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Wikimedia Commons

7 Intriguing Turkey Recipes From the 1800s

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

How will you be cooking your turkey this year? Chances are you'll be doing it the same way you and your family have always done it, citing "tradition." No offense, but that's so boring, you might as well cancel Thanksgiving dinner altogether and never talk to your kin again.

But what if I told you there was a way to spice up Thanksgiving dinner without sacrificing tradition?

The following turkey recipes are all centuries old and will breathe new life into your holiday feast. One caveat, however: These recipes were written in an era when food-borne illnesses weren't fully understood and proper hygiene was not practiced. In trying these, you may poison yourself and the ones you love.

Bon appetit!

1. Recipe For Stolen Turkey, as Excerpted In a Rural Policing Guide

This recipe comes not from a cookbook, but rather an 1839 "report of the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the best means of establishing an efficient Constabulary Force in the Counties of England and Wales." It was taken from the testimony of a vagrant that was included to illustrate the behavior of criminals—but I happen to think his method for cooking turkey sounds pretty good:

Ingredients:
1 Fortune Teller
1 Stolen Turkey
Clay
1 Guard Dog
1 Hedge

Recipe:
“I once quarreled with my statesman (accomplice), and went and lived with some gipsies , whom we met at a fair. I was with them three or four months. We camped in different places in Lancashire, Cheshire, and Wales. The women used to go in a morning to the different farm-houses to tell fortunes, and if they saw anything worth fetching we went for it at night. If we got a hen or a goose, a duck or a turkey, we used to roll it up in clay, with the feathers on, and put it back down at a faire, letting it roast itself with its own fat; when the clay was baked hard, feathers and clay would come off together; and on cutting it open, the entrails would come out in a lump. The plunder was always planted in the hedge, and a dog chained not far from it. One of them went to the towns grinding scissors and knives; he used to fence (sell) anything we wanted to get shut of.”

2. Boiled Turkey

1838's Magazine of Domestic Economy features this simple recipe. It also notes that turkeys are extremely expensive in London around wintertime, and it recommends that you have yours sent from the country, perhaps as a present.

Ingredients:
1 Turkey
1 Clean napkin
Crumbs
Parsley
Pepper
Salt
Nutmeg
Lemon
1 Anchovy
Oysters (a few)
Mushrooms (a few)
Butter (a bit)
Suet (a bit)
1 Egg

Recipe:
"Boiling a turkey is a very common mode of dressing it, and if nicely done makes a very agreeable dish. To boil it properly, it should be trussed with the liver and gizzard in the wings, be well dredged with flour, and sewn into a clean napkin. But previously to doing that, fill the crop with a forcemeat, or stuffing made of crumbs and bread, parsley, pepper, salt, nutmeg, lemon-peel, an anchovy, a few oysters chopped, a few shred mushrooms, a bit of butter, and a little suet, the whole bound together with an egg. In the water in which the turkey is to be boiled, put the juice of three lemons, two ounces of butter, and handful of salt. Let it boil very slowly."

3. Turkey and Chestnuts

Also from the Magazine of Domestic Economy, this turkey dish is a seasonal delight. Don't skimp on the chestnuts, cheapskate.

Ingredients:
Finest Spanish chestnuts (a sufficient quantity)
Thick brown gravy
Forcemeat
1 Turkey
NO BREAD SAUCE

Recipe:
"Roast a sufficient quantity of the finest Spanish chestnuts, but without turning them, until the husk and skin come off easily. When peeled boil them for ten minutes in a little thick brown gravy. Mix them whole with an ordinary forcemeat, which the gravy will help to bind, and fill the inside of the turkey with them. It must then be roasted comformably to the above directions, and served up with a rich gravy in a tureen, and some in the dish; but no bread sauce."

4. Revolutionary Braised Turkey (With Poem)

Apparently, braised turkey was a rather new discovery in 1840 when this recipe was published in the 5th volume of the Magazine of Domestic Economy. "There is amid of cooking a turkey in very general use in France, being the invention of the celebrated Monsieur le Jacque, called braising," the introduction states.

This cooking method was so celebrated, it inspired verse. "The process is seldom resorted to in this country, except by epicures; but so greatly is it esteemed, as to have given birth to the following distich:

Turkey boiled,
Is turkey spoiled;
And turkey roast,
Is turkey lost;
But for turkey brais’d,
The Lord be praised."

Sounds like this is some darn good turkey.

