Turkey Pen

Thanksgiving in Appalachia

Granny Gazzie and Grandpa Charlie

Most of us will get our Thanksgiving turkey from the grocery store but in the old days most folks harvested their own turkey.

When I was growing up, there were very few wild turkeys here in Brasstown. I do remember Uncle Henry had some tame turkeys one time-don’t tell nobody but I was scared of them.

Seems like it was during my teenage years when the wild turkey population increased enough for folks to start hunting them. I remember Papaw Wade got him a long black coat to wear and hunted turkey in the Coleman Gap. Said he was going to show the young boys how it was done but I don’t think he ever got a turkey.

The Deer Hunter has harvested quite a few turkeys over the years, however since turkey season is in the spring-all of his were eaten way before Thanksgiving rolled around.

The Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English has an interesting entry about catching turkeys in a pen.

turkey pen noun A large enclosure built to entrap wild turkeys.
1939 Hall Coll. Cataloochee NC How to build a turkey pen: You just build a square pen out of ten foot fence rails, and when you get the wall built, you build it up about three feet high, and then you cover the pen over with fence rails laid close together all over it, and then you go out back a distance from the pen, start a trench, shallow at first, and the deeper you go, get under the rail of the pen. Why, it’s big enough for a turkey to walk under the bottom rail, but the trench then sloped out, up from the middle of the pen, and the turkeys walks through there, and they get inside this pen. They raise up and see where they’re at. They get so excited that they don’t notice the hole down there to go out back outside. (Sarah Caldwell Palmer)

Hard for me to imagine a place with so many turkeys you could catch them in a pen. In recent years, the coyotes have cut down the turkey population in this area-although I do still occasionally see turkeys in the cow pasture down the road.

The Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English website has interviews which were conducted in 1939 in the Smoky Mountains. You can read the transcripts or listen to the actual interview.

The following interviews mention turkeys. (*Before you listen to the interviews you may need to stop the music player on this page-the music controls are along the top of this page on the far left side-just under the Blind Pig logo. Click the center round button to stop the player.)

  • Uncle George Palmer aka Turkey George
  • Wiley Oakley (He tells a tall tale-but he yodels to let you know its a tall tale)

I know everyone doesn’t eat turkey for Thanksgiving-but for the Blind Pig family there’s always at turkey on the table.

What’s always on your Thanksgiving table?


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  • Reply
    Glenda Beall
    November 28, 2013 at 1:17 am

    I wrote about my Thanksgivings, then and now on Writing Life Stories. Like most we had turkey growing up, but I think my mother cooked hens from her yard when I was very little. She also cooked the dressing with chicken in it.
    When I was older she made oyster dressing and the family brought over side dishes.
    Happy Thanksgiving to the Blind Pig family and all of your wonderful readers.

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    November 27, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    Happy Thanksgiving to the whole Blind Pig gang!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 27, 2013 at 9:36 pm

    I don’t ever remember having anything special on Thanksgiving. Our parents didn’t consider it a Christian holiday. Mommy might make a cake or a stack pie. That was about it. I don’t think I had turkey until I was grown and away from home. They might have served it in the lunchroom at school but we couldn’t afford to eat there. To be perfectly honest, I was disappointed when I finally got to try turkey.
    I always have to work on Thanksgiving and this year is no different. The rest of the family goes to somebody else’s house. If I am lucky I might get a plate of leftovers. Actually I prefer it this way. Some mashed potatoes and dressing slathered with gravy is plenty for me. Maybe a bowl of blueberry yumyum if there is any left.

  • Reply
    Susie Swanson
    November 27, 2013 at 9:30 pm

    We always have a turkey on the table now but when I was growing up it was fresh pork. Daddy always killed a hog just before thanksgiving and maybe another just before Christmas. The weather changes so much now it’s hard to kill a hog and keep the meat unless it’s frozen. I sure do see alot of wild turkeys more so now than ever before. Happy Thanksgiving Tipper to you and your family.

