All about the Turkeys!

Thanksgiving week is here! Special Collections is open through noon on Wednesday, but we’re all thinking ahead. In the meantime, it seems like a fun idea to talk turkey. (Or, at least look at them!) Agriculture plays a BIG part in culinary history and Virginia Tech history. So, it can’t be all that surprising we have material relating to all manner of poultry. Whether you’re looking to raise, exhibit, judge, cook, or eat, we probably have a publication for you. This week, we’re focusing on the turkey. And you might be amazed at the variety of breeds and things you might need to know about them.

The slideshow below includes images from two books: Turkeys and how to grow them. A treatise on the natural history and origin of the name of turkeys; the various breeds, and best methods to insure success in the business of turkey growing. With essays from practical turkey growers in different parts of the United States and Canada. Ed. by Herbert Myrick from 1897 and Turkeys, all varieties; their care and management, mating, rearing, exhibiting and judging turkeys; explanation of score-card judging, with complete instructions. A collection of the experiences of best known successful turkey breeders, exhibitors and judges from 1909. (And yes, that IS a census of the number of turkeys in each state in 1890 that you’ll see!)

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Happy Thanksgiving (and eat well)!

(We’ll be back to posting in December!)

Thanksgiving and a Civil War Diary

In 1864, a 20 year old man named Daniel Lowber enlist with the 13th Independent Battery of Wisconsin Light Artillery. In March of the same year, he transferred to the 37th Wisconsin Infantry, eventually rising from the rank of private to a captain by September. Lowber was twice wounded at Petersburg (in 1864 and 1865), but he survived the Civil War and lived until 1902. He kept a diary during 1864, and it currently resides among our Civil War collections. 

What is of particular interest this week, even though this isn’t a History of Food and Drink related collection, per se, are two entries made in November 1864.

Entries from Danial Lowber's diary in late November 1864.
Entries from Danial Lowber’s diary in late November 1864.

Friday 25th The weather is fine. Our Thanksgiving Turkeys have not got along yet.

Saturday 26th The Turkeys have arrived. They are very nice. [At least, we think that last word is “nice.”]

Thanksgiving has a long history in the United States and it was a long road to becoming a national holiday, a feat not completed until FDR’s third term in office.  Individual presidents issued proclamations prior to the war, but Lincoln began the tradition of yearly proclamations in 1863 (in large part to the 20+ years of work by Sarah J. Hale). You can see see George Washington’s 1789 and Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation, as well as the 1941 the joint resolution by Franklin Roosevelt and the 77th Congress here.

More to the point in this post, Daniel Lowber was a soldier in the Union army during the second Thanksgiving (federally celebrated, at least) of the Civil War. His two entries, short as they are, include some of the few references in our collections to a holiday that might have otherwise escaped notice. The turkeys may have been two days late (Thanksgiving in 1864 was on November 24), but it would likely have offered soldiers a small respite and for those lucky enough to have turkey, a change in the usual fare. The next day, camp life returns to routine and the day after than, Lowber’s regiment was on the move. (You can read more about his diary here.)

Wherever you are this year, we hope your Thanksgiving does include turkey and we hope you enjoy the holiday to its fullest. Happy Thanksgiving!

Special Collections is closing early today for the Thanksgiving holiday and I’m doing my best to finish up some projects. I’ll be back next week with a new post or two, but until then…

Eastern Wild Turkey
Eastern Wild Turkey

Gobble, Gobble!

Which either means “Happy Thanksgiving!” and “Please don’t eat me!” (Something gets a little lost in the translation.)

If you’re here in the U.S, enjoy the holiday! If not, enjoy your Wednesday!

Let’s Talk Turkey?

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, so it seems like a good week to talk about turkey. And turkey products. And resource kits about turkey. (Doesn’t everyone have one?!?) Because, as this kit reminds us,

“Turkey is Convenient!”

A joint product of the National Turkey Federation and the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, this 1979 resource kit is quite a piece. It was donated to Special Collections last year and we’ve been holding on to it for just such an occasion. The kit includes a filmstrip, cassette tape, teachers’ guide, student work sheets, and posters.

I’ve included some pages from the guide, which includes a frame-by-frame breakdown of the filmstrip and the accompanying audio, as well as some of the posters. In addition, the guide has suggested classroom activities, historical information, nutritional data, and information on food safety. While I scanned some of the more visual of the images (I’m strongly considering reproductions to decorate my office!), other posters include charts for food pricing and nutritional value.

The kit falls into an odd space of the History of Food and Drink Collection. It isn’t a modern publication, though it isn’t that old, either. There are plenty of new turkey products on the market and some from the kit may no longer be available, but the historical information, recipes, and education content still have value. Plus, it does supply some great images! There aren’t too many of these kits out there anymore, and most of them are in public schools or places like Tech, that have a strong agricultural focus, so we’re pleased to have it.

Although we can’t help you watch the filmstrip, you’re welcome to come check out the paper materials and we’ll even play the cassette for you, should you desire an audio tour of all things turkey. Plus, there are some great suggestions for those leftovers next week. “Bacon-like turkey strips,” anyone?

Reblog: Turkey Pardons


This Thanksgiving, two turkeys from Minnesota will travel to the White House to be pardoned by President Obama.  The annual tradition began in 1947 when the Poultry and Egg National Board presented a live turkey to President Truman for the holiday.  Earlier presentation birds did not fare as well as their modern day counterparts and were handed over for, ahem,dining, rather than pardoning.

This photo shows the Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation to President Nixon on November 18, 1969.  As you might imagine, we’ve got a number of POTUS photos from previous turkey days in our holdings.