Ingredients:
1 Turkey
Bacon
Beef
Chopped carrots
Onions
Celery
Herbs
Salt
Pepper
Allspice
Mace

Recipe:
"The operation is performed as follows. Cover the bottom of a German stew pan with slices of bacon or ham, and of beef, chopped carrots, onions, celery, stuffing herbs, salt, pepper, allspice, and mace; on this place the turkey, trussed as for boiling, and over it a layer of the same materials , cover it close with the lid, and place the pan in the oven, leaving the whole stand in a state of gentle perspiration, until it is done enough. Serve up in its own sauce. Any joint may be cooked thus, and the toughest leg of mutton acquires in this way a melting tenderness which makes it easily digestible."

5. Mrs. Beeton's Middling-sized Roast Turkey

Isabella Mary Beeton's Book of Household Management (1861) suggests that you cook a modest turkey, as those tend to taste better than massive ones. Big turkeys are just so gauche, anyway.

Ingredients:
1 Middling-sized turkey
White Paper
Forcemeat
1 Trussing-needle (or 2 skewers and twine)
Flour
Butter

Recipe:
"Middling-sized fleshy turkeys are by many persons considered superior to those of an immense growth, as they are, generally speaking, much more tender. They should never be dressed the same day they are killed; but, in cold weather, should hang at least 8 days; if the weather is mild, 4 or 5 days will be found sufficient. Carefully pluck the bird, singe it with white paper, and wipe it thoroughly with a cloth; draw it, preserve the liver and gizzard, and be particular not to break the gall-bag, as no washing will remove the bitter taste it imparts where it once touches. Wash it inside well, and wipe it thoroughly dry with a cloth; the outside merely requires nicely wiping, as we have just stated. Cut off the neck close to the back, but leave enough of the crop-skin to turn over; break the leg-bone close below the knee, draw out the strings from the thighs, and flatten the breastbone to make it look plump. Have ready a forcemeat made; fill the breast with this, and, if a trussing-needle is used, sew the neck over to the back; if a needle is not at hand, a skewer will answer the purpose. Run a skewer through the pinion and thigh into the body to the pinion and thigh on the other side, and press the legs as much as possible between the breast and the side bones, and put the liver under one pinion and the gizzard under the other. Pass a string across the back of the bird, catch it over the points of the skewer, tie it in the centre of the back, and be particular that the turkey is very firmly trussed. This may be more easily accomplished with a needle and twine than with skewers.

Fasten a sheet of buttered paper on to the breast of the bird, put it down to a bright fire, at some little distance at first (afterwards draw it nearer), and keep it well basted the whole of the time it is cooking. About 1/4 hour before serving, remove the paper, dredge the turkey lightly with flour, and put a piece of butter into the basting-ladle; as the butter melts, baste the bird with it.

Time.—Small turkey, 1 1/2 hour; moderate-sized one, about 10 lbs., 2 hours; large turkey, 2 1/12 hours or longer."

6. Juliet Corson's Deviled Turkey

Juliet Corson's New Family Cookbook (1885) lists this recipe for "Deviled Turkey," which sounds a lot like the modern-day buffalo wing. Ms. Corson, you are a prescient genius.

Recipe:
"The wings and drumsticks of cold turkey make the best dish: core them with a sharp knife, season them highly with salt, pepper, cayenne, and dried mustard; broil them over a hot fire, put a little butter on them, and serve hot, with cut lemon or some vinegar."

7. Cape Fear Turkey (Oyster-Filled Roast Turkey)

Whoever contributed this oyster-heavy recipe to an 1889 issue of Good Housekeeping certainly wasn't short on confidence. Be sure to read the gravy guide at the end for a peek into the sultry gossip of Cape Fear's 19th century cooking scene.

Ingredients:
Two-year-old gobbler
1/2 lbs. fresh butter
Salt
Pepper
2 stalks of chopped celery
2 quarts of oysters (the best oysters)
Flour

Recipe:
"Fat, tender turkey, a two-year-old gobbler is the best. After it has been nicely picked, singed, drawn, and washed well inside—some cooks say don’t wash game or fowls, but they are neither nice nor wise…Take one pound of nice loaf bread and rub it into fine crumbs; mix with it one-half pound of fresh butter, salt and black pepper (and a little red pepper), until it tastes well seasoned, and two stalks of celery chopped rather small. Add to this two quarts of the best oysters, strained from their liquor, and carefully picked over for bits of shell, etc. When the oysters are mixed with the bread, add enough of their liquor to moisten the stuffing well. Fill the body of the turkey, after putting the legs inside in the orthodox fashion, and sew the slit up well…Rub the whole outside of the turkey with salt and pepper, and dredge it well with sifted flour, and set in the oven to roast. Put it on its breast, so the back will brown first Pour into the pan one pint of oyster liquor and one pint of hot water…the turkey ought to be done in four hours.