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    November 27, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    We always have turkey on thanksgiving, and all the traditional trimmings. I love it. About 20 years ago when the turkeys were first making a comeback around here, we had a wild turkey hen fly down into the pen with our tame turkeys on Thanksgiving day. She stayed just that one day, but it was a real treat for the family to look out and see her with our turkeys. We made up stories all day about why she might be there, the one we settled on was that she was escaping the Thanksgiving Day hunters.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    November 27, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    One time me and my just older brother went with daddy to visit
    his mama,(our Grandma Mom) She had
    a bunch of tame turkeys and although
    I was only about 5 or 6, was a master with sailing rocks. But I
    missed this’ins head and only made him mad. Here he come, got me down and was getting the best of me. I never been whipped with wings like that! My older brother
    heard the commotion and saw that I
    was in a bad way and came to the
    rescue. After that, we left ’em
    I usually just buy sliced turkey
    to have with dressing. To me the
    dressing is the best food for
    Thanksgiving. Wishing everyone a
    Happy Thanksgiving…Ken

  • Reply
    November 27, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    Mama always got a fat hen for Thanksgiving. She stewed it
    7 used the broth for dressing . The meat was inside the dressing. It was the best ever. She could never make enough that there was much left after that day. My brother still tells about our SIL almost jerking the serving spoon away from him to get at it. My SILs & I made & brought the side dishes & deserts. Mama’s gone now & we all miss this celebration terribly.
    MIL always has turkey & dressing. The rest of us add a side dish. Since I have home canned green beans, I usually bring them & make a pumpkin roll. My son will make his special mac & cheese with country ham in it. MIL is 89 this year & slowing down a bit but not much.

  • Reply
    November 27, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    You were wise to be afraid of your uncle’s turkeys. We always had several and the gobblers would chase anyone that came around. Dad found a nest of eggs and hatched out about six to get a start when I was about 5-6 years old. We also had geese and I guess the turkeys learned from them to be “watch dogs’. I remember rescuing my little brother from them several times. They wouldn’t chase my dad. The gobbler would chase me if I had my arms full of stove wood but not if I had my hands free. I was loading up my arms once and saw him watching me. I got a small load that I could manage with one arm and laid a small stick on top. When he came up behind me to peck me I whacked him upside the head with it. He didn’t survive. My sister who had been his victim many times helped me clean and cook him.
    We have lots of wild turkeys here. I see flocks of as many as thirty at times and see 10-20 almost daily. We have wild game dinners at church and always have turkey breast along with about everything else that roams around here.

  • Reply
    November 27, 2013 at 11:58 am

    There is always turkey on my table with stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, gravy, turnip, rutabaga, string beans, and sweet potatoes. Of course, there are the rolls and prayers of thanks. Happy Thanksgiving to all your readers and writers!

  • Reply
    Mrs. K
    November 27, 2013 at 11:10 am

    We’re having turkey, as always, wouldn’t have it any other way. There will also be ham and all the traditional fixings. Just have to have the same good stuff every year!
    A very Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    November 27, 2013 at 11:09 am

    If my eyes aren’t fooling me I’m thinking I see the origin of the caps that Granny makes — isn’t your Granny Gazzie her mom?
    Happy Thanksgiving to your family — I’m sure there will be some music as well.
    God Bless

  • Reply
    Gary Powell
    November 27, 2013 at 11:05 am

    Wife loves to put on traditional big meal for Thanksgiving. Not too many of us, but lots of leftovers. Haven’t killed wild turkey yet. Always buy the biggest bird we can find, 24# this year, gravy, potatoes, corn and desserts. Did I mention leftovers?

  • Reply
    Marc Kruger
    November 27, 2013 at 9:46 am

    The past 4 years our Daughter-in-Law has the job of cooking the turkey on Thanksgiving Day. Her ‘fall off the bone’ turkey is eaten along with mashed potatoes, gravy, several vegetables and is then followed by pies, coffee and tea. Thanksgiving is my wife, Carol’s favorite holiday.
    I wish everyone at Blind Pig a joyous and relaxing Thanksgiving.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    November 27, 2013 at 9:39 am

