[Sca-cooks] Large birds for feasts

Terry Decker t.d.decker at att.net
Fri Mar 4 14:32:15 PST 2011

> I wonder what the time lag is between a food item's introduction and it's 
> first recorded recipe.  Columbus observed turkeys on his 1502 voyage.  In 
> 1511 King Ferdinand of Spain ordered every ship returning from the Indies 
> to bring five male and five female turkeys, presumably for breeding stock. 
> There are records of prominent churchmen sending the birds as gifst and 
> keeping private flocks in the 1520s and 30s.
> A few years ago the Price Tower in Bartlesville, OK mounted an exhibition 
> of bronzes by Giambologna (1529-1608), and one of the pieces was an 
> amazing turkey.  He'd actually made the bird look noble.  (His boar was 
> pretty amazing, too).  The statue had been commissioned by Cosimo di 
> Medici in 1567, and it was apparently not the first art piece the Medici 
> commissioned of a turkey - they ordered a turkey tapestry in 1545 and a 
> grotto painting earlier than that.
> So, you are seeing in correspondence and art the better part of a century 
> of turkeys in Spain and Italy, but the first recipe appeared when?  And 
> for how long after their introduction, some time between 1502 and 1522, 
> were they novelty items and a luxury food before there were enough birds 
> for a wider dissemination?  How long before cooks got enough experience 
> working with turkeys to figure out the best ways to prepare, season, and 
> serve them?
> Just pondering,
> Talana

The introduction of turkeys into Europe is generally placed between 1520 and 
1527.  Turkeys were being raised in Mexico and Cortez's expedition landed in 
1519 and the conquest was completed by 1527.

Rabelais mentions turkeys in his Gargantua (1534), while Marguerite de 
Angouleme (AKA Marguerite de Valios, Marguerite of Navarre) contracted with 
a farmer in Navarre to raise turkeys for her table.  Marguerite died in 
1549, so we know turkeys were being raised before that.  Also in 1549, 
Catherine de Medici gave a feast at the Bishopric of Paris for which the 
accounts still exist.  Catherine served 70 "Indian chickens" and 7 "Indian 
roosters" costing 20 sols and 30 sols each respectively.  Considering that 
from these accounts peacocks and heron cost 40 sols each, pheasant and 
bustard cost 70 cols each, crane cost 80 sols, and swans cost 100 sols, the 
low price and quantity of the turkeys suggest that they were being farmed 
fairly extensively and while they were a luxury, they were not a novelty.


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