The One Turkey Delicacy You Probably Won't Eat This Year: 'Short Fries'

Unless you happen to attend one of Illinois' turkey testicle festivals 
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You're familiar with Rocky Mountain oysters, right? And lamb fries? That is to say, you understand that the testicles of some animals are eaten as delicacies, or at least novelties. 

Well, what Rocky Mountain oysters are to calves, 'short fries' are to turkeys. 

Yes, it's true. Turkey testicles—fried. 

Writer and New School food studies professor Andrew F. Smith relates the practice in his wonderful overview of (North) America's bird, The Turkey. He situates the consumption of "short fries" within the development of increasingly technological ways of breeding, slaughtering, and preparing poultry. 

Until the 1930s (and into the 1950s), one could purchase a "New York style" turkey that left the heads, feet, and entrails in place. But "ready-to-cook" turkeys displaced the older style. And now we all know what a turkey looks like when you get one from the supermarket. It's defeathered, eviscerated, wrapped in plastic, with a few innards tucked inside in a pouch. 

As food manufacturers sold less of the total bird to consumers, they were left with large supplies of extra parts, which they enterprisingly sold to other customers. 

"Historically, none of the turkey was wasted. The heads and feet were sold to fish hatcheries, and fat was extracted from the entrails for making chicken soup," Smith writes. In 1943, he continues, Fortune Magazine reported that the "oil sacs in the tail have medicinal uses. Testicles are regarded as a rare delicacy by city slickers who relish them as 'short fries.' What is left is sent to a rendering plant." 

Now, I can only find one other reference to short fries searching in my standard spots, and it's a slight rewrite of the Fortune article, which appeared in a 1945 issue of "Poultry Farmer." Short fries appear nowhere in the New York Public Library's digital menu archive, either. 

That's not to say that no one ever ate short fries, but merely that they were not a widespread foodstuff. 

At least until more recently: The town of Byron, Illinois—more generally known for its nuclear power station—has been hosting a Turkey Testicle Festival for 35 years.

And if you're lucky enough to be in Huntley, Illinois this week, there's another testicle festival for you to attend. "If you have never tried a turkey testicle, this is your chance!" the organizers promise. 

For those who have other plans this year, you should know that turkey testicles are about the size of "large olives," Calvin W. Schwabe writes in his book Unmentionable Cuisine. They pair well with cocktails and can be prepared "by any recipe for sweetbreads."

"Use this as one course for a reconstructed Roman orgy," Schwabe helpfully suggests. 

That is to say, join me next year in some small town in Illinois for a wonderful Thanksgiving Dinner/Reconstructed Roman Orgy. 

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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