As the nights begin to draw in, our thoughts will naturally be turning to the festive season time off work, being with family and loved ones, cards and presents and of course, the traditional Christmas dinner. For most British households, that still means roast turkey and all the trimmings. The turkey remains hugely popular in this country more than 10 million are eaten at Christmas every year. But why do we eat turkey in particular? Is there a specific reason? And how long have we been cooking them for our Christmas meal? Find out right here
When did we first start eating turkeys at Christmas? Turkeys were first brought into Britain in the 1520s. At that time, people would eat boar s head, goose or even peacock at Christmas; it has been claimed that Henry VIII was the first person in Britain to eat turkey for his Christmas meal. By 1573, farmer Thomas Tusser noted that turkeys had started being served at English Christmas dinners, but that goose and capon – a castrated rooster – remained the roast of choice at the festive season for some considerable time.
In 1615 turkey appears as a meat used in English households in Gervase Markham s book The English Housewife. The London Poulters Guild records note that in the 1680s they began to give the company clerk a turkey as a Christmas gift. But weren t turkeys were the main Christmas food in Victorian times? Even during Queen Victoria s reign, turkey was not the most popular Christmas roast as it remained more expensive than the alternatives. In northern England, roast beef was the traditional choice while in the south, goose was still favoured though poorer families often made do with rabbit. Eating turkey at Christmas was popularised further by the likes of Charles Dickens in A Christmas Carol, published in 1843, Scrooge sends Bob Cratchit a huge turkey on Christmas Day to replace his goose and then again by King Edward VII, who chose them for his festive feast. So when did turkey become our main choice of Christmas dinner? Research shows that today, you only need to work for 1. 7 hours to afford one, but as recently as the 1930s, a turkey would cost the average person a week s wages to buy.
It wasn t until after World War II that turkey overtook goose as the most popular Christmas roast partly due to the widespread adoption of the fridge in family homes. Strangely, it s only really here and in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand that turkey is the main festive meal of choice; while it is sometimes eaten in plenty of other countries, including many in south and central America, it is very rarely eaten at Christmas across the rest of Europe. Turkey is arguably the centre piece on the dinner dining table. Thereвs a whole selection of choice these days. People opt for goose, ham, lamb or good old fashioned chicken (unless youвre a veggie of course). Some people complain that turkey is too dry, but sorry, I am pro-Christmas turkey, and youвre going to just have to baste lots and lots of butter on it (tip в every 30 minutes). I am not alone в according to statistics в 87% of people in Britain will feast on turkey for dinner this Christmas. But, why do we actually eat it on Christmas day?
Well, the credit can go to the good people of Yorkshire, more specifically, Yorkshireman William Strickland. Strickland acquired six birds from American Indian traders on his travels nearly 500 years ago in 1526. Interestingly, before turkeyвs were brought to these shores, people used to consume geese, boarsв head, chicken, cow and even peacocks during the festive period. King Henry VIII was the first English king to feast on turkey in the 16th century, and King Edward VII popularised turkey consumption. The reason that turkey became more common was that farmers thought it would be much more cost-effective to keep chickens and cows alive, so that they could produce eggs and milk. Hence, turkey became the preferred meal option. Around 10 million turkeys are eaten in the UK every year. More: Interestingly, 25% of Brits buy our Christmas turkeys months in advance to prepare for the big day. As you may know, they are not cheap. In the 1930s the average person had to work for a week to be able to buy a turkey. MORE: MORE: