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As author Elizabeth Gawthrop Riely noted with dead-on accuracy in her fall 2006 piece for Gastronomica (did I mention I’m behind on my reading?), most Americans believe that Benjamin Franklin‘s relationship with the turkey begins and ends with his argument for naming the beast as the country’s national bird, the eagle be damned. As Gawthrop Riely writes, “Indeed, much needs to be clarified about both Franklin and the turkey, these distinctly American icons who, as we shall see, are linked in a way far more dramatic than a debate about a patriotic symbol.”
I’ll say. That ol’ horndog Franklin was apparently the first to discover that electrocution actually tenderizes turkey meat. Wrote Franklin to a friend in 1749 about his plans to send an electrical shock across a river to kill a turkey:
Spirits, at the same time, are to be fired by a spark sent from side to side through the river, without any other conductor than the water; an experiment which we some time since performed, to the amazement of many. A turkey is to be killed for our dinners by the electrical shock; and roasted by the electrical jack, before a fire kindled by the electrified bottle: when the healths of all the famous electricians in England, France and Germany are to be drank in electrified bumpers [tumblers], under the discharge of guns from the electrical battery.
Alas, the turkey proved impossible to kill without the added help of Leyden jars, but once the animal was dead by electrocution, Franklin noted that the “birds killed in this manner eat uncommonly tender.”
Chalk up another first for Franklin. “It did not escape [the French’s] notice,” writes Gawthrop Riely, “that Franklin had accidentally discovered a tenderizing technique, one still used by the meat industry today, whereby an electrical current helps an animal’s muscles to relax and modifies the effects of rigor mortis.”