The England handy playing cards that taught 17th-century cooks to carve meat like a pro

I find them elegant and beautiful. Don’t forget to click the sentence links to see the references or facsimiles.

PUSH BACK YOUR CHAIR AND sharpen your knife. It’s dinnertime in 17th-century England, and you happen to be flush enough to get your hands on a plump, juicy turkey. You’ve gathered friends and family, and now it is time to carve the bird. You want to make sure there are enough pieces to go around, but also impress your guests with your dexterity—or, at the very least, not splatter them with grease and bits of skin.

Today, you might watch an instructional video, but then you may have turned to a deck of playing cards.


I’d love to own a set.

By the by, I’m not sure that having the money to buy turkey in the 17th century would be the issue - it would be more about availability. Whilst it was surely eaten on occasions, it didnt become fashionable, even amongst the wealthy upper classes, until the early part of the 20th century. I’ve looked at many food related newspaper adverts from the 1914 - 1918 period and turkey simply isn’t mentioned and it’s really not until the 1950s that it replaced beef or a capon as the Christmas Day meat.


That may be true in England, but over here in the new world turkeys are wild and back in the day relatively plentiful. They’re still hunted today and were exploited by our native populations for thousands of years.

Ben Franklin tried to get the turkey accepted as our native bird in lieu of the bald eagle.

The classic Mexican dish called mole, (pronounced “mo-lay”) was originally made with turkey, although that only goes back a few hundred years.

Just food for thought.


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Turkey is a relative newcomer to the Yuletide table - it was a luxury right up until the 1950’s when they became more widely available.

In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843), Bob Cratchit had a goose before Scrooge bought him a turkey.

Prior to the turkey tradition Christmas fare included roast swan, pheasants and peacocks. A special treat was a roast boars head decorated with holly and fruit.

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About eating swans…

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Goose or beef would certainly have been the main Christmas foods until the 1950s in the UK

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Any type of wild game will have significant regional variations. The US certainly has lots of turkey - I just saw a flock of wild turkey yesterday as a matter of fact - 20 minutes from downtown Boston. I see turkey every few weeks, even closer to the city.

But the cards are from England, so I have no idea what the wild turkey population would have been back then. . . .

Anyway - the cards are an interesting reminder of years gone by . . . I was surprised by the few they showed how difficult they would be to use if they were really a “resource”. The numbering isn’t clear, the cuts aren’t in line with anatomy really - would these really have helped anyone if they were thought to actually be instructional?

From the article, it mentioned the cards were accompanied by a booklet.
You can read it, if you are interested:

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