Note: This is an updated version of our 2016 Thanksgiving article.
Today, millions of Americans will sit down to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with friends and family. A recognizable menu at any time of year, the traditional meal features cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, rolls, stuffing and, of course, turkey. It’s estimated that almost 46 million turkeys were brined, roasted, smoked and fried in 2017. That’s almost double the human population of Texas in 2018!
But how did the turkey come to be a staple of Thanksgiving, doomed to become the victim of its own utterance?
While we recognize a browned, juicy turkey nestled among bowls, tureens and plates laden with sweet and savory side dishes as the iconic Thanksgiving image, the first Thanksgiving celebration was a far cry from this sumptuous scene.
In 1621, after a devastating winter, the Pilgrims formed an alliance with the Wampanoag tribe, who taught them to hunt, fish and cultivate crops. With the first successful harvest complete, the Pilgrims hosted a three-day festival to celebrate surviving the cruel climes and their enduring friendship with the Wampanoag. The first Thanksgiving featured wild game, berries, pumpkin (not pie) and fish, but no turkey was present as friend or food.
It was not until 226 years later that turkey became a target for the table. Sarah Josepha Hale, most noted for writing the beloved children’s poem Mary Had a Little Lamb, began what some considered a bird-brained mission to lobby for Thanksgiving as a national holiday. For 36 years, Hale petitioned for Thanksgiving recognition. She even wrote and disseminated recipes for many of today’s Thanksgiving dishes, including roast turkey, cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes. Much to the turkey’s lament, Hale achieved her goal in 1863 when Abraham Lincoln declared the date a national holiday.
Since that fateful day, turkey production and sale has taken off; the average American eats more than thirteen pounds per year.
Thanksgiving: Powered by Vacuum and Nitrogen Technologies
Vacuum and nitrogen technology are essential elements of the Thanksgiving Day feast. Because turkeys are distributed across the country, they must be packaged and frozen prior to being shipped to their final destination. This is accomplished by both vacuum pumps and nitrogen generators. The vacuum process removes atmospheric oxygen from the food packages to prevent aerobic bacteria and fungi from growing. Meanwhile, nitrogen generators ensure that the food doesn’t spoil by displacing the remaining oxygen from the package. This is especially important for perishable meats that can quickly sour without proper precautions!
Vacuum pumpsand nitrogen generators are also used in canning, which is a necessary process for other Thanksgiving favorites like pumpkin puree and cranberry sauce. Vacuum is used to form the can, stamped from a single piece of aluminum, and to hold the cans as they move down the line. Because aluminum is nonmagnetic, the vacuum level must be able to hold the cans as they are lifted, set down and filled. Nitrogen generators also play an important role in canning, as they introduce nitrogen into the cans holding the end products. Every pocket of space in the cans are filled with nitrogen, thus removing the oxygen eliminating moisture and mold. What you are left with is a fresher, tastier product that stays that way for longer.