Turkey in Period Research Paper

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Turkey in Period


Honorable Lady Sosha Lyon’s O’Rourke


 The Well-Stocked Kitchen, Joachim Beuckelaer, 1566



The turkey is from the genus Meleagris, native to North America.  The Meleagris gallopavo or the Wild Turkey is the forebearer of all period breeds of Turkey.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkey_%28bird%29

However the name Turkey was not the original moniker for this North American bird.  The name Turkey stuck to the Indian Peacock when William Strickland, the man who introduced the Turkey to England was granted a coat of arms “A turkey-cock in his pride proper.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkey_%28bird%29  There are two descriptions of how the Turkey got the name Turkey instead of Spain or Spanish Peacock.  The first seems to be that merchants zealously guarded the secrete to where these large but wonderful tasting fowl came from and since many boats were coming and going not only from the New World but the Indies and Turkey, the merchants called the Turkey (Turkey’s).  (Tousaint-Samat, pp. 342-343). The second theory put forth by Wikipedia, states that the American Turkey was originally mis-identified as a type of guinea fowl (known as the Turkey fowl) and imported to Europe through Turkey.   The Turkey is so called the Indian Peacock for not only the size of the bird but the proud puffing of tail feathers when displaying for the hens by male turkey.

While the Turkey was get a proper name the moniker of the American Peacock or the Indian Peacock depending on who was cooking.  Scappi calls for the use of “Indian Peacock” in several recipes.  Unlike the SCA myth that the turkey actually replaces the peacock, both peacock and the turkey are given equal time in Scappi’s recipes.

The Spaniards took back a few of the novelty “Indian Peacocks” back to Spain in the early 1500’s (1500-1519) where the Turkey became a welcome addition to any flock, not only for their voracious bug eating abilities but tasty flesh.  Naturalizing to various regions, the European varieties became as distinguished in their own right and characteristics. Varieties abounded all over Europe, such as the Norfolk Black, the Cambridgeshire Bronze, White Austrian, Buff, Blue and a variegated Blegian called the Ronquieres, Spanish Black and the Narragansett to name a few.  (Albc.USA.org)

Turkey Stills in Period:


This leads to the period picture of a busy period kitchen.  Here we see several types of birds, hanging and awaiting to be plucked.  It is my belief that the plucked bird in the basket middle bottom is that of a turkey while the large dark feathered bird to the left is that of either a Black Spanish (Spanish turkey) or a Black Norfolk (English Turkey).


Another very awesome picture of a busy kitchen is again from the Flemish artist, Joachim Beuckelaer.

The Four Elemnts of Fire, Joachim Beuckelaer 1569

In this picture in the upper right hand corner we see a magnificent picture of a turkey handing and ready to be plucked.


 A close up of the same picture with the turkey next to a rooster.

This sets an established validity that the turkey is not a miss named guinea hen but a true turkey that could be one of several Europeanized birds from the North American wild turkey.  At this point in the mid 1500’s the turkey is finding a place in the kitchen of the upper middle class and not just of nobility as the still lives point to upper to middle class kitchens


With the introduction of the turkey or the American peacock, that the original peacock from India was no longer popular.  I believe that the peacock enjoyed the same dining pleasure i.e. for the very rich; however after studying peacock history for cooking of a peacock is that they are not nearly as meaty.  Peacocks in comparison to turkeys are also not as productive. Where as a a peahen will only lay 3-9 eggs a year while a single chicken could lay up to 200 eggs each year, (Damerow) A turkey can lay up to 80-100 eggs during a 4 motnh period if eggs are continually harvested from a turkey nest during the breeding season of spring to early summer. (wiki.answers).  Once a fertilized turkey egg is harvested, the egg can then be placed under a brooding chicken to be hatched.  (Columella/Damerow).  This gives the turkey almost 10x the potential of chicks per the potential 9 of peacock.  While the turkey was still a luxury item, in comparison to the peacock the turkey was more plentiful once a breeding population had been established and popular traits i.e. meat, coloration, and bug devouring properties breed for.

There are several turkey recipes; however the one I am going to be redacting is from “The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570)”.




To roast turkey cock and turkey hen, which in some places in Italy are called ‘Indian Peacocks.

A turkey cock and turkey hen are much bigger in the body then an ordinary peacock; and the cock can spread its tail like the peacock….Its breast is broad…its flesh much whiter and softer then that of the common peacock and it is hung for a shorter time then any similar fowl.

If you want to spit-spit roast it, do not let it sit for more then six days in winter before being drawn or in the summer for more then two.  Pluck it dry or in hot water…If you want to stuff it, use one of the stuffings of Recipe 115…stick it with fine lardoons of pork fat, although if it is fat, an stuffed there will not be any need for larding; you will have to stud it though with a few whole cloves.  Mount it on a spit and cook it slowly, that bird cooking much more quickly that a common peacock. (Scappi, pp. 208-209)


…for every four pounds of beaten pork fat get two pounds of parboiled veal or goat-kid sweetbreads…four ounces of sugar, four egg yolks, a handful of herbs, nine not-too-ripe plums or else muscatel pears…instead of sweetbreads you can use calf, kid or pig brain, parboiled. (Scappi, pp. 193-194)


1 small young turkey

1 lb chopped bacon ends

1 lb bacon strips

3 Tbs sugar

4 egg yolks

Herbs –sage, rosemary, basil, thyme, bruised laurel leaves, parsley – rinsed and chopped

½ lb sweetbread

Whole cloves for studding



I have cooked turkey on many occasions; however cooking a period recipes require a slight mind shift.  The stuffing is very different as the main ingredient is pork fat not bread crumbs and there is the inclusion of sugar to counter the savory, not to mention egg yolks instead of whole eggs.