And just here we have the secret of an old Cape Fear cook’s gravy which was at once the delight and the despair of rival cooks, yea, and their mistresses too. “Mauma Mary” aways took half of the turkey’s liver (or two or three chicken livers and cooked them in the pan with the turkey), and when they were done she rubbed them to a smooth paste, removing all bits of gristle or fiber. And when she was ready to serve her gravy, she mixed the pounded liver thoroughly well into it, let it come once to a boil and poured it into the gravy boat. The addition of the liver is the greatest possible."

Vegetarian Bonus: How To Care For a Sick Turkey

While tofurkey wasn't yet a thing in the 1800s, animal lovers can use the following recipe not for dinner, but to cure any turkeys sick with indigestion or concussion-like symptoms:

"Various remedies have been offered for different diseases in poultry. I have one remedy in all cases, for all ages and kinds. Whenever anyone of them seems out of sorts, I administer water with a teaspoon, as hot as I think they can bear it, at two or three different times; also bathe the feet in it, and keep them without food and away from the cold, till they begin to brighten up, which they generally do in the course of a day. Some die. I treated a fine young turkey in this way which was nearly killed by an accidental blow on the top of the head. Fowls affected with indigestion, (indicated most readily by frequent attempts to swallow) should be attended to as soon as practicable."

This comes from an 1855 New York State Agricultural guide, and it's published directly below an article listing a "New Method Of Decapitating Poultry." (That method, if you're curious, is to cover the bird with a piece of cloth before cutting its head off.)

All photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

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Stop Your Snoring and Track Your Sleep With a Wi-Fi Smart Pillow
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[h/t TechCrunch]

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15 Reasons You Should Appreciate Squirrels
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Even if you live in a big city, you probably see wildlife on a regular basis. Namely, you're sure to run into a lot of squirrels, even in the densest urban areas. And if you happen to live on a college campus, well, you're probably overrun with them. While some people might view them as adorable, others see them as persistent pests bent on chewing on and nesting in everything in sight. But in honor of National Squirrel Appreciation Day, here are 15 reasons you should appreciate the savvy, amazing, bushy-tailed critters.

1. THEY CAN JUMP REALLY, REALLY FAR.

A flying squirrel soars through the air
iStock

In one study [PDF] of the tree-dwelling plantain squirrels that roam the campus of the National University of Singapore, squirrels were observed jumping almost 10 feet at a stretch. In another study with the eastern ground squirrel, one researcher observed a squirrel jumping more than 8 feet between a tree stump and a feeding platform, propelling itself 10 times the length of its body. Flying squirrels, obviously, can traverse much farther distances midair—the northern flying squirrel, for instance, can glide up to 295 feet [PDF].

2. THEY'RE VERY ORGANIZED …

A squirrel digs in a grassy field filled with fallen leaves.
iStock

In fact, they may be more organized than you are. A recent study found that eastern fox squirrels living on UC Berkeley's campus cache their nuts according to type. When given a mixture of walnuts, pecans, almonds, and hazelnuts, the squirrels took the time to hide each type of nut in a specific place. This method of "spatial chunking" may help them remember where the nuts are when they go to retrieve them later. Though the study wasn't able to determine this for sure, the study's results suggested that the squirrels may have been organizing their caches by even more subtle categories, like the size of the nuts.

3. … BUT THEIR FORGETFULNESS HELPS TREES GROW.

Looking up a tree trunk at a squirrel climbing down
iStock

Tree squirrels are one of the most important animals around when it comes to planting forests. Though they may be careful about where they bury their acorns and other nuts, they still forget about quite a few of their caches (or at least neglect to retrieve them). When they do, those acorns often sprout, resulting in more trees—and eventually, yet more acorns for the squirrels.

4. THEY HELP TRUFFLES THRIVE.

A man holds a truffle up for the camera.
iStock

The squirrel digestive system also plays an important role in the survival of truffles. While above-ground mushrooms can spread their spores through the air, truffles grow below ground. Instead of relying on the air, they depend on hungry animals like squirrels to spread their spores to host plants elsewhere. The northern flying squirrel, found in forests across North America, depends largely on the buried fungi to make up its diet, and plays a major role in truffle propagation. The squirrels poop out the spores unharmed on the forest floor, allowing the fungi to take hold and form a symbiotic relationship with the tree roots it's dropped near.

