The Modern-Day Thanksgiving Dinner Has Maryland Roots

Thursday, Nov 25, 2010  |  Updated 3:30 PM EDT
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Flanked by his daughters, <a title=President Barack Obama pardoned two turkeys Wednesday." />

Flanked by his daughters, President Barack Obama pardoned two turkeys Wednesday.

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The type of turkey you enjoy on Thanksgiving Day was actually developed in Beltsville, Md., the Gazette reported.

In an effort to make turkey taste better and convenient for home cooking, 76 years ago scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's largest research facility -- the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center -- began breeding smaller but meatier birds, according to the Gazette. Turkeys you could fit in your oven but could still feed your family for days.

"All of the turkeys that we now eat can be traced back to that particular bird that we developed at Beltsville," said BARC scientist Rob Griesbach. "It opened up a whole new possibility."

Most turkeys before the 1930s had dark feathers, weighed 18 to 25 pounds and had a relatively narrow breast with less meat, said BARC poultry research physiologist Julie Long. A survey at the time showed many consumers complained that the dark feathers left brown spots on the bird's skin, and that store-bought turkeys weren't meaty enough and often were too large to fit into home ovens or refrigerators.

BARC's 8-15 pound, white-feathered birds with bigger breasts were first sold commercially in the 1940s.

Another breed was developed in the 1960s to serve restaurants, which had complained that the Beltsville Small White turkey was too small, the Gazette reported. The Broad Breasted White had an even bigger breast but could also be slaughtered at a younger age when they were still small enough for home cooking.

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