    Tipper and loyal Blind Piggers–This is a subject mighty near and dear to my heart, since some 30 years or more ago I lost a corner of my soul to the wild turkey.
    Just a few random thoughts as we near turkey day:
    *Turkeys were once plentiful in the high country, as per the man place names with turkey in them and noted hunters such as those you mention. That being said, I never saw a wild one until well after I was grown, and goodness knows I was in the woods a lot.
    *They’ve made a great comeback, but contrary to popular belief, wild ones aren’t dumb. They are wired to the nth degree, as we would be if everything in the woods wanted us for supper.
    *Nation-wide, turkey numbers are probably at an all-time high, although there has been a bit of population decline in some parts of the Southeast.
    *For those who have never eaten a wild turkey, about all I can say is that their’s has been a life of culinary deprivation. Turkey tenders from a wild turkey’s breast, properly battered and fried to a golden turn, are so tasty they’d bring tears to a glass eye.
    *The dark meat on wild turkeys is tough, but it makes great pate, soup stuff, sandwiches, and the like.
    *Finally, as a boy we didn’t have turkey for Thanksgiving. Instead, Grandma Minnie would fix three or four baking hens.
    Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    November 27, 2013 at 9:37 am

    Something I have noticed this year with the wild turkeys
    is they are
    segregating. I had 11 hens come for the corn and an hour or so later the same amount of toms showed up.
    Usually they are a mixed group.
    Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention.
    Does anyone know if this happens every year at this time??

  • Reply
    November 27, 2013 at 9:30 am

    I forgot to add that your Pumpkin Roll will also be on our Thanksgiving table again this year. It is delicious!

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    November 27, 2013 at 9:28 am

    We usually have turkey, but this year, we are visiting our nephew in Oviedo, Florida and we are going out for Thanksgiving Dinner. The bad news is that there will be no leftovers. The good news is that there will be no leftovers!
    We also have lost some turkey population to coyotes, but I still occasionally encounter a group of 4 or 5 hens. Don’t often see a Tom, though.
    Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. We saw the other day that it is advisable to turn back the scale ten pounds for Thanksgiving! Sounds like good advice.

  • Reply
    Beth in Ky
    November 27, 2013 at 9:08 am

    Tipper, This picture of your granny & gramps is too sweet! I printed it off to stick on my seasonal memo board. This would make a GREAT Thanksgiving card for you to sell! Beth in Ky

  • Reply
    November 27, 2013 at 9:08 am

    We always have turkey for Thanksgiving. Wishing the BP Gang and all of the readers out there a very happy Thanksgiving!

  • Reply
    November 27, 2013 at 8:32 am

    I am so glad I took time out from cooking for The Blind Pig. Takes me back in time. For many years it was rare to see a wild turkey in this area.
    In my Dad’s later years he always kept the family dogs in a lot during the time when turkeys were raising their young.
    I sure hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  • Reply
    November 27, 2013 at 8:20 am

    Tipper, in my pondering about turkeys I forgot to wish you and your family and all the Blind Pig readers a very Happy Thanksgiving!

  • Reply
    November 27, 2013 at 8:18 am

    Wild turkeys have made a huge comeback in Massachusetts. I’ve seen upwards of 30 birds in one field, but more often see a few at a time. They often linger right along the edge of roads, or after long deliberation decide to cross roads very very very slowly, which is unfortunate for all concerned.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    November 27, 2013 at 8:07 am

    and folks
    Pardon my punchuation, spellin’ and extry words….
    It is daylight now, and whatever it was fallin’ has stopped right now…
    The Jays are screamin’ “thief, thief” in the tree above the feeder. There must be a hawk or owk wakin’ up around there somewhere..
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    Gina S
    November 27, 2013 at 8:06 am

    I’ve never tasted any turkey but the store bought kind, but we always have turkey on our table at Thanksgiving. The things I most love are the dressing, homemade cranberry relish, and green bean casserole. Sweet taters, rolls, mashed taters, pumpkin pie and a relish dish filled with pickles, olives, and the like rounds it all out. Pumpkin pie stars for dessert. A wife to a cousin of my Mama always served a dish of her homemade sauerkraut. Mildred said her grandkids pouted if she forgot to fix the kraut. I wish you and your gang a very happy Thanksgiving.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    November 27, 2013 at 7:56 am

