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Thanksgiving Bird: 1919

A young girl stands with her Thanksgiving dinner. From the National Photo Company collection, 1919. View full size.

A young girl stands with her Thanksgiving dinner. From the National Photo Company collection, 1919. View full size.


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That's one scraggly turkey

Looks like a long distance runner with ostrich feet.

In the 1950s, I remember rabbits, turkeys and chicken hanging forlornly from butcher's hooks. Out of that lot, the rabbits tasted best, but partridges from the 22 acre woodlot behind the house were best of all if you managed to shoot one, better than pheasant for me.

The turkeys from the farm next door which I helped slaughter and de-feather in 1959 and later, were far plumper than the poor underfed bird shown here, and tasted good, but like all turkeys were a bit dry. Even then, farmed turkeys were bred to not have such dark meat thighs as the originals trotting around in the woods. We had a book of essays in English Lit in high school in '61, and I remember the story on modern turkey husbandry, presented after a reprint of Lamb's method of roasting pig - burn down the sty!

Yup, for changed presentation to the modern housewife, it all happened in the '50s at butchers and early supermarkets: saran wrap, egg-carton-material trays and meat cuts designed to disguise the original animal. Science! Frozen TV dinners with mystery meat, technology then transferred to airline economy meals. Now we get 15 grams of stale peanuts and warm soda as we jet to Bermuda, such are the advances.

No wonder alien birds pumped full o' "butter" frozen stiff and looking like giant icy colorless basketballs soon filled the burgeoning supermarkets' freezer cases in the 1960s. However, most fridges weren't that big then that you could spare the space to melt them for three days prior to stuffing and roasting. I much prefer fresh not frozen. What oozed out of those butterballs looked quite unlike any butter I ever saw. It was clear. Hmmm.

Lots of Shorpy photos show advertising of head cheese in stores from the '30s and '40s. People weren't so hung up on apparent hygiene, and enjoyed liver and kidneys as well from cattle, sheep and pigs. Now people have a heart attack even looking at this stuff. Reminds them of their own mortality I guess. Burgers and chicken strips for the win! Disguised meat for the modern palate.

On the other hand, mushrooms were regarded with complete suspicion by the rural folk I knew in the 1960s, so there's that as counterpoint.

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