5. THEY'RE ONE OF THE FEW MAMMALS THAT CAN SPRINT DOWN A TREE HEAD-FIRST.

A squirrel stands on the knot of a tree trunk looking down at the ground.
iStock

You may not be too impressed when you see a squirrel running down a tree, but they're actually accomplishing a major feat. Most animals can't climb vertically down head-first, but squirrel's back ankles can rotate 180°, turning their paws all the way around to grip the tree trunk as they descend.

6. SEVERAL TOWNS COMPETE FOR THE TITLE OF 'HOME OF THE WHITE SQUIRREL.'

A white squirrel in Olney, Illinois stands on its hind legs.
iStock

Squirrels are a more popular town mascot than you might think. Surprisingly, more than one town wants to be known as the "home of the white squirrel," including Kenton, Tennessee; Marionville, Missouri; the Canadian city of Exeter, Ontario; and Brevard, North Carolina, the location of the annual White Squirrel Festival. But Olney, Illinois may be the most intense about its high population of albino squirrels. There is a $750 fine for killing the all-white animals, and they have the legal right-of-way on roads. There's an official city count of the squirrels each year, and in 1997, realizing that local cats posed a threat to the beloved rodent residents, the city council banned residents from letting their cats run loose outdoors. In 2002, the city held a 100-Year White Squirrel Celebration, erecting a monument and holding a "squirrel blessing" by a priest. Police officers wore special squirrel-themed patches for the event.

7. THEY CAN AID STROKE RESEARCH.

An illustration of different regions of the brain lighting up in blue
iStock

Ground squirrels hibernate in the winter, and the way their brains function while they do may help scientists develop a new drug that can limit the brain damage caused by strokes. When ground squirrels hibernate, their core body temperature drops dramatically—in the case of the arctic ground squirrel, to as low as 26.7°F, possibly the lowest body temperature of any mammal on Earth. During this extra-cold hibernation, a squirrel's brain undergoes cellular changes that help its brain deal with reduced blood flow. Researchers are currently trying to develop a drug that could mimic that process in the human brain, preventing brain cells from dying when blood flow to the brain is cut off during a stroke.

8. THEIR FUR MAY HAVE SPREAD LEPROSY IN THE MIDDLE AGES.

A woman in a fur vest with a hood faces away from the camera and stares out over the water.
iStock

If you always warn your friends not to pet or feed squirrels because they can spread disease, put this story in your back pocket for later: They may have helped leprosy spread from Scandinavia to the UK in the 9th century. Research published in 2017 found a strain of leprosy similar to a modern variant found in squirrels in southern England in the skull of a woman who lived in England sometime between 885 and 1015 CE. The scientists suggest that the leprosy may have arrived along with Viking squirrel pelts. "It is possible that this strain of leprosy was proliferated in the South East of England by contact with highly prized squirrel pelt and meat, which was traded by the Vikings at the time this woman was alive," one of the authors told The Guardian. That may not be the most uplifting reason to appreciate squirrels, but it's hard not to admire their influence!

9. THEY'RE MORE POWERFUL THAN HACKERS.

A squirrel runs across a power line.
Frederic J. Brown, AFP/Getty Images

While energy companies may worry about hackers disrupting the power grid, squirrels are actually far more powerful than cyber-whizzes when it comes to sabotaging our electricity supply. A website called Cyber Squirrel 1 documents every public record of squirrels and other animals disrupting power services dating back to 1987. It has counted more than 1100 squirrel-related outages across the world for that time period, which is no doubt a vast underestimate. In a 2016 survey of public power utilities, wildlife was the most common cause of power outages, and for most power companies, that tends to mean squirrels.

10. THEY CAN HEAT UP THEIR TAILS TO WARD OFF PREDATORS.

A ground squirrel sits with its mouth open.
David McNew, Getty Images

California ground squirrels have an interesting way of scaring off rattlesnakes. Like cats, their tails puff up when they go on the defense. A squirrel will wave its tail at a rattlesnake to convince the snake that it's a formidable opponent. Surprisingly, they whip their tails at their foes whether it's light or dark outside. Squirrels can control the blood flow to their tails to cool down or keep warm, and they use this to their advantage in a fight, pumping blood into their tails. Even if the rattlesnakes can't see the bushy tails, researchers found in 2007, they can sense the heat coming off them.

