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LookingBack Nov. 27

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

Each week Albany Herald researcher Mary Braswell looks for interesting events, places and people from the past. You can contact her at (229) 888-9371 or mary.braswell@albanyherald.com.

As families gather for the traditional Thanksgiving meal all across this country (and others), here is a look at some of the foods that will be on many plates.

Talkin’ turkey

• The estimated number of turkeys raised in the United States in 2011 is 248 million.

• Minnesota tops the states in turkey production with 46.5 million. Other states with high turkey production numbers are North Carolina, 30 million; Arkansas, 30 million; Missouri, 18 million, and Indiana, 16 million.

• The turkey was initially considered as a possible national symbol of America, especially by Benjamin Franklin, but lost to the bald eagle.

• In 1970, the average live weight of a turkey was 17 pounds. By 2010, the average reached 28 pounds.

• Age of the turkey is the determining factor in taste. Old, large males are preferable to young toms, as tom meat is stringy. The opposite is true for females.

• Turkeys have great hearing, but no external ears. According to experts, they can also see in color, but have a poor sense of smell.

• Domesticated birds cannot fly, but wild turkeys can fly for short distances up to 55 mph.

• Turkeys have been known to have heart attacks, especially near military installations. The birds have been known to drop dead from shock because of passing jets.

• Researchers have identified at least 20 different vocalizations of turkeys. The birds recognize one another by their unique voices.

• Turkeys have excellent geography skills and can learn the details of a specific area up to 1,000 acres.

Sweet potatoes

• Despite a physical similarity and a frequent confusion with their names, sweet potatoes and yams are not even distantly related. The two are, in fact, from separate botanical families.

• Native Americans were growing sweet potatoes when Columbus arrived in 1492.

• George Washington Carver developed 118 different products from the sweet potato. Among those products : a mucilage for postal stamps, dyes, wood filler, candy and library paste.

• In 1918, during World War I, when the supplies of wheat flour were diminishing, the USDA utilized sweet potato flour to stretch wheat flour in all baked goods.

• In 1943, the per capita consumption of sweet potatoes in the U.S. was 21.7 pounds. By 2007, the per capita had fallen to less than five pounds.

• North Carolina leads all other states in sweet potato production with 2.4 billion pounds in 2010.

• Sweet potatoes are among the most nutritious of all vegetables. The tubers are loaded with calcium, potassium and Vitamins A and C.

Cranberries

• Another name for cranberries is “bounceberries” because they bounce when ripe.

• Wild cranberries were very likely a part of the first Thanksgiving meal. It is known that Native Americans used the berries for food, dye and wound medication.

• The first recorded use of the word “cranberries” appeared in 1647 in a letter by missionary John Elliot.

• Sailors ate cranberries, a good source of Vitamin C, to prevent scurvy.

• The first commercial cranberry sauce was marketed in 1912 by the Cape Cod Cranberry Company.

• The Great Cranberry Scare of 1959 occurred when it was revealed that cranberries from Oregon and Washington had been contaminated with carcinogenic weed killer. The berries were pulled from the shelves just before Thanksgiving, causing a disaster in the business that lasted several years.

• Wisconsin is the nation’s top producer of cranberries with an expected 430 million pounds for 2011.

• One cup of fresh cranberries contains about 50 calories. One cup of cranberry sauce contains about 400 calories.

Green beans

• Green beans, snap beans and string beans are interchangeable names for the same basic vegetable.

• Consumed in excess uncooked or improperly cooked, green beans can be harmful due to the high concentration of lectins.

• Green beans are a true American food. Native Americans planted them in corn and allowed them to grow up the stalks.

• There are at least 130 varieties of green beans. In addition to green, they can be white, purple, golden or red.

• The first stringless beans were bred in 1894 by Calvin Keeney.

Macaroni and cheese

• Although the definitive origin of macaroni and cheese is not known, the first known recipe for the dish is from 13th century Italy. The recipe calls for lasagna sheets and fermented cheese.

• Macaroni and cheese is the No. 1 cheese recipe in the U.S. and the most popular cheese for the dish is cheddar.

• The first recipe for macaroni and cheese on a box of pasta appeared in 1802. The recipe was actually printed on a piece of paper and wrapped around the pasta inside the box.

• Kraft introduced its boxed version of macaroni and cheese in 1937. During the first year, 9 million boxes were sold. Today, Kraft sells more than 1 million boxes per day.

• In 1993, Crayola named a crayon “macaroni and cheese.”

Pumpkin (pie)

• The name “pumpkin” originated from “pepon,” the Greek word for large melon.

• Native Americans flattened strips of pumpkin, dried them and made mats.

• Colonists sliced off the pumpkin tops, removed the seeds and filled the insides with milk and spices. These were baked in hot ashes — the original pumpkin pies.

• Pumpkins were once recommended for removing freckles and treating snake bites.

• Illinois led the nation in pumpkin production with 427 million pounds in 2010.

• Pumpkin flowers are edible and roasted pumpkin seeds make an excellent snack.

Pecans (pie)

• The pecan is the only major tree nut that grows naturally in North America.

• In the late 1980s, the Albany/Moutrie area and Okmulgee, Okla., had annual back-and-forth battles for baking the world’s largest pecan pie. The last salvo was in 1989 when Omulgee produced a 40-foot diameter behemoth still recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records. Okmulgee also bested Moultrie on the world’s largest pecan cookie.

• The Southern Nut Growers Association, later known as the National Nut Growers Association, was established in Albany in 1901.

• Dougherty County has 15,500 acres of trees with Mitchell County second in the state with 11,478 acres. “Georgia is the nation’s leading pecan producing state,” Commissioner Gary Black says. “Albany and Dougherty counties are known as the ‘Pecan Capital of the World’ because of the high number of pecan trees in these areas.”

• Native Americans used the nuts as a major food source. The nuts were easy to store, nutritious and delicious.

• In the late 1770s, colonists along the Gulf of Mexico began to realize the economic potential of pecans.

• George Washington planted pecan trees in 1775 and Thomas Jefferson did so in 1779.

• An ad in a London newspaper in 1805 stated that the pecan was “a tree meriting attention as a cultivated crop.”

• Texas adopted the pecan tree as its state tree in 1919. Texas Gov. James Hogg liked the trees so much that he asked that one be planted at his graveside.

• Some of the larger pecan shellers in the country process as many as 150,00 pounds of nuts per day ... enough to make 300,000 pies.

One last thing ... OK, two

Whether the dish that is a must-serve with turkey is called “stuffing” or “dressing” depends primarily upon the individual ... or what his or her mother and grandmother called the dish. It is known that the term “stuffing” appeared in print as early as 1538. After about 1880, it seems the term was not appealing to the propriety of the Victorian upper crust, who began referring to it as “dressing.”

It is not the turkey that makes you sleepy! Turkey has a natural chemical called tryptophan, which humans need to build proteins for the production of serotonin. which does help with sleep. But all meats have this chemical. It is over-indulgence of carbohydrates that makes a person sleepy.