This may surprise a fair amount of you, but the traditional animal served on most Thanksgiving table can trace its roots to what is now Central and South Mexico. The fact that it can now be said that we eat “Mexican” food on Thanksgiving day delights me to no end. I have no idea why this amuses me so.
Way back in the day, finding protein was more difficult in the Western Hemisphere than it was in the Eastern. Certainly there was fish found on the coast lines, but going inland, finding a regular protein source wasn’t as easy as it was in the Middle East, Europe or Asia. Eventually the following sources had been found and used on a regular or semi-regular basis: beans, peanuts, avocados, guinea pigs, turkeys, geese, ducks, frogs, deer and…uh…other humans (although as their civilizations progressed, cannibalism became more of a ritual in regard to religion than a source of meat. And before you all get all ‘hoidy-toidy’ about men eating other men, cannibalism has a long, storied history in many, many cultures, including European. So there.)
Turkey was called uexolotl back in the day. Europeans, who were either too arrogant, too lazy, or a combination of both, changed the name to something more recognizable. The English then called it the “turkie cock”. Some confusion ensued as “turkie cock” was the same name that they used to refer to the guinea-fowl. In fact, the turkey, as we here in the States know of it, has been entitled with names that often confuse it with another country. Turkey, when referring to the bird, is easily the most geographically confused animal on the planet.
- In Turkish the bird is called hindi which means “coming from India”
- In the Hebrew language the turkey is called tarnegol hodu, which literally means “Indian chicken”
- The Dutch word is kalkoen derived from the city Calicut in India.
- In Portuguese the word for turkey is peru which also refers to the country Peru.
- In Arabic it is called “Ethiopian bird.”
- In Greek it is gallopoula which means “French girl” or “French bird”
- In Scottish Gaelic it is called cearc frangais, meaning “French chicken”
Areas in India, just for the record, also referred to it as a peru. Peru, also for the record, is no closer to Mexico as either Turkey or France.
Why do some folks refer to the bird as “Indian”? The bird wasn’t all that well known, so when explorers and traders found the bird in Indian trading posts in the early 17th century, they thought they had discovered a new, exotic source of meat. They never considered that the bird had arrived from the Spanish, who had now circumnavigated the entire globe, and undoubtedly brought the bird to India from the East.
And what was the nationality of some of those European traders who came from the West and “discovered” the bird in India? Turkish.
All of this geographic trivia surrounding the Turkey is enough to make your head spin. It’s a good thing I’ve purchased my own Wild Turkey for the Holidays.