While researching some stuff about Christmas in Berwick I came across some bits and pieces I thought you might like. So here’s something to mull over while waiting for lunch today. Happy Christmas, Hanukkah Saturnalia (or whatever other midwinter festival you celebrate).
Turkey is eaten by most people at Christmas but it wasn’t always the way. Food was something that divided society by class. Not surprisingly only the rich could afford the best food and the poorest would have to make do with lesser fare but also certain foods were not allowed to be eaten by some classes. All manner of foods were eaten at the grander feasts that would last throughout the twelve days of Christmas. Of the birds eaten, not only were there poultry courses of duck and goose but game such as woodcock heron and (by permission of the king only) swan.
Meleagris gallopavo or Christmas dinner as it’s known the world over.
Turkey was introduced to Europe from the Americas by the Spanish and reportedly imported to Britain perhaps as early as 1524. It was mistakenly thought to originate in the Middle East hence “Turkey”. In Spain it’s called “pavo”. In 1573 it is mentioned as part of a farmer’s Christmas feast. By the 17th century it was an established part of the Christmas meal but still far too expensive for the majority of people.
This was still the case in Victorian Britain a turkey costing the equivalent of a weeks wages for the average working man. After Scrooge has his wakeup call on Christmas morning he tells the boy to buy the largest turkey for the Cratchetts to replace the goose they normally enjoy.
It was really only after the 1940s when new intensive farming practices were adopted that turkey (and to a lesser extent, chicken) became affordable and the staple of everyone’s Christmas table.