Sunday, November 20, 2011

Let's Talk Turkey

Beautiful, beautiful girl from the North
You burned my heart with a flickering torch
--Candy, Iggy Pop
My dad’s 70th birthday is next week, but we celebrated this weekend, just so we could have two calorie laden fests in a row instead of one.  As a result, I can finally cross eating at the home of “Nebraska’s Testicle Festival” off of my bucket list.  
After I got over the disappointment of false advertising, I stared at a plate of turkey fries, aka turkey testicles, contemplating the meaning of Thanksgiving.  Not as much of a stretch as it sounds. 
Thanksgiving probably had its ancient roots in religious events thanking the gods for prosperity.  These “thanks givens” were held by nearly every culture several times a year and not always at a particular time.  Texans claim the first American Thanksgiving took place near El Paso in 1598 when Spanish explorer Juan de Onate finally arrived on the banks of the Rio Grande after a 350-mile trek through the Mexican desert.
Turkey, TX may not be able to claim Thanksgiving, but don't mess with the name
According to people not from Texas, the first Thanksgiving took place at Plymouth Colony in October of 1621.  It was attended by 50 colonists and 90 Wampanoag American Indian men (sorry, ladies).  Everything we know about the three-day Plymouth gathering comes from a description in a letter wrote by Edward Winslow, leader of the Plymouth Colony.  Perhaps the first myth about Thanksgiving was that it was a solemn, religious occasion.  Not so, according to Mr. Winslow.  The Plymouth Thanksgiving was an impromptu three day harvest festival that was about drinking corn beer, gambling, and athletic games, including target shooting with muskets.  It was never intended to become a yearly holiday--it was basically a big party because of the abundance that year.  Supposedly, the Wampanoag heard gunshots and thought the colonists were attacking.  They came to battle, only to find a party going on.

Some scholars also rain on the thought that Thanksgiving was all about friendship.  According to the United American Indians of New England (UAINE), the Wampanoag Indians and the colonists had an uneasy relationship--based on allegations that the colonists massacred a Wampanoag settlement and ransacked burial grounds in their first months in America.  Some Wampanoag men, including the infamous Squanto, were actually abducted by the English to be slaves overseas.  Despite this, the Wampanoag still taught the colonists how to survive in those early settlements.  Once released from slavery, Squanto became an assistant and liaison for the pilgrims.  In 1970, several Native American groups declared Thanksgiving a national day of mourning, believing it romanticizes the image of forced assimilation.

Time waxed poetic for Thanksgiving.  Over the years, there were always days of “thanks and giving,” but a new nation clamored for a more official holiday.  Finally,  Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving Day a national holiday in 1863.   It’s thought that he was pressured into doing this by the 30-year barrage of letters received from Sarah Josepha Hale, the author of “Mary had a Little Lamb”.  Ms. Hale was a staunch advocate of Thanksgiving.     
The only other time lamb and turkey get together. 
Thanksgiving has morphed into an elementary school icon, complete with reenactments of Pilgrims and Indians getting together to break bread and eat turkey in the name of friendship.

The visual there is a little skewed, too.  The “Pilgrims” actually never called themselves “pilgrims”, they went by “saints” or “strangers”, depending on their reasons for coming to America in the first place.  Saints wanted religious freedom; strangers wanted financial opportunity.  And please don’t confuse them with Puritans--Puritans were all about religious freedom.  Well, at least their own religious freedom.
Also, pilgrims have never been lauded for fashion edginess, but they were probably falsely painted with the penguin brush.  Black and white garb was reserved for formal religious occasions.  And what about those buckles with stiff hats?  Just a 19th century illustrator’s creation thought to look quaint and old-fashioned--the perfect image for a national holiday.
Hello there, Pilgrim.
Another Thanksgiving myth that may surprise you is the assumption that turkey was on the menu that day in 1621.  In Winslow’s letter, he comments that the Wampanoag Indians brought five deer to the festivities and some of the colonists hunted wild foul.  This certainly could have included wild turkey, but the bird gets no individual shout out.

"Were you invited to that pilgrim thing?  I don't know what to wear."
It’s doubtful that some of the most beloved Thanksgiving day side dishes were on the menu, either.  Sweet potatoes and potatoes were not yet part of the colonists’ diets.  Cranberries take sugar, and sugar was an expensive and rare commodity.  And you can forget the Campbell’s soup green bean casserole, too.  Pumpkin, squash, nuts and Indian corn were the vegetables du jour.  Dessert may have been disappointing as well.  Pie wasn’t an option due to lack of wheat flour for the crust, so most likely they had berry and cornmeal porridge.  If you want to try some authentic Plymouth eats, The Plimoth Plantation has recipes for nasaump, curd fritters and stewed pumpkin.  

