Is the turkey leg period?

Turkey legs, a staple of "Ye Olde Renaissance Faire," have often been the subject of debate among cooks and researchers of the time period. The topic returns in the food section of the Kansas City Star in an article by Tim Engle.

According to Bill Teel, an instructor of the “History, Customs and Manners” class at Scarborough Renaissance Festival in Waxahachie, Texas, turkey was period in the time of Henry VIII, having been brought to England from the New World by the Spanish. It became so popular that the legs were sold as street food.

Opponents argue that no recipes for cooking turkey exist in period cookbooks, but that doesn't faze the guests and participants of the Kansas City RenFest - not even the fairies.

Turkey Is Period

Recipes for cooking turkey certainly do exist in period cookbooks. However, the turkey is not cut into pieces as indicated by serving "turkey legs" as the sole edible part of the bird.  That is probably not period, despite Charles Laughton's bone-gnawing antics as Henry VIII.

A quick look at some period cookery books indicates that Thomas Dawson, 1596, "The Good Huswifes Jewell", has "To bake a Turkie and take out his bones". The turkey ends up enclosed in a "coffin" of pastry. John Murrell, 1615, "A Newe Booke of Cookerie", gives "To bake a Turkey, or a Capon", also baked in a coffin with great quantities of butter. Also in 1615 is Gervase Markham's "The English Housewife" which suggests that turkey is one of the meats that can be "carbonadoed" ("meat broiled upon the coals").