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Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2007 06:02 pm

Turkey Day tutorial

Take time to reflect on the prosperity most of us enjoy

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Untitled Document This Thanksgiving, most of us will join family and friends to celebrate the good fortunes in our lives and eat until we feel like stuffed turkeys. Every year since 1863 we have celebrated the traditional American Thanksgiving Day. President Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November a day to give thanks for “general blessings.” In 1930, President Franklin Roosevelt changed the day of observance to the fourth Thursday in November. Not everyone shares the same holiday traditions or foods, but a few symbols do represent Thanksgiving. A Thanksgiving meal wouldn’t be complete without turkey, cranberries, corn, and cornucopia centerpiece. Here are some interesting facts about these holiday symbols. According to the National Turkey Federation, in the past 25 years Americans’ consumption of turkey has more than doubled. Last year, the average American consumed 16.9 pounds of the bird. This increase accounts for people eating turkey year-round instead of just for holiday meals. Turkey is low in fat and high in protein. This year an estimated 269.8 million turkeys were raised on U.S. farms. About 46 million of these turkeys will be eaten at a Thanksgiving dinner. The most prized portion of the turkey is the white meat of the breast. The white meat has fewer calories and less fat than dark meat. Today a domesticated 15-pound turkey has about 70 percent white meat and 30 percent dark meat. For more information on facts, history, and cooking a turkey, visit the University of Illinois Extension Web site “Turkey for the Holidays,” www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/turkey/. The cranberry, one of three fruits native to North America, may have been served at the first harvest celebration in 1621 and continues to be part of our holiday menus. Cranberries were first used by Native Americans who discovered the native berry’s versatility as a food, fabric dye, and healing agent. Fresh cranberries are available at supermarkets in the fall, September to December. Cranberries are good for you, providing dietary fiber and vitamin C. One cup of raw cranberries is low in calories, saturated fats, sodium, and cholesterol.
Wisconsin cranberry growers produce more than 300 million pounds of fruit annually — more than half of the estimated 575 million pounds of cranberries that Americans consume each year. Cranberry recipes and facts can be found on the Wisconsin State Cranberries Growers Association Web site, www.wiscran.org. The corn that we know today is a human invention. It is believed that around 5000 B.C. people in central Mexico began developing corn from a wild grass called teosinte. The kernels of teosinte were small and not placed close together. Eventually Indians throughout North and South American depended on this crop for food and used all parts of the plant. Today we have many uses for the kernels of field corn, including corn syrup, cornstarch, livestock feed, ink, ethanol, glue, cosmetics, and various foods. The most common types of corn today are flint (Indian corn), dent (field corn), sweet corn, and popcorn. A cornucopia represents the prosperity of the harvest. The first illustrations of a cornucopia are from the fifth century before Christ, in Greek mythology. The image is a curved goat’s horn filled with fruits and grains. The word “cornucopia” derives its name from two Latin words: cornu, meaning “horn,” and copia, meaning “plenty.” This symbol of abundance is also referred to as the “horn of plenty,” “horn of Amalthea,” (referring to the one of the foster mothers of Zeus, who is said in various versions of the myth to have fed the infant god goat’s milk from a goat’s horn or to have actually been a goat herself), and “harvest cone.” Our modern cornucopia is a horn-shaped wicker basket filled with fruits and vegetables, grains, or flowers. This holiday season, take time to reflect on the prosperity of the harvest that we are able to enjoy.

Jennifer Fishburn is a horticulture educator with the University of Illinois Extension Sangamon-Menard Unit. Contact her at fishburn@uiuc.edu.
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