With Christmas just around the corner, thoughts turn to the turkey – the traditional Christmas dinner.This, however, wasn’t always the case as for a long time most would have had a goose on the festive table as a turkey was just too expensive.
The first monarch to dine on turkey was Henry VIll.
The bird became accessible to all after the Second World War when farming practices produced large quantities of birds at affordable prices.
The wild turkey was originally from the Americas and date back to the time of the Aztecs, who lived in central Mexico from the 14th-16th century, when the birds were kept for food and the feathers for decorative purposes.
The turkey became a favourite in the USA, especially for Thanksgiving.
The turkey was first introduced to England reputedly by William Strickland in the 16th century. His family coat of arms has a turkey on it.
Besides the turkey extensively produced for the Christmas dinner table, a number of different varieties have been bred and standardised from the original wild turkey.
Some of these are now on the Rare Breed Survival Trust’s watch lists.
These old breeds are kept by poultry fanciers for exhibition purposes and are bred in the UK to a standard set by the Poultry Club of Great Britain.
There is an amazing array of colours of turkey in both heavy and light breeds, with a number of these having been kept here.
These old turkey breeds were created by selective breeding in America and Europe, with the Norfolk Black turkey, as its name indicates, developed in the East Anglia area of England.
As the article title states: “A turkey isn’t just for Christmas”. This is so true for the preservation of these wonderful traditional breeds of turkeys.
Not generally kept commercially, it takes the hobbyist to preserve them for future generations with so many colours and feather patterns available.
n My thanks to David Neill, who has kept a number of turkey breeds, including the Crollwitzer, Narragansett, Norfolk Black and Bronze over the years, for the photographs.