by Fred McMillin
for November 26, 1998


Turkey Day


All the domestic fowls we eat today (duck, goose, chicken, etc.) were found on the ancient Roman tables, except the turkey, which appeared in Europe after the discovery of America.

Wild turkeys of southern Mexico were tamed by the Mexicans. Tame Mexican turkeys were the first to reach Europe, brought by the Spaniards in 1519. They reached England in 1524, the only part of Europe where it became known by the name "turkey."

On December 13, 1621, the Plymouth colonists held their first Thanksgiving Day. More than 80 friendly Indians brought food, including wild turkeys.

The Rest of the Story

If the turkey originated in the New World, why did the British name it after a country in Asia Minor? French food historian Toussaint-Samat tells us, "One tradition says the first turkey to find its way into a British stomach was eaten in Cadiz, Spain by merchants on their way home from a business trip to Turkey." The merchants brought some of the live birds back to England. To hide the source of their find, they said it was from Turkey. Later, turkeys were sent from England to the Pilgrims at Plymouth. "Ever since then Americans have (included the turkey) in their celebration of Thanksgiving Day."

As for the preparation of the turkey, Gerald Carson writes that the colonist wives found English dishes unsuitable in the new environment and climate. Hence, they invented dishes that have become a cherished part of our tradition of cookery, including the Thanksgiving turkey-and-cranberry-sauce combination. So, what wine to serve with that combination?

The Wine

I want plenty of red intensity, plenty of cherry-berry flavors, and no rough edges. Here's a perfect example, that just won BEST OF TASTING in my last competition.

Sandra & Bill Maciver
Sandra and Bill
Maciver own the
winery that made our
1995 Merlot, Sonoma Valley
Matanzas Creek
Owners—Bill and Sandra Maciver
Production—5,000 cases
Rating—Matanzas Creek Merlot is one of California's most important wines. EXCELLENT!
Price—$45 range


The turkey's appetite made quite an impression upon the 16th-century Europeans; a Frenchman wrote that "the voracious fowl eats as much as a mule." Incidentally, the British helped satisfy that appetite by feeding the bird some ginger wine to add flavor to the meat.


American Heritage Cookbook
History of Food by T.-Samat
The World Book Encyclopedia


About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.



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