They say it was Jack. The history of pardoning turkeys is somewhat patchy. The most favorite began with Tad Lincoln’s pet Jack. In 1863, President Lincoln was gifted a live turkey for Christmas. Eight-year-old Tad adopted the bird and taught him to follow behind as he hiked around the White House grounds. The President told Tad that Jack would no longer be a pet; he would be dinner the following day. Tad begged him to spare his pet’s life. Unwilling to break the boy’s heart, the President wrote a reprieve for the turkey on a card and handed it to his son.
A Thanksgiving mistake inspired the first-ever TV dinner. In 1953, Swanson miscalculated the level of the American appetite for Thanksgiving turkey, leaving the company with some 260 tons of frozen birds sitting in refrigerated railroad cars. Enter Gerry Thomas, a marketing visionary. Inspired by the trays of prepared food served on airlines, he ordered 5,000 aluminum trays, concocting a straightforward turkey dinner with gravy, cornbread dressing, sweet potatoes, and peas. He recruited an assembly line of women armed with spatulas and ice-cream scoops to load the trays. Thomas and Swanson launched the TV dinner for 99 cents. They fine-tuned the side dishes, added dessert, and sold ten million turkey dinners in the first full year of production.
US soldiers went to Westminster Abbey for Thanksgiving. In 1942, the United Kingdom joined in the festivities when it hosted Thanksgiving services at Westminster Abbey for US troops stationed in England. It was the first time in its history that a foreign army was invited inside the storied cathedral, drawing more than 3,500 soldiers who gathered in the pews and sang patriotic anthems “America the Beautiful” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“Jingle Bells” was originally a Thanksgiving song. James Pierpont composed the song in 1857. The original title was “One Horse Open Sleigh.” It was such a hit that people sang it again at Christmas. He changed the title two years later. The song is naughtier than you might think. A relatively tame carol today, in its day Pierpont’s tune was the equivalent of a Beach Boy’s song about fast cars, pretty girls, and sneaking off to be together in private––sleigh was one of the few places where a boy and girl could be alone and unsupervised.
Turduckens is a pollotarian’s ultimate Thanksgiving turkey. The unusual dish is a turkey stuffed with a duck, a chicken, and cornbread dressing––a Russian nesting doll only with poultry. It’s also known as engastration. If you haven’t heard of the term, you aren’t alone. But, culinary creations of animal-stuffed-with-animal roasts have a pedigree that reaches back at least to Roman times. Over twenty years ago, John Madden tried the turducken, leading him to talk about it when he was a holiday football commentator, popularizing a Louisiana dish that Paul Prudhomme claimed to have created in the 1960s. Later, he introduced it to New Orleans, called it a Turducken, and copyrighted the name.