Turkey the French Way in the 1800s

The French don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, but they do eat turkey, and in the 1800s turkey was in season during the months of December, January, February, and March. When the French made turkey in the 1800s, there were plenty of tips about how to select the right turkey, how to truss it, roast it, and carve it. They also knew how to serve it, stating that “cranberry sauce [must always be served] … with turkey.”[1] Now to the tips:

“A young cock turkey has smooth back legs with a short spur, the eyes are bright and full; if stale, the eyes are sunk, the feet dry; which, when fresh, are soft and pliable. An old hen turkey’s legs are rough and red, the vent hard; if with egg, the vent will be soft and open.”[2]

turkey the French way

Turkey. Courtesy of Free Stock Image.

Turkeys were to be trussed like fowl in the following manner:

“[B]ruise the bone close to the foot, and draw the strings out of the thigh; then cut a slit in the back of the neck, and carefully take out the crop without breaking it; cut off the neck close to the back, and likewise cut the skin, but leave enough to turn over the back; then cut off the vent, and take out the inside without breaking the gall; break the back-bone and the two bones leading to the pinions, wipe the fowl with a cloth, and put a little pepper and salt in it, then begin to truss it thus: – press the legs close down on the apron, through which run a skewer; take another skewer and put it through the joint of the wing, body, and wing on the other side, and the same through the liver, being washed, and the gizzard well-cleaned; place them in the pinions. … The surest way to prevent the fowl losing its shape is to tie a string across the back, from the point to the head of each of the skewers.”[3]

If a person trussed a turkey-poult (a young fowl) it was done as described above except that the head was left on and turned under the pinions with the bill pointing outwards.

Although the French might not celebrate Thanksgiving, once the turkey was trussed, it could be roasted. One Victorian era cookbook offered a recipe for what they referred to as “Tuileries Mode” turkey. The recipe follows:

“Clean the turkey well; salt and pepper and tie it; steam it 2 hours, or until tender; take it out, and put pepper and salt inside again. Make a stuffing of dry bread and soak it in boiling water; drain the water off right away and cover closely; add a half a pound of melted butter, a teaspoonful of salt and pepper. Drain off the liquor from a quart of oysters; boil and skim it and pour it over the bread; adding 2 eggs, mix well with the hands and put the oysters in last, being careful not to break them. Put a small floured cloth over the opening after the dressing is all in. Then butter, salt and pepper the turkey, and place in a dripping-pan in the oven; add a half a pint of water, and roast 2 hours; baste often; make a gravy of the fat in the pan with a little flour. Serve with cranberry sauce.”[4]

The same book also gave the following recipe on how to roast a small turkey: 

“A small turkey should be baked 3 hours with constant basting. Dress it and season well with pepper and salt on the inside; stuff it, and tie it in shape; lard the top and put a little hot water in the dripping pan. Before taking it from the oven put on a little more flour and melted butter. This makes the skin more crisp.”[5]

Once a turkey was prepared, there were tips on how to carve it (or a turkey-poult).

“Carve them by cutting several thin slices from the breast, then cut off the pinions and legs at the joints … then cut off the wings, next … the carcass now only remaining, lay it on one side and cut through the tender ribs to separate the back bone from the breast; place the back bone upwards and fix the fork under the rump, press the edge of the knife on the back, lift up the lower part of the back, and you will find it readily divided; then cut off the side bones from the lower part of the back, (which are generally called sidesmen).”[6]

Carving a turkey. Courtesy of the Graphics Fairy.

If all this talk of turkey has made you hungry, I hope you enjoy this Thanksgiving and your turkey. If you find you have extra turkey after the holiday, my friend Kalyn has about 75 recipes you can pick from to help you get rid of the extra. She’s not French, but she is a great cook, so, click here to visit Kalyn’s Kitchen.


  • [1] La Fayette, Eugene, Prof. La Fayette’s French Family Cook, (London, Paris Publishing Co., 1885) p. 76.
  • [2] Reynolds, Robert, The New French and English Professed Cook, (London, E. Churton, 1849) p. 9-10.
  • [3] Ibid., p. 27.
  • [4] La Fayette, Eugene, Prof. La Fayette’s French Family Cook, (London, Paris Publishing Co., 1885) p. 76.
  • [5] Ibid.
  • [6] Reynolds, p. 36.

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