8 Turkey Tales to Tell Next Thursday

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Thanksgiving is a week away. But it's never too early to start stockpiling stories to share over turkey and stuffing next Thursday. Which president pardoned the first turkey? Is Big Bird's costume made of turkey feathers? Kara Kovalchik has all the details.

1. Butterball turkeys have been a holiday tradition for the past 50 years. While the name "Butterball" implies that the bird is injected with butter (which it is not), it actually refers to a specific breed of turkey. Butterball turkeys have all-white feathers (birds with colored feathers often have dark spots on their meat, which is not aesthetically pleasing) and have extra-broad breasts. Butterball turkeys are also the best-selling brand in the U.K. at Christmas, since the British obviously don't celebrate Thanksgiving.

2. Caruncle, wattle and snood might sound like a law firm, but they are actually words that describe the various bits of red fleshy stuff that grows on a turkey's head. The snood is the flap that hangs over its beak, the caruncles are colored growths on the throat, and the wattle is the skin hanging under the turkey's beak. When all three turn bright red the turkey is either in a mating mood or is very angry. In either case, you'll want to stay out of its way.

3. Unlike chicken and duck feathers, turkey feathers are too stiff for use as pillow and duvet stuffing. Some of the larger, more colorful feathers are sold for decorative purposes or craft projects, but the majority of turkey feathers are ground up and composted.

4. The classic "Turkeys Away" episode of WKRP in Cincinnati was based on a very unsettling real event. WKRP creator Hugh Wilson had a friend who worked for an Atlanta radio station that decided to toss live turkeys out of a helicopter for a Thanksgiving promotion. Just like the TV episode revealed, none of the folks involved with the stunt knew that domestic turkeys couldn't fly, and a local shopping center was bombarded with turkeys hitting the ground "like bags of wet cement." ("As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!")

5. Big Bird of Sesame Street fame is clad in a costume made of turkey feathers. Feathers plucked from the hind end of the bird, to be more specific. A company called American Plume and Fancy Feather selects the feathers for the Children's Television Workshop to inspect (nine out of 10 feathers are rejected), and then the white feathers are dyed yellow and incorporated into the Bird's costume.

reagan-clinton-2.jpg6. The classic folk melody called "Turkey in the Straw" first gained popularity via minstrel shows in the mid-1800s. There is no copyright information available regarding the song, so the author of the tune remains a mystery. However, the song has earned at least one unusual place in pop history: in the United States, it is the most common melody used by ice cream trucks to attract customers.

7. It is now a Thanksgiving tradition for a live turkey to be presented by the National Turkey Federation to the U.S. President, and for him to official grant it a pardon. The bird that had been earmarked for Thanksgiving dinner was then relegated to a farm or petting zoo to live out its life. Many reports state that Harry S Truman was the first President to grant the bird a pardon, but it was actually John F. Kennedy who first declared that the gift gobbler would not appear on the White House dinner table.

8. Even though domestic turkeys can't fly, their by-products are well-traveled. When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin tore into their first meal on the Moon, those foil packets contained freeze-dried roast turkey with all the trimmings.

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November 20, 2008 - 1:54pm
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