The first thing to do is try to get a heritage turkey, from either a specialty shop or raising one.  Should a heritage turkey be unattainable, go for a young turkey NOT an old turkey.  The older the turkey, the tougher the meat.  Young and sweet is what you would want to serve to the pope or visiting royalty.

Turkey raw

Clean out the giblets and set to the side while gathering and mixing the stuffing ingredients.

My first task was to pick herbs from the garden.  A handful of or a few stems of each of the above listed herbs were gathered then rinsed well.

Herbs in strainer

Once they were patted dry, I de-stemmed the leaves from woody stalks.  The bay laurel I left intact but bruised the leaves for maximum flavor.  Everything else was then chopped and set to the side.

chopped herbs

The sweetbread was chopped into small chunks and set to the side as well

chopped sweetbread

I used bacon ends for the pork fat instead of raw pork fat.

chopped smoked bacon

I could have used rendered pork fat but I don’t think that is what was really used.  Rendered pork fat would drip and slide with out actually staying inside the turkey for flavoring, as it has a fairly low melting temperature.

I did not have slightly tart plums on hand.  I used dried unsugared plums with the thought that in period if plums were not in season dried plums (prunes) would have been used instead.

 chopped dried plums

I also added more then 9 as I actually like the flavor of dried plums and wanted to offset the bacon ends with a bit more sweet.  The bacon ends were placed in a bowl.  From here I added the sweetbread, herbs, sugar, egg yolks, and dried plums.

Then I mixed well.

final mix herbs


I was now ready to stuff a turkey.

            stuffed raw turkeyThe turkey was stuffed to just the right amount.

Once stuffed, I laid bacon strips across the top of the turkey breast “as fine lardoons”.  A fat turkey is subjective and I like bacon.  Bacon is never a bad thing when it comes to meat.  So bacon it was on top of the turkey in a criss-cross decorative patterning.

endview of bacon wrapped turkey


The bacon will shrink so lay the bacon half over the first strip when laying out your pattern.  You’ll understand once you’ve cooked the bacon on top of the turkey once.

I did not have a spit handy so had to use a gas stove oven and a rack.  From here it was 2.5 hours at 350.

roasted turkey on platter

The turkey is incredibly moist while the stuffing is very meaty with savory and sweet flavorings.

Modern vs. Period:

I did not have a period turkey.  I could have bought a “heritage turkey” however the packaging did not say what “heritage” and I really wanted a Black Spanish or Black Norway.  I am just going to have to raise my own I think.

The herbs came from my garden and were mostly period.  The dried plums were from California and did not designate the type which means that a period type of plum was probably not used.  The eggs were organic but the sugar was regular table sugar instead of brown or turbinado; however fine sugar was known in Italy at this point.

Sugar- Considered very expensive till the late 1500.  Loaf sugar given the name due to the conical shape derivded from refining into a hard and very white refined form. Caffetin or Couffin (English equivalent of “coffer” or “coffin”) named for the form, packed in plaited leaves palm and from the city shipped from called Caffa in the Crimea.    Casson a very fragile sugar also considered the ancestor to castor sugar.  Muscarrat considered the best of all sugars, reported to be made in Egypt for the Sultan of Babylon.  The Italian name mucchera denotes that it had been refined twice. (Toussaint-Samat, pg. 553-555)

I did not have a wood fire spit on which to roast the now stuffed turkey.  I had to rely on the modern convenience of a gas stove and a roasting pan with a rack.  This does not give the wood flavor that a smoke fire would; however the heat was maintained at a regular temperature which precludes charred spot or raw and undercooked areas.



A period turkey dish is both similar and dissimilar to the modern day Thanksgiving turkey.  The dissimilarity is that a much more favorable type of bird was used rather then the mass produced standard white turkey.  The stuffing is more complicated and very meaty.  The stuffing is not just throwing a premade mix with chicken stock and maybe a few other ingredients into a turkey.  The ingredients are wide ranging and not what a modern palate would associate for turkey stuffing.

I enjoyed the making of the Italian style turkey.  I hope to tackle the Tudor Christmas Pie next but having attempted that once and getting stuck not on the deboning of the turkey, duck, chicken or quail but rather the pie crust, that is a several day project.



Damerow, G., (2010). Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens.


The Well-Stocked Kitchen, Joachim Beuckelaer, 1566


The Four Elemnts of Fire, Joachim Beuckelaer 1569


Toussaint-Samat, M., (1992). History of Food. Barnes & Nobles.








The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570). Translated by Scully., T.,  University of Toronto Press.

September 7, 2013 | No comments