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Thanksgiving and Turkey and Football

by Lynne Belluscio

I often say that history is not

written in stone. That certainly is

true about the first Thanksgiving.

In fact, historians cannot agree on

the story of the first Thanksgiving.

Some claim it can be traced to

Texas, several years before the

Pilgrims landed in Plymouth.

There is also a story that English

settlers in Virginia celebrated

Thanksgiving in 1619. But one

thing for sure, turkey wasn’t on

the menu – neither was mashed

potatoes or pumpkin pie. But as a

historian, I am not about to change

my Thanksgiving menu because

it’s not historically accurate.

For my family, it was always

turkey for Thanksgiving and

Christmas, filled with my grand-

mother’s recipe for stuffing. I

have always baked the turkey in

heavy-duty aluminum foil at 450

degrees and at the last minute,

take off the foil so it would brown.

There is a difference between

baking and roasting turkey. His-

torically, turkey was roasted on a

spit in front of the fire, sometimes

in a tin reflector, or tin kitchen.

The brick oven could not hold

the heat long enough to bake a

turkey. I think that’s why boiled

turkey was popular at that time in

the early 1800s.

The 1833 Cook’s Own Book

suggests that a turkey should be

boiled in a floured bag so it can

be served white, with a sauce. (I

have never boiled a turkey, and

probably never will). When the

cast iron stove replaced the open

hearth, women were faced with

small ovens that could not hold a

turkey, and in truth, they preferred

meat roasted in front of the fire.

So the early stoves had two little

doors in front of the firebox, with

a wide shelf where the tin kitchen

could be placed. The little doors

were opened, and the turkey was

roasted in front of the fire.

I really wonder how popular

turkey was in the 19th century.

Lydia Child in The Frugal House-

wife 1833 mentions turkey, but

only to say that a “good sized

turkey should be roasted two

hours and a half or three hours;

very slowly at first.” Charlotte

LeRoy’s receipt book doesn’t

have a recipe for turkey. The

Cooks Own Book suggests that

“Many a Christmas dinner has

been spoiled by the turkey having

been hung up in a larder and be-

coming thoroughly frozen; Jack

Frost has ruined the reputation of

many a turkey roaster.”

In 1976, when we built our

cooking fireplace and brick oven,

I decided to cook Thanksgiving

dinner in the fireplace. Trying to

be prudent, I decided to roast a

small turkey, about 13 pounds,

but with no stuffing, since I was

concerned that the internal tem-

perature would not reach a proper

degree. But the turkey took much

longer than I planned, and I think

we had it for dessert!

In 1910, a turkey story was

reported in the

LeRoy Gazette


It seems that Alexander Suther-

land bought a live turkey for the

traditional Thanksgiving dinner

and brought it home and put it is

a bag in the woodshed. He would

“dispatch” it later. His wife had

to pluck the feathers and get it

ready for the oven, but the tur-

key had other ideas. Sutherland

heard a loud crash in the dining

room and when he went to see

what had happened he discovered

that his Thanksgiving dinner had

escaped from the woodshed and

had made its way into the dining

room. The frightened bird crashed

into the china cupboard and broke

the family set of china and did a

pretty good number on the china

cupboard in the process. The



article doesn’t mention what

happened to the errant gobbler,

but one can only suspect that it

eventually made it to the dinner

table - - on the everyday dishes.

Another story reported in the



, included accounts

of three football games that

were played on Thanksgiving

in LeRoy. The first game of the

day was played at 10 am at the

Summit Street field. The All -Le-

Roy Eleven played the self-pro-

claimed amateur champions of

Rochester, the Dreadnaughts.

Don McVean and Fenton Taylor

scored touchdowns. The final

score was 12 to 4.

The 1:30 game was between the

LeRoy Stars and the East Ends

from Buffalo. LeRoy lost the

game 18 to 0. The Buffalo team

was a lot larger than the boys

from LeRoy. At 3 pm the High

School played against Greigs-

ville. It was a grudge match, since

LeRoy had defeated Greigsville

the Saturday before. This game

was the final game of the season

and LeRoy won 41 to 0. There

were seven touchdowns. Three by

Glidden, two each by Bundy and

Kavanaugh. Glidden and Selden

each kicked 3 goals. It certainly

appears that Thanksgiving and

football have been a part of

LeRoy’s history - way before

there was television and the NFL.