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Catherine de Medici and the French Thanksgiving

Renaissance Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a non-event in France, which is sad for us. So, we were pleasantly surprised when our childhood playmate, the brilliant San Francisco chef, Claude Garbarino, sent us the news that the bane of French Protestants' troubled lives, Catherine de Medici, served a Renaissance feast of turkeys. We share here in its entirety, Claude's informative article and wish all who celebrate it the happiest of Thanksgivings.



Much of the food from the early Renaissance period was left over from the Middle Ages until Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas in 1492.  Soon, trade brought in new and rare delectables into the Renaissance kitchens like oranges, corn, sugar and chocolate that started with the nobility and trickled down to the farmers and peasants.  It took considerable time for these victuals to catch on in Europe, but one exception was the turkey. About 30 years after Columbus, Cortez discovered the American turkey in Mexico around the 1520s. At that time, turkey was known as "Indian Chicken" and this bird gained popularity very quickly. In addition to being delicious, turkey made a flamboyant centerpiece for banquets when dressed in all its feathers and plumes.

In 1549, Catherine de Medici hosted a feast that featured 70 "Indian Chickens" on the menu. Other notable fowl served up during the Renaissance period included peacocks, swans and cranes. Smaller game bird might have been pheasant and herons which were typical menu fare as well.  It was a common custom to serve pork alongside fried chestnuts  which were abundant and easy to cultivate and store. Fruit was always a celebrated Renaissance food and was served as a last course. We would call this "dessert" today.   


We are very grateful to Claude for allowing us to share this with our readers. Visit her website to know more.

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy