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The "Prize Turkey" in "A Christmas Carol": Shouldn't it have been a goose?

g
gfr1111 Jun 3, 2013 12:16 PM

The first time I saw "A Christmas Carol," the characters referred repeatedly to the "Prize Turkey" in the butcher's window. That sounded to me like an anachronism (or whatever you call the opposite). Turkeys were native American birds. Had they really been exported back to England by the time Dickens wrote "A Christmas Carol"? Wouldn't it have been far more likely that the butcher would have had in his window a goose?

Dickens had already taken his trip to America. Did he have turkeys on his mind and, therefore, threw one in inhis book? (I'll go have a flaming rum punch while I await your answers.) Thanks!

  1. Chowbird Jun 3, 2013 01:11 PM

    According to the Project Gutenberg copy of "A Christmas Carol," the bird was a turkey. They were available in England earlier than most people think. From Godecookery.com:

    >>Turkey - Turkey is a New World food that reached Asia >>Minor only after 1500 and did not come into general use in >>Europe until the mid 16th century. (Turkey is documented >>as being in London markets by the 1540's.) They are >>perfectly period for Tudor or Elizabethan feasts, but not >>for either the Middle Ages or most of the Renaissance.
    >>(The debate on when the Renaissance ended is still on >>going, but many historians agree that it was over in most >>of Europe by the early to mid 1500's.) Many medieval >>themed restaurants and Renaissance Fairs should be >>sternly admonished for serving turkey (and potatoes) as >>authentic food! The only instance in which turkey should >>be considered for a modern medieval dinner is as a >>replacement for peacock or swan, two large birds not >>readily available for the kitchen today and whose meat is >>not nearly as tender & moist as turkey.

    >>There is also evidence to show that before 1540-50, the >>bird Europeans often called "turkey" was actually the West >>African Guinea Fowl; Webster's Ninth New Collegiate >>Dictionary says of the name turkey:

    >>"confusion with the guinea fowl, supposed to be imported >>from Turkish territory (1555)"

    >>One theory claims that Europeans took to the North >>American turkey faster than they did to other New World >>foods (such as the tomato) because of its resemblance, in >>both physical form and in its name, to the Guinea Fowl, >>frequently referred to as a "turkey."

    Mid-16th century is *plenty* of time to acculturate, especially if turkeys have raising advantages over geese. Does anyone know if they grow and/or mature faster, and/or reproduce more quickly?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Chowbird
      paulj Jun 3, 2013 10:58 PM

      and from FoodTimeLine
      http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodmeats...

      Turkeys grew in popularity, and eventually replaced the old celebratory birds of the Middle Ages, the peacocks and swans of the rich, the bustards and herons of the poor, in the nation's diet...Turkeys became farmyard fowls. Soon they were a usual part of the husbandman's Christmas cheer. During the seventeenth and eighteeth centuries great numbers of turkeys, and also geese, were brought to the London market from as far away as Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk."
      ---Food and Drink in Britain From the Stone Age to the 19th Century, C. Anne Wilson [Academy Chicago:Chicago] 1991 (p. 128-131)

    2. junescook Jun 3, 2013 01:25 PM

      According to the following citations, the domesticated turkey was introduced into England in the 1500's (The Spanish had brought them back from Mexico). In fact, domestic turkeys were sent from England to the colonists in Jamestown in 1607. Turkeys continued to be a more luxury holiday item on the British table into the 19th century while the scrawnier geese remained more available.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domestic...

      1. s
        sueatmo Jun 3, 2013 05:43 PM

        If you read the original, you will see that it is indeed a turkey.

        The Cratchits would not have had a personal oven to roast a turkey, but as residents of Camden Town would have used communal ovens, out of doors, I believe. If I am wrong on a detail or two, I am sure someone here will chime in.

        4 Replies
        1. re: sueatmo
          TroyTempest Jun 6, 2013 10:36 AM

          FWIW,
          In the movie with George C. Scott as Scrooge, which is my favorite, he brings the turkey feathers and all to the Cratchit house, presumably to be cooked there.

          1. re: TroyTempest
            ChefJune Jun 7, 2013 12:49 PM

            <he brings the turkey feathers and all to the Cratchit house, presumably to be cooked there>

            that doesn't mean it's historically correct.

            1. re: ChefJune
              TroyTempest Jun 7, 2013 01:14 PM

              true

              1. re: ChefJune
                paulj Jun 7, 2013 03:13 PM

                As Dickens wrote it, he has the butcher's man take it, and gives him cab fare. No mention of how or where it would be cooked.

          2. ennuisans Jun 4, 2013 08:07 AM

            I feel bad now that I've never read the original story, but every adaptation I've seen has referred to a Christmas goose. Funny how that's all been switched around. I never would have figured it was originally turkey.

            3 Replies
            1. re: ennuisans
              JonParker Jun 4, 2013 09:23 AM

              I'm glad I didn't know that last Christmas, when I tried to do a supposedly traditional Christmas goose. It was one of the best dinners ever, and between goose rillettes, goose soup, and goose sandwiches I managed to use every bit of it.