11. THEY HELP SCIENTISTS KNOW WHETHER A FOREST IS HEALTHY.

A squirrel runs down a tree trunk toward a pile of leaves.
iStock

Researchers look at tree squirrel populations to measure just how well a forest ecosystem is faring. Because they depend on their forest habitats for seeds, nesting sites, and food storage, the presence and demographics of tree squirrels in an area is a good bellwether for the health of a mature forest. Studying changes in squirrel populations can help experts determine the environmental impact of logging, fires, and other events that alter forest habitats [PDF].

12. THEY CAN LIE.

A squirrel with a bushy tail stands on its hind legs.
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Gray squirrels know how to deceive. They can engage in what's called "tactical deception," a behavior previously only seen in primates, as a study in 2008 found. When they think they're being watched by someone looking to pilfer their cache of food, the researchers discovered, they will pretend to dig a hole as if burying their acorn or nut, but tuck their snack into their mouth and go bury it elsewhere.

13. THEY WERE ONCE AMERICA'S MOST POPULAR PET.

A man in a hat kisses a squirrel on the White House grounds
Harris & Ewing, Library of Congress // Public Domain

Though some states currently ban (or require permits for) keeping squirrels as pets, it was once commonplace. Warren G. Harding kept a squirrel named Pete who would sometimes show up to White House meetings and briefings, where members of Harding's cabinet would bring him nuts. But keeping a squirrel around wasn't just for world leaders—the rodent was the most popular pet in the country, according to Atlas Obscura. From the 1700s onwards, squirrels were a major fixture in the American pet landscape and were sold in pet shops. Despite Harding's love of Pete, by the time he lived in the White House in the 1920s, squirrel ownership was already on the wane, in part due to the rise of exotic animal laws.

14. THE MERE SIGHT OF JUST ONE COULD ONCE ATTRACT A CROWD.

A historical photo of nurses leaning down to feed a black squirrel
Library of Congress // Public Domain

The American cities of the 1800s weren't great places to catch a glimpse of wildlife, squirrels included. In fact, the animals were so rare that in the summer of 1856, when a gray squirrel escaped from its cage inside a downtown New York apartment building (where it was surely living as someone's pet), it merited a write-up in The New York Times. According to the paper, several hundred people gathered to gawk at the tree where the squirrel took refuge and try to coax the rodent down. In the end, a police officer had to force the crowd to disperse. The paper did not document what happened to the poor squirrel.

15. IN THE 19TH CENTURY, THEY WERE TASKED WITH TEACHING COMPASSION.

A boy doing homework with a squirrel on the table.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

In the mid-1800s, seeking to return a little bit of nature to concrete jungles, cities began re-introducing squirrels to their urban parks. Squirrels provided a rare opportunity for city slickers to see wildlife, but they were also seen as a sort of moral compass for young boys. Observing and feeding urban squirrels was seen as a way to steer boys away from their "tendency toward cruelty," according to University of Pennsylvania historian Etienne Benson [PDF]. Boy Scouts founder Ernest Thompson Seton argued in a 1914 article that cities should introduce "missionary squirrels" to cities so that boys could befriend them. He and other advocates of urban squirrels "saw [them] as opportunities for boys to establish trusting, sympathetic, and paternalistic relationships with animal others," Benson writes.

But young boys weren't the only ones that were thought to benefit from a little squirrel-feeding time. When the animals were first reintroduced to parks in the 19th century, feeding squirrels was considered an act of charity—one accessible even to those people who didn't have the means of showing charity in other realms. "Because of the presence of urban squirrels, even the least powerful members of human society could demonstrate the virtue of charity and display their own moral worth," Benson writes. "Gray squirrels helped reshape the American urban park into a site for the performance of charity and compassion for the weak." Even if you were too poor to provide any sort of charity for someone else, you could at least give back to the squirrels.

BONUS: THEY USED TO HATE TAX SEASON TOO.

A colored lithograph shows men and dogs hunting squirrels in a forest.
Currier and Ives, Library of Congress // Public Domain

Though notably absent from big cities, much of the U.S. was once overrun by squirrels. The large population of gray squirrels in early Ohio caused such widespread crop destruction that people were encouraged—nay, required—to hunt them. In 1807, the Ohio General Assembly demanded that citizens not just pay their regular taxes, but add a few squirrel carcasses on top. According to the Ohio History Connection, taxpayers had to submit a minimum of 10 squirrel scalps to the town clerk each year. Tennessee had similar laws, though that state would let people pay in dead crows if they couldn't rustle up enough squirrels.

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