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The real story of turkey with cranberry sauce

Christmas is coming very soon. Perhaps you are thinking of cooking a turkey accompanied by a cranberry sauce? Both of these foods are of North American origin; furthermore, the name Atocas is an appellation inherited from the First Nations. But is this dish taken from Quebec’s culinary heritage or is it a borrowed dish?

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The Spanish bring the turkey back to Europe, not wild, but actually domesticated because the Aztecs had already domesticated it. From Spain the turkey goes to France; we find it in 1570 served at the banquet of King Charles IX. It becomes the “hen of India” in reference to the efforts to discover the way to India.


The Saint-Laurent settlers of the 17the and 18e have been raising turkeys in their backyards for centuries.

In the agricultural region around Quebec, despite weights that can reach 10 to 12 kilos, the turkey is not very popular and even less so in urban areas; barely 5% of farmers would have raised them, and for this reason demand only began to grow after 1750.

In fact, the French colonists preferred the goose, a culinary tradition that would only lose its appeal in the late 19th century, according to the first edition of Reasonable cooking in 1919.

As for the cranberry, Récollet Gabriel Sagard indicated in 1632 that it is present from New York State to the Great Lakes. As early as 1661, the Jesuit Louis Nicolas mentioned that the English made excellent jam from it. But in the colony it was not until 1721 that the first mention of jam appeared, a preparation that the Swedish botanist Pehr Kalm would also mention some 25 years later. So far, the only known use is medicinal. By the late 1780s, cranberries were regularly exported to London from Quebec, but New England settlers had already been in this trade for 75 years.

The first cookbook published in French, The Canadian chefin 1840 offers four French-style turkey recipes, but none with cranberry sauce, although there is a recipe for marmalade.

Cranberry jam recipe from The Canadian Cook, published in Montreal by Louis Perrault in 1840

Archive photo

Cranberry jam recipe from The Canadian Cook, published in Montreal by Louis Perrault in 1840

Its 1855 reissue still features classic French recipes. Mother Caron, who published a new collection 22 years later, made the same preparations. Reasonable cooking in its first release does not offer cranberry sauce or jam.


Why don’t we take a look at the American side? In 1896, the Boston Cookery School and its director, Fanny Farmer, published the first edition of a recipe book that would become a bible for Quebec cooks during the 20th century.e century because it will be translated into French.

It is combined with grilled meat and cranberry sauce. This cranberry sauce is very similar to jam sauce, published in Reasonable cooking from 1943. But Fanny Farmer is not the first to publish a recipe for turkey, cranberry sauce; this goes to Amelia Simmons, who in 1796 published the first American cookbook. The turkey with cranberry sauce would therefore not be of Quebec origin.


This work, an 1851 oil on canvas painting by Francis William Edmonds titled Preparing for Christmas, is a good illustration of turkey preparation at the time.

In its modern form, this recipe would look like this:


340 g fresh or frozen cranberries (2 cups)
450 g sugar (2 cups)
225 ml water (1 cup)


Prepare the sauce by putting the cranberries and sugar together with the water in a saucepan. Boil, skim for 15 to 20 minutes for a sauce, and one hour for a jam.



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