North America, and before the 15th century, they were found nowhere else. It wasn’t until Christopher Columbus (of the ocean blue fame) and the Spanish explorers after him that turkeys were introduced to Europe, with every ship leaving the Americas instructed to bring a minimum of 5 breeding pairs home.
Once they were established in Spain, the turkey made its way into France, where by the 1530s, they were being successfully farmed. Not long after that, the turkey found itself in Britain, where the ruling elites, who were used to feasting on birds that don’t often make it to menus anymore: heron, stork, peacock, swan and bustard, began to enjoy the succulent meat of the turkey, which apparently was much tastier than it’s competitor; the peacock. There is no doubt that Henry VIII enjoyed this delicious new poultry edition at his festive banquets.
Turkey Gets Festive
By the early 1600s, British turkeys were mainly farmed in East Anglia, where they were raised to be sold at Christmas time in the London markets. Turkey, by now, was well-established high-quality poultry on the Christmas menu but only for the rich, who would have it along with other meats as well. Turkey was unaffordable for the rest of the populace, who would have had goose or rabbit instead.
By the Victorian times, the deliciously lean turkey was being gobbled up by the middle classes, partly due to Charles Dickens, who made it a season ‘must have’ by including it in his Christmas Carol story. However, it wasn’t until after the Second World War that turkey fully landed on Christmas tables up and down the country.
Turkey; A Christmas Table Essential
Without that lean, delicious, high-quality, protein-packed poultry, there would be no Christmas. Oops! That should be “Without Christ, there would be no Christmas”. True, but let’s face it, feasting at Christmas would be much less Christmassy without the tradition that is roast turkey.