Selecting a gumbo for Mark Twain, the third author in my series “Dining with 52 American Writers,” was almost too easy. His hunting adventures in the wilds of Missouri as a young boy so aptly described in his Autobiography almost – just almost – made me choose wild game gumbo for his entrée. Prairie chicken, turkey, deer and squirrel were all fair game.
But when he spun the tale of stalking a lame turkey, I knew he’d relish a big pot of revenge gumbo. I laughed first with his ironic description of a turkey call, hand-carved from a hollow leg bone of a turkey. Then the rollicking story of his boyhood adventure escalated. Armed with his trusty call and a shotgun, he set off in the woods to shoot a turkey. He spotted one – a lame one. Easy prey, he mused. He chased the great pretending turkey for nearly 10 hours. The bird, Twain vows, even stopped and posed for a shot when he raised his gun. And then the turkey was off again, leading the boy on a wild-turkey-chase through the woods of Missouri. Exhausted, at dusk he abandoned the hunt and starving, he devoured a few too many tomatoes, the best he’d even eaten.
But this naturalist teaches his readers a wild turkey lesson. Turkeys put on quite a show to lead a hunter away from the nest or their young, often feigning lameness. He relates the story in length in his Autobiography published on the 100th anniversary of his death. While writing the book, he sold a version to Harper’s in 1906. You can read it here at Margaret Langstaff’s blog.
Before I serve Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) his entrée, I’ll offer a jovial toast with a big shot of Wild Turkey bourbon and then it’s a savory bowl of turkey gumbo – without tomatoes.