Turkeys beware – November is here.

As cooks across America search for their favorite baked turkey recipe, turkey farms ready the new crop of birds for distribution. It’s a long process from the turkey pen to the grocer -- all overseen by the Regulatory Office of the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce.

However, as a finicky type, I had rather think of the roasted bird on the platter rather than on foot with feathers and a face, but that’s just me.

I never tire of those cute cartoons featuring turkeys (and chickens) marching with signs that read – EAT MORE BEEF! But in the turkey-world, the reality is that they will sacrifice themselves as a Thanksgiving Dinner. That is with one nationally recognized exception.

Yes, the Thanksgiving Turkey Presidential Pardon – a long tradition. In 1947, President Truman began this great tradition of accepting a Thanksgiving turkey as a gift and then granting it a Presidential Pardon – only in America.

History records the date as October 3, 1789, when George Washington declared the first Thanksgiving Day Proclamation (in part):

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public Thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

It is interesting to note that President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939 (approved by Congress in 1941) set the fourth Thursday of every November as Thanksgiving Day. Earlier President Abraham Lincoln designated the last Thursday in November as the holiday; however, occasionally there are five Thursdays in November – perceived too close to Christmas.

As children and throughout the years, we have heard the lovely and charming documented story of the First Thanksgiving – the Pilgrims, Captain John Smith, the horrible winter, and their happiness when Native Americans came to their rescue with food and taught the Pilgrims techniques to cultivate corn and native vegetables, how to store them for the next winter. At that first Harvest, it was indeed a happy Thanksgiving as Pilgrims and Indians celebrated the bountiful harvest. In addition to veggies, it is certain that deer, fish, and wild turkey were served as well.

It was November 23, 1907, when illustrator, J. C. Leyendecker shared his Pilgrim Stalking Tom Turkey creation on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post. It is an image that comes to mind when thinking of the First Thanksgiving.

The Pilgrim dressed in Puritan style attire (with a closed Bible next to his left foot) and with an old flint-lock gun in hand – as he stalked ole Tom Turkey. School children throughout America have gazed upon the picture as images of the Pilgrim lifestyle danced across their imaginations – a lesson of perseverance and a spirit of thankfulness accompany the image.

The spirit of thankfulness has spawned many quotable quotes throughout the years:

Thanksgiving Day comes, by statute, once a year: to the honest man it comes as frequently as the heart of gratitude will allow. –Edward Sanford Martin

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. – John Fitzgerald Kennedy

The unthankful heart … discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some Heavenly blessings! --Henry Ward Beecher

The turkey is a much more respectable Bird and withal a true original Native of North America.

— Benjamin Franklin (as part of his campaign to make the Turkey the National Bird, instead of the Bald Eagle).

If you want to soar with the Eagles, don’t fly with the Turkeys.

— Keith F. Ball

Have you noticed that I love EVERYTHING about Thanksgiving?

Among the symbols of Thanksgiving is the Cornucopia or Horn of Plenty. It is normally shown as a horn-shaped basket laden the abundance of harvest.

The traditional cornucopia was a curved goat’s horn filled with fruits and grains. According to Greek legend, Amalthea (a goat) broke one of her horns and offered it to Greek God Zeus as a sign of reverence. As a sign of gratitude, Zeus later set the goat’s image in the sky also known as constellation Capricorn.

The pumpkin or Pumpkin Pie is served at almost each American Thanksgiving Dinner – a true American tradition. Cranberry, originally known as crane berry because of its drooping head which reminded the pilgrim of a crane, is also a mainstay of the Thanksgiving Dinner Celebration. And of course, in the Deep South, Thanksgiving Dinner is not complete without Granny’s famous cornbread dressing. That’s just the way it is!

Now I should share my – I DON’T BELIEVE IT – roasted/baked turkey recipe:

Preheat oven to 475 degrees about 9 or 10 o’clock on Thanksgiving eve.

Place completely thawed turkey that is room temperature in a roasting pan.

Place an unpeeled quartered apple, three stalks of celery and an onion (peeled) in the cavity. Melt one stick of butter and pour over turkey (any size turkey) after it has been salted and peppered. Add one quart of water to pan. Cover tightly (this is the secret – use the lid that came with the roasting pan and seal tightly with tin foil). Place in the completely hot oven and bake for ONE HOUR. DO NOT OPEN OVEN DOOR DURING BAKING. AFTER ONE HOUR, TURN OFF OVEN AND LEAVE ALL NIGHT.

In the morning when you look at it, the turkey will be golden brown, you will have plenty of broth for dressing and gravy and the tenderest turkey you have ever tasted. You will say, I DON’T BELIEVE IT!

Anne McKee is a proud, native Meridianite and Mississippi historian. She is the author of “Remembering Mississippi” and “Historic Photos of Mississippi.” Anne is primarily known as a Mississippi Storyteller and as well the Director of Rose Hill Cemetery Costumed Tour. See her website: www.annemckeestoryteller.com

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