Friday, December 8, 2017

Christmas Firsts #8 : Turkey


If your family is like ours, we love to have turkey at Christmas.  I have often wondered whether the tradition of Christmas turkey has its origins in England or in the USA. Turkey was already popular in the American colonies but Henry VIII  (1491 - 1547) was the first English king to enjoy turkey and was the first recorded king to have turkey on the Christmas menu in 1526.  However, eating turkey at Christmas didn't really become  fashionable  until the reign of   Edward VII ( 1841-1910). 
Mrs Beeton, in her 1861 Book of Household Management indicated that turkey was not popular as “a Christmas dinner with the middle classes” until the 19th century. At first, in medieval England, a main course of boar was the most popular. Through the 16th and 17th centuries goose or capon was commonly served, and the rich sometimes dined upon peacock and swan.
Turkeys, while becoming more available, remained a luxury until 1950’s. Working class families were not able to afford turkey even for Christmas.  ( Do you remember a famous Christmas dinner scene  at the end in DickensA Christmas Carol (1843), where Scrooge sends Bob Cratchitt a large turkey as an especially generous gift.)
I can’t remember when we first started to include turkey for our Christmas dinner in Australia. I don't recall turkey for Christmas when I was a child,  but for all of my married life,(46 years) we have owned and served on two large turkey platters. I am only assuming that turkey at Christmas must have been popular in Australia from about or before the 1960’s as  one of our platters,  a Johnson Brothers  is from that decade. 

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