Not the Pilgrims' feast.
The historical facts behind Thanksgiving continue to be debated.  For modern Americans, it has become a day of family and food.  I look forward to settling into a turkey coma and breaking the wishbone every year--but even those simple things are based on myth.  According to National Geographic News,  the dose of tryptophan, the substance in turkey that is a mild sleep inducing agent, is not enough to get to the human brain when ingested as part of a massive feast.  Seems an empty stomach is required for tryptophan to work.  The real reason you get so sleepy on Thanksgiving day?  It’s related to the average of 4500 calories most people consume during the festivities.
The wishbone is actually a bird’s clavicle, aka the furcula.  The pilgrims called it a merrythought.  The breaking of a wishbone for good luck can be traced back to the ancient Etruscans who used the process as a method of divination.  Birds were thought to have powers of prediction--after all, the rooster announced the dawn every morning with a crow.  Oracles used a dried out wish bone to predict crop viability and success in the coming harvest.  Then they would display it for the community to share. 
Stroking the wish bone was thought to bring good luck and wishes.

And that brings my dirty wish bone stroking mind back to where I started, which was testicles.  See?  I told you it wasn’t such a stretch.
Happy Thanksgiving!  And for those of you with stronger stomachs, try the turkey fries.  


  1. Everything we never wanted to know about Thanksgiving and were afraid to ask. Seriously, lots of interesting facts there. Turkey fries....ummm....maybe not.

  2. 'Texans claim the first American Thanksgiving took place near El Paso in 1598 when Spanish explorer Juan de Onate finally arrived on the banks of the Rio Grande after a 350-mile trek through the Mexican desert.'

    Wow! I have to share this with my dad. He'll get a kick.

  3. LOL, I'll pass on the turkey fries, thanks. Interesting history.

    A few years ago oldest beastie had to do a colonial project and we researched dishes that were likely for the period. We found an Indian Corn Pudding in a heritage cookbook, it's been a dish on our Thanksgiving table ever since.

  4. Loved this post - it was very educational for a non-American too! Happy Thanksgiving to you!!

  5. I love how you added the label "testical festival" for the Google searchers. Oh the search terms that will show up in your stats now. :)

    Have a great Thanksgiving!

  6. Testicle Festival? How have I not heard about that? ;)

    Great post. As I've only lived in the US for 4 years, I actually don't know all that much about the history of Thanksgiving. Learned some cool stuff here.

  7. Some of what you wrote about I didn't know. Interesting!
    Were the turkey testicles any good?

  8. Delores--I tried one, just to say I did. You can eat anything fried, I swear.

    Suze--Hubs is a Texan, so he claims dibs on everything every invented, discovered, or created. Everything evolves from Texas as far as he's concerned.

    Raelyn--actually, some of the recipes didn't sound too bad. And probably a heck of a lot healthier.

    Trisha--it's very important that even non-Americans know what type of turkey fetishes go on in the states.

    Rusty--I can get to that on a good writing night with chocolate and red wine.

    L.G.--I wanted to open the blog up to a wide variety of visitors. Testicle festival searchers are welcome.

    E.--Thanks, lady! Happy Turkey Day to you.

    Jennifer--I forget that Thanksgiving is mainly a US holiday. But testicle festivals are probably universal.

  9. E.R.--just missed you. Hate to say this, but they were sort of creamy. Let the nasty jokes fly.

  10. Testicle festival -- LOVE it! lol

    Happy Birthday to your dad. Mine would have been 70 next year.

    Happy Thanxgiving!

  11. very informative.. and loved the cartoon!!

  12. That was a great read. My hometown is Plymouth, England, and it's still my main shopping centre. I was stood at the Mayflower Steps on Saturday - I love the fact that I can be so surrounded by history.

  13. Very interesting post. Although, the thought of eating testicles - in any form and from any critter - makes me kind of oogy.

  14. HAHA!! what a great post! Thanks for sharing. It brought back memories of being served "prairie oysters."

  15. I was born in Texas, as were my husband and daughter, but we don't live there, anymore.

    El Paso is my beloved hometown, but it's so far west it's practically in New Mexico.

  16. Your historical posts are always interesting! I really enjoy them!! :)

  17. Haha. I was in the pet store and saw some of those Thanksgiving bow wow treats. BTW...happy birthday to your dad!

  18. Whoa, Billy's got a swagger goin' on there! Awesome. But wait, no green bean casserole at the first Thanksgiving(s)? :-(

  19. Holy cow. Who'd have thought. Thanks for all this. Great post.

  20. Whatever the roots of Thanksgiving, it's a good reason to get together with family.

    Happy Thanksgiving, Julie!

  21. I love that you doubled up the feasting--any excuse for calorie ladened feast ;)
    Happy Thanksgiving

  22. Happy Thanksgiving. I'm so hungry for that dinner now!

  23. ADSL--celebrate big, it's a milestone

    Sprinkles--of all the things to have a festival about, testicles are just not up there on my list, either

    Ruby--Yeah, I like that one, too. Funny how times have changed.

