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Renegade Chef: Thanksgiving on the Fourth of July?

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If it had been up to Benjamin Franklin, the turkey would be America’s national bird. Thomas Jefferson preferred the majestic eagle, which, of course, has become our symbol of freedom.

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If you think about it, Jefferson looked a bit like an eagle. Tall and lean, fiercely independent, he walked with a graceful carriage.

Franklin, on the other hand, was short and stout. Put a parade of feathers behind him, and he would look just like a bespectacled turkey sporting a waddle of starched crinoline above his buttoned coat.

Jefferson saw the eagle as a bird unparalleled in vision, speed, tenacity and the ability to kill with precision.

Franklin preferred the turkey because it tasted good. In fact, as the country’s first connoisseur de’ cuisine (that’s French for someone who likes to eat), he claimed turkeys were the finest fowl available and were superior to chickens in edibility. Of course he had no idea John Madden would introduce America to the churducken 250 years later.

One cannot think of Ben Franklin without imagining that dark and stormy night long ago, when he allegedly bolted across a meadow, kite in hand, and captured electricity. Some scholars suggest the first words uttered by Ben—when he finally came out of his coma—were: “Wow—that was a pretty shocking experience!”

Other scholars claim Franklin had no idea what to do with the electricity he discovered, until he finally settled on building electric chairs for flagrant fowls. Though it seems the man must have had a sadistic side, he claimed an electrocuted chicken had less rigor mortis and was thus tenderer than birds that met their demise on the chopping block and were then left to run around headless for a few moments.

Electrocuting a turkey proved to be a little more difficult. When he zapped a chicken, he used only one wired leaden container. But when he did the same to a turkey, he merely knocked the thing unconscious, which allowed it to revive after a few moments and scare the daylights out of him. Scholars are still divided on whether or not he ran from the barn screaming “Zombie turkey! Run for your lives!”

Franklin’s next attempt to electrocute a turkey was performed in front of a live audience. He only had the one turkey—which had now grown suspicious and rather uncooperative following its previous experience. But the mad scientist had a double-dose of electricity up his sleeve. He was the evening entertainment. He would amaze friends and family with a grand performance of humane, electrical euthanasia—or so he thought. And to top off his scintillating display, he would prepare and roast the juiciest fowl ever tasted and maybe--just maybe--Jefferson would shut up about the darn eagle.

To say the whole thing back-fired would be an understatement. When Ben attached the wires to the dubious tom and fired off his double-powered leaden cylinders, it was the great inventor—not the turkey—who hit the floor and was knocked unconscious. Those who attended him actually had to stomp on the old man in order to put out the flames of his ignited jacket. They put him to bed and he recovered the next day.

The turkey escaped, however—never to be seen again—and was replaced at the repast with squirrel stew and corn pudding. It was also replaced by the eagle on every national symbol in America.

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