    Walll, we got somthin’ out there a’layin’ all around. Still a little dark to see good. Took the handy, dandy, long-range flash light and shone it toward the pick-up, shore looks like about a half-inch of snow/sleet to me, on the truck!
    I for sure knew we were in for somethin’ cause the birds were fillin’ their gullets like there would be no tomorrow, the last couple of days..
    Don’t you just love those interviews from the real for shore old mountain folks. They could spin a tale and and tall tale! LOL
    I think I remember hearin’ my Dad tell the one about the three shots…maybe not quite like Wiley Oakly but close enough to know it come from the same yarn!
    Yep, Turkey is our ‘fair’ tomorrow as well. Ours is smokin’ right now. It will be done and picked off the bone by this evenin”, ready for pick-up, I hope!
    We have a Buddy’s Bar-b-Que that does our smokin’ for us! Nice folks they are, too!
    This is a true story:
    Roy called down after I reminded him, to tell them to save me the giblets! Yep, he forgot! Well, he went down there to pick them up. The young afternoon help (boy) that had come in that day, came over to help Roy. “I come for the giblets”, Roy said. The boy said he’d go back and get them, and asked what Roys name was, as it was on the turkey package!
    He come back and told him that there wasn’t any thing like giblets with the turkey. Roy said, “Did you look in the bird?” The boy had a confused look on his face! But went back and looked (in the bird package)!
    By this time another youth had picked up on the conversation! So, he is goin’ to help this other boy look for giblets in the package! Roy, in the meantime had contacted me by cell phone and I was a holdin’ on! Boy back, there wasn’t any in the plastic package!
    Me, on the phone, tell him it is inside the bird! Roy was pickin’ up on all this..(think mean and grin) by then two boys were back in the kitchen, lookin’ inside the opening of the bird package. The boy said, “I think this might be it, but it is, I think, a neck, not a giblet!” Roy tellin’ me and me about the situation and me overhearin’ part of the conversation. “B. there is nothing in it but the neck, nothing else! You can imagine them two young boys dragin’ that neck to the front showin’ it to Roy! Laughter was gettin’ louder! Roy I said, “Go tell them “young whippersnappers” that there is two ends to that bird and one has the neck the other has the package with the main giblets!:…Laughter was beginnin’ to break out, to a roar!. Roy said the boys headed back to the kitchen to look in the other end! He heard a “whoop”! Here they are! Back they came sayin’ “Is this it!”
    Yep, Roy said! I was on the phone and was beginnin’ to laugh myself!
    These young folks at least some of them, don’t know which end is up!
    Those boys learned a lesson yesterday, what giblets were, what a turkey neck was and that if it goes in, it has to come out even on a dead turkey bird!
    Thanks Tipper,
    Happy Thanksgiving giblets and all!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    November 27, 2013 at 7:45 am

    I always heard that a turkey is the dumbest animal on the earth. I guess that’s why they follow the food into the trap then can’t find their way back out.
    I love that old enamel pan the turkey is in in the picture. It used to be that everyone had those enamel pans for washing dishes and for all kinds of garden and food processing purposes. Now everything is plastic and aluminum the latter not being very healthy for food.
    I haven’t cooked a turkey in a few years but a turkey on the table was always common for my family thanksgivings.

  • Reply
    Barbara Gantt
    November 27, 2013 at 7:30 am

    I looked up the number of wild turkeys in Vermont. There is a day for turkey counting every year. Last years count was 5,600 turkeys. Barbara Gantt

  • Reply
    Barbara Gantt
    November 27, 2013 at 7:27 am

    We always have a turkey. There are hundreds of wild turkeys in our Vermont town. You will see them in the cut corn fields eating the leftover corn. My Son often wakes to a yard of turkeys. When my boys were young, they delivered the early morning newspaper. One street , the turkeys would fly over their heads. Barbara Gantt

  • Reply
    Judy Mincey
    November 27, 2013 at 7:12 am

    The eldest of my brothers is in charge of the turkey. His Big Green Egg turns out the tenderest, juiciest bird
    I’ve ever eaten. Have had wild turkey once and a Canada goose graced the table one year.

  • Reply
    November 27, 2013 at 5:58 am

    always turkey and stuffing but, since i’m alone and have the whole week off, i make thanksgiving dinner all week long! i cook the turkey the first weekend, or maybe monday, and then 7 have a week to eat it instead of just the last four days, the next day i cook a new side dish, and the same the next day, so i’m not eating total leftovers, but always have someting new going and by thanksgiving day have the full meal, with not soo many leftovers to deal with! (today is green bean casserole, from scratch, if course…)

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