    Annalisa--you are lucky! The history of that area is amazing--just to walk through and imagine the generations that walked there before--gives me shivers.

    B.E.--Oogy? That's a good word for it.

    Steven--they just come up with the most unique euphemisms for this delicacy, don't they?

    Suze--hubs is a Texas boy--from East Texas. We met in Lubbock. I went to school in Houston. Texas is my second home.

    D.L.--Thanks! I love history, especially when the facts aren't as factual as I was led to believe

    Copyboy--A good time was had by all. Except I guess those who sacrificed their testicles.

    Linda--Bill Squier is one of those poor souls that really got burned when video music came out.

    Donna--or Holy turkey, as it may be.

    Maria--I agree wholeheartedly. Have a great Turkey day!

    Lynda--that way I feel obligated to splurge--it's a birthday this week, holiday the next. If I play my cards right, I could make up something special to fill every weekend for the entire year.

    Madeleine--I hear you! Thursday better come quickly!

  24. As always, humorous and informative. Too bad about the hats with buckles, I always loved that style. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving! :)

  25. Are you sure the saints and strangers didn't wear sweatpants at the Testicle Festival? Thanks for providing some entertaining dinner conversation for Thursday! Have a terrific Thanksgiving, and wish your dad a happy 70th birthday! Julie

  26. I'll never forget the first time I saw the utterly forgettable Plymouth Rock - circa 1980-something, I think.

    I was expecting some large rock formation jutting out of the water, a la "the Rock of Gibraltar". Instead, I discovered to my shock and un-awe, it is - literally! - a friggin' rock! They had to build an iron cage over it to keep drunken frat boys from walking off with it on a Saturday night!

    Unbelievable! The most thoroughly disappointing tourist spot in America, in my opinion.

    Well, it's pretty much a toss-up, really, between Plymouth Rock and the dirty, disgusting, prostitute and teen runaway-overrun intersection of Hollywood & Vine. (Fortunately, I didn't have to travel way out of my way to see the latter, as it's in my hometown.)

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

  27. What do those people not from Texas know anyway - LOL!

    Happy Thanksgiving :)

  28. testicle festival ... 'nuf said.

    bwahahaha. love it!!! Thanks!!

  29. Testicle Festival... O_o

    As usual, your post is informative and funny at the same time. If only you were my history teacher back in the days...*sigh* I would have probably nailed that A+ for sure.

    :) Happy Thanksgiving!!

  30. I'll have to pass on the turkey testicles, but what a wealth of information here. Very interesting. I didn't know, for one thing, that there is a Turkey Texas. Too funny.

  31. Thanks for all this Thanksgiving info. A fun blog to read for sure! Turkey testicles ..... I'll pass. Enjoy your Thanksgiving!

  32. Turkey Tex - home of Bob Wills. Am I supposed to know who that is?

    >>..."home of Bob Wills. Am I supposed to know who that is?"

    Uh... like... YEAH!

    "Bob Wills Is Still The King"
    (Google it in conjunction with "Waylon Jennings".)

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

  34. Heather--Yeah, the hats and buckles were pretty stylin'. Especially when the other choice was coon-skin hats and leather chaps.

    ENI--that would get my vote. The could be the "formal" sweatpants.

    Steven--I've never seen either--but the giant ball of twine in Kansas was not exactly all it was cracked up to be. I love hearing where you've traveled--it's like a Holy Grail quest for places in lyrics.

    Carol--Texans know everything. I know, I married one.

    Margo--If you have to have a festival, it might as well be one about testicles

    Cherie--history with snark, that's my specialty

    Cynthia--And if PETA gets their wish, it will be Tofurky, Texas

    Stephen--Isn't eating something like that a rite of passage?

    J.litlejohn--he is also known as the King of Western Swing. San Antonio Rose is probably his most recognizable tune, but if you didn't listen to a lot of 40s and 50s country, you may never know him. However, if you listen to Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, honkytonk, so called "California" country, or the Rolling Stones and even some Jimi Hendrix, you are hearing his influence.

    Stephen--Bob Wills is definitely still the King. Have a great Thanksgiving

  35. Okay, I'm Googling Turkey, TX and the Nebraska Turkey Testicle Festival (My that has a nice alliterative ring to it.) right after I leave your site. There are just some things that shouldn't be missed in one's lifetime.

    Thanks for the fun and the history. Loved the PILGRIM. Where do I get one of those?

    I'm joining the Insecure Writer's Blog Hop in December, so I'll see you around.

  36. Great post...thanks for the information.



  37. Ok! I'm glad I popped over to see this most wonderful poster for the Testicle Festival! LOL!

    Happy Thanksgiving - sorry I'm a little late but hopefully there's still tons of turkey leftovers!

    My favourite interpretation of Thanksgiving is the scene in the Adams Family Values! Take care


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