My Vintage Garden – Thanksgiving Turkeys

“My Vintage Garden” celebrates gardens, nature and flowers in antiques, collectibles and jewelry. Included may be intriguing historical information, curious bits of folklore and a few useful gardening tips. Flowers have inspired art and design since ancient times, and their beauty, symbolism and sentimental meaning make our treasured collectibles even more precious.

A few days ago, I looked up to see a large male wild turkey glaring angrily through the patio door. He paced and strutted, ruffling his feathers and pecking at the glass. I then realized he must have seen his reflection and thought a rival male was invading his territory.

I saw my first wild turkeys when we moved to rural Maryland 20 years ago. A young hen was walking across the lawn followed by six scrawny chicks. They were past the cute fluff- ball stage and well into lanky turkey adolescence. We hear their gobbling in the spring mating season. Occasionally we see a flock of turkeys crossing the road or a lone male stalking the backyard. They can fly short distances and roost in the trees at night, but turkeys spend most of their time on the ground, searching for food.

The wild turkey is a native of North America. Along with corn, squash and venison, turkeys were one of the staple foods of Native Americans prior to the arrival of Europeans. When the pilgrims first saw the American bird, they called them “turkey fowl” after a familiar English guinea fowl originally imported from Turkey.

Turkey was introduced to the early Pilgrim settlers by the Native American Wampanoag tribe. Of the 102 persons who sailed to the New World aboard the Mayflower in 1620, only 53 survived the after first year. Some died during the 66 days at sea; others were weakened by disease, hunger and lack of shelter. The seeds they brought from England produce few usable crops. The Native Americans helped the settlers, taught them to fish, hunt and to grow native foods such as corn and squash. The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621, and the Native Americans were invited guests of honor.

The first Thanksgiving feast lasted three days, but we do not know for sure whether turkey was on the menu. It was recorded that the Governor sent four men on a “fowling” mission in preparation for the event, and that the Wampanoag guests arrived bearing five deer. It is likely they also ate lobster, shellfish and seal, and ( with no available sugar) no dessert.

Thanksgiving did not immediately become a national holiday. Harvest and thanksgiving celebrations were held on an irregular basis in the early colonial days, and by the mid 1700’s nearly everyone celebrated a Thanksgiving holiday of some sort, although not on a particular day or at the same time as other communities.

In 1863, when President Lincoln proclaimed the 4th Thursday in November a national day of Thanksgiving, turkey was already the favorite holiday meal. Turkey was ideal for a fall feast. It was fresh, affordable, and big enough to feed a crowd. A domestic turkey could be fattened over the summer and reach a large size by autumn. In most of the US, cows were raised for milk and beef wasn't widely available. There was plenty of ham or brined pork around, but it wasn't considered suitable for special occasions. Today, turkey is nearly synonymous with the Thanksgiving meal!

Wild turkeys have played an important part in American history and it’s hard to believe they were in danger of extinction less than 100 years ago. Loss of natural habitat and uncontrolled hunting were to blame. Today their numbers top 7 million, thanks to conservationists and the National Wild Turkey Federation. Turkeys were trapped and reintroduced into some areas, and much was funded through hunting permits and taxes.

I collect turkeys – I have over 20 sets of turkey salt and pepper shakers, a number of turkey plates, bowls, platters, turkey planters and three sets of turkey candle holders. I even have a few pieces of turkey-themed jewelry.

And yes, we will eat turkey on Thanksgiving, but it will be the domestic variety. The wild ones are safe in my woods.

I’ve chosen some of my favorite turkeys on Ruby Lane – they will make your Thanksgiving feast even more special. A special thanks to the shops below who allowed me to use their photos:

Antiquefreak's - R.S. Prussia Turkey Scene Creamer


Collecting Memories - Antiques & Collectibles - Festive Winterling 8 1/2" Game Bird Plate, Colorful Turkeys, Transfer with Hand Painted Detailing, early 1900s


Fireside Treasures - Vintage Colorful Porcelain Tom Turkey Planter GOBBLE GOBBLE


Camden House Antiques - Very Large Holiday Turkey Platter - Barnyard King by Johnson Bros.


Christopher Sue Walton - Herend Turkey Porcelain Figurine - Blue Fishnet

The R & J Collection
- Figural Turkey Napkin Ring


AtoZ Antiques & Collectibles - Vintage Native American, Southeast Coushatta Turkey Basket

Clara’s Chic Boutique-Vintage - Thanksgiving Mr. & Mrs. Turkey Salt and Pepper Shakers S&P

Written by Suzan Miller

SuzansTreasures on Ruby Lane

About me: I have had the Ruby Lane shop “SuzansTreasures” for over 10 years. I have been involved with antiques and collectible business all my life, as my mother, grandparents and great-grandmother all had antique shops. I also have a life-long love of gardening. I am a member of several gardening societies and am a qualified flower show judge.