Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Food Media & News >
Jun 3, 2013 12:16 PM

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

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. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. 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

    >>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

      and from FoodTimeLine

      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. 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.

      1. 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

          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

            <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

                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. 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

              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

                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:

                1. re: Kris in Beijing

                  Touche. That is some first class food porn.

            2. 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

                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

                  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.