It is hard to believe that the turkey that graces our tables at Thanksgiving came to us in a very convoluted fashion. Wild turkeys are originally from Mexico, Belize and Honduras, with populations reaching up into the U.S. These wild turkeys were domesticated by native Americans in the U.S., but more so in Mexico. Back in the 16th century, the Spanish conquistadores found the Mexican domesticated turkeys to be delicious, and transported some to Spain in 1519. The domesticated turkey was such a culinary treat that domestic turkeys were raised and spread across continental Europe, ending up in England in 1524. Then the domestic turkey was caged and put on a ship and transported with English settlers to the New World where they were “reintroduced.”
Domestication took many of the true characteristics from the wild turkey. The barnyard or domestic turkey is a pretty stupid creature and, as many of us know, being called a turkey is not very complimentary. I am sure the term came from the domestic, not the wild turkey. Wild turkeys are not unwise; they are very wary, wily and elegant. No wild turkey would be found hanging around your deck or lawn. You guessed it; there are no wild turkeys on the Vineyard. The turkeys that slowly cross our Vineyard roads causing traffic jams are domesticated turkeys gone feral. Wild turkeys can run like the wind and are quite strong flyers, and if they are along the road, will disappear into the woods if a car or human approaches.
One of my relatives, William Bradford, claimed that the wild turkeys of New England in the 1600s were “farre greater than our English Turkies, and exceeding fat, sweet and fleshy . . .” So tasty were the wild turkeys that they were hunted to extinction in New England by the 1800s. Actually, according to records, the last wild turkey in Massachusetts was seen at Mt. Tom in 1851.