Pilgrim Seasonings

Plymouth Colony Foodways: Notes and Recipes from a 17th Century Kitchen

Turkey WHEAT

October 24th, 2012 by KM Wall

Turkeys (the bird) weren’t the only turkey thing in Old New England. There was also Turkey Wheat, which now, here in the US, we call corn or maize. There was a time when corn was whatever grain you grew the most of : Wheat-corn, rye-corn, Barley- corn….I’ll let them explain it.

Frumentum Indicum. Turky Wheat.
…Turky wheat doth nourish far lesse than either wheat, rie, barley, or otes. The bread which is made thereof is meanly white, without bran: it is hard and dry as Bisket is, and hath in it no clamminesse at all; for which cause it is of hard digestion, and yeeldeth to the body little or no nourishment… a more conuenient food for swine than for men.”

1597. John Gerard. The Herbal. pp81-2.

John Gerard. Not a fan of corn.

More convenient for swine then men???? Perhaps it is a little ironic just how much corn is used for animal feed now….but we eat our fair share directly, too. Polenta, grits, lohnnycakes, cornbread, all sorts of cornbread, cornbread with butter and cornbread with honey…..and that doesn’t include all the other, not so-food-ways that corn is part of our lives.

Turkey wheat images from John Gerard's The Herbal


Other aliases for Turkey wheat…..

“Passing up a River we saw certaine Cottages together, abandoned by the Sauages, and not farre off we beheld their gardens and one among the rest of an Acre of ground, and in the same was sowne Tobacco, Pompions, Cowcumbers and such like; and some of the people had Maiz or Indian Wheate among them.”

1603.  Martin Pring, Sailor’s Narratives. p.59 (Plymouth Harbor)

“The soil is variable, in some places mould, in some clay, others, a mixed sand &c. The Chiefest grain is the Indian Mays, or Guinea wheat. The seed time beginneth in midst of April, and continueth good till the midst of May. Our harvest beginneth with September. … mays, which our Indians call ewachim…”

1624. Edward Winslow, Good Newes from New England. Applewood ed. p. 68.


“ I have sent my sister Altham six ears of Indian corn and beans to sow in her garden. Also, I have sent you a tobacco pipe which I had of an Indians.”

1623. Emmanuel Altham to Sir Edward Altham September 1623. Three Visitors to Early Plymouth, James ed.1963.p.35.

“The Planters finding their corn (what they could spare from necessities) to be a commodity (for they sold it a 6s a bushel) used great diligence in planting the same.”

1626. Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation. Morison ed. p.181

“….corn, which is the staff of life, and without which they cannot long preserve health and strength.”

1623 (March). Good News. Applewood ed, p. 52.

Pieter Cornelisz van Rijck Market Scene - 1622

Time to get back to turkeys…….


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One Response to “Turkey WHEAT”

  1. Kelley says:

    Hi Kathleen, thanks for all the great turkey info. I love the color images of turkey wheat from Gerard’s Herbal.

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