The 12 Mysteries of Christmas, Day 9: Turkey on the Table

Christmas Turkey

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love queried me:  “Why do we typically eat turkey and not goose (or ham or lamb or roast beef, etc.) for Christmas dinner?”

Dear Soul,

My guess is that you’re thinking of that famous scene in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” in which the Cratchit family sits down to “Such a goose, Martha!”

Fact is, there are a couple of different views on this, with economics (of course) playing a leading role.  One holds that the turkey tradition is probably a throwback to the Dickens classic that forever changed the way we celebrate Christmas, noting that turkey in Scrooge’s world was a bit more exotic and consequently expensive, so there was a subtle class distinction. Another points out that rooster meat was tough and chickens were valuable for egg laying, cows “were more useful alive than dead,” and ham or brined pork wasn’t suitable for special occasions. And some culinary historians say that around the turn of the century Mr. Tom became more associated with the working class and poor immigrants who received charitable birds, leading more affluent households to serve game and beef at the Christmas table.

But how about that goose? One source from California mentioned that while goose is delicious, it is “dreadfully expensive here,” and another in Australia said it was “very uncommon” Down Under. However, goose is traditional in Austria, and in Denmark goose, duck, or pork is tradish. In the Czech Republic you’re more likely to sit down to fried carp and potato salad; in Finland, to ham, while the menu is meatless (excepting fish) in Poland, and pork belly side in Norway.

My take: As long as you’re sitting down with the people you care about for the holiday, it doesn’t really matter what meat’s on the plate. Bon appetit!

Recipe for Turkey Tetrazzini with Parmesan Cheese

  • 6 tbs. butter, divided
  • 8 oz. sliced mushrooms
  • 4 cups cooked diced turkey
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
  • 2 tbs. dry sherry
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 8 oz. spaghetti
  • 1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese

In a saute pan or skillet over medium heat, melt two tablespoons of butter; add the mushrooms and saute until tender and golden brown, about three minutes.  Set aside.

Heat oven to 425°.  Butter a 2 1/2- to 3-quart baking dish.

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the remaining four tablespoons of butter.  Stir in flour until well blended and cook, stirring, for one minute.  Add the chicken stock and cook, stirring or whisking, until thickened and smooth.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Quickly whisk about 1/2 cup of the sauce into the egg yolk, then add the yolk mixture back to the saucepan.  Add the sherry, cream, diced turkey, and the sauteed mushrooms.  Cook, stirring, until hot.

In a buttered casserole dish, layer half of the drained spaghetti. Top with half of the sauce, then repeat with the remaining spaghetti and sauce. Sprinkle the grated Parmesan cheese over the top and bake for 15 minutes, until hot and browned.


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