              And for the record, I had read the original, but I was 10 or 11 at the time. I grew up to get a degree in English Literature, and consider Dickens to be an unbearable hack.

              1. re: JonParker
                Kris in Beijing Jun 6, 2013 10:12 AM

                Get thee to a copy of A Christmas Carol.
                Find a wide eyed child.
                Read to aforementioned child the Ghost of Christmas Present passages from the beginning of the Stave III up to the line "Scrooge promised that he would; and they went on, invisible, as they had been before, into the suburbs of the town."

                At this resource, begin on page 26 and read through pp29:
                http://www.readeasily.com/charles-dic...

                1. re: Kris in Beijing
                  JonParker Jun 7, 2013 09:01 AM

                  Touche. That is some first class food porn.

            2. junescook Jun 4, 2013 09:43 AM

              A Christmas Carol is one of my all time favorite stories. I have two or three different editions of the book - one illustrated, and I read it every year. I also have most of the film versions, and watch three or four each year during the season, comparing which come closest to the text and the feeling of the book itself. Fortunately my degrees are not in Eng. Lit like CH Parker, and I can enjoy the fantasy in 19th century London, allthewhile wondering what was going on then what might have been going on in the still pretty young US.

              2 Replies
              1. re: junescook
                JonParker Jun 4, 2013 10:19 AM

                Knowledge isn't always a good thing (and I'm not being snarky -- see Robert Burns "To a Mouse" for a clear example).

                1. re: junescook
                  Kris in Beijing Jun 6, 2013 10:17 AM

                  As I mentioned to JP, find a child and read it aloud. That man DOES know how to describe food.
                  We read it across Advent every year... although it's always hard not to just read until my voice gives out each time.

                  I've found that P. Stewert and K. Grammer's TV versions are pretty true, and my mom collects ACC movies and variations of all types [Ebbie and An American Christmas Carol with H Winkler being at the top currently].

                  Like, JP, my degree is in Eng Lit, but my undergrad speciality was Victorian Lit, so perhaps I have an alternative bias.

                2. g
                  gfr1111 Jun 6, 2013 08:47 AM

                  Thanks to all you literary/foodie types out there for clearing up the mystery. I am amazed that turkeys apparently spread throughout Europe from the 1500s onward. Or , as Chowbird pointed out, maybe they were Guinea Fowl from Turkey. Anyway, thanks!

                  1. paulj Jun 6, 2013 10:40 AM

                    A search on 'dickens turkey' turned up this short essay

                    http://www.williamrubel.com/2006/07/07/charles-dickens-and-turkeys/

                    It raises the interesting point that in 1843, the celebration of Christmas was something of a novelty in the USA.

                    http://realbook.com/article/dickens-c...
                    This points out that there is a Christmas goose in this story, the one that the Cratchits ate in Christmas Present.

                    "There never was such a goose. .... Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family;"

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: paulj
                      TroyTempest Jun 6, 2013 11:04 AM

                      Thanks for the link, that's great.
                      In the Geo. C. Scott version of the movie (haven't read the book in ages) they refer to it as a goose bird (IMO adding bird to spedify that it was small), and they totally cleaned it, implying that it wasn't very big.
                      Once again, not sure how faithful this is to the real book.

                      1. re: paulj
                        s
                        sueatmo Jun 6, 2013 05:07 PM

                        Yes. But the turkey Scrooge had sent to the Cratchits was indeed a turkey.

                        1. re: sueatmo
                          TroyTempest Jun 7, 2013 07:08 AM

                          Right, but the goose was eaten at the meal that the ghost of Xmas present took him to.

                      2. eatzalot Jun 6, 2013 04:03 PM

                        Others here admirably addressed the actual Dickens angles but I feel it's worth mention that Christmas goose was an old British tradition (still common in popular literature after Dickens, like Lewis Carroll and Arthur Conan Doyle), but that the turkey supplemented it. Goose is still a particular Xmas specialty in some countries, such as Austria...

                        ... AND, that many in the Old World, both Britain and Europe, originally dubbed the turkey "Indian chicken." (Indian as in American.) Just like Indian corn (corn per se being otherwise, in English outside of the Americas, a general word for grain).

                        "Indian chicken" endures in European names for the turkey, like French "poulet d'indon" (usually shortened nowadays to dindon). The three principal German-speaking nations have various favorite words for turkey, making it really helpful when one cookbook from there included a German-Austrian-Swiss food dictionary. Verbatim Austrian idiom for turkey is "Indian," which could lead to interesting statements, like roasting an "Indian" for supper...

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: eatzalot
                          paulj Jun 6, 2013 05:29 PM

                          Doyle - Blue Carbuncle. The stone in question was found in the crop of a goose. A scholar in reduced circumstances had gotten it from "a goose club [at an inn], by which, on consideration of some few pence every week, we were each to receive a bird at Christmas." The inn keeper got them from a stall in Covent Garden Market. Some of his suppliers where in the country, but this bird came from a town supplier, a lady who fattened them up in her backyard.

                          http://www.cs.vassar.edu/~weltyc/oldc...

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