[Originally posted: Nov. 25, 2021]

The next upcoming holiday widely celebrated in the U.S. is Thanksgiving! Fun fact: Although the holiday was observed as early as 1621, turkeys weren’t a main part of the famous dinner menu until the 1860s. Try this free TOEFL® Reading Quiz and find out if you can get all 10 questions right:

Turkey Variants

The turkeys that are served at traditional Thanksgiving meals in the US have a far more complicated history than most Americans realize. Modern Thanksgiving turkeys are the product of over two thousand years of domestication and breeding by humans. This process is still ongoing, and it includes millions of individual birds in dozens of varieties.

The earliest peoples to domesticate the turkey, the Aztecs in Mexico and the Maya in Central America, did so at least 2,000 years ago. When Spanish explorers arrived in the area in the early 1500s, they found both domesticated and wild turkeys. Spanish sailors began to carry turkeys back to Spain with them on a regular basis, and the birds quickly became a highly-valued addition to holiday feasts and celebrations. Because of this popularity, the Spanish soon started breeding turkeys themselves. They favored turkeys that had darker feathers, and so they eventually produced the Spanish Black, a turkey variant that features entirely black feathers and a bright red neck and head.

Demand for turkeys led to their widespread distribution across Europe, and in many areas turkeys were bred into distinct regional varieties. In England, a heavier, meatier turkey variety, the Norfolk Black, was produced from the Spanish Black line. In Belgium, breeders created a smaller turkey, the Ronquieres, which was considered to be the best-tasting variety. In the early 1600s, several varieties of turkey that were bred in Europe spread back to the North American continent. Colonists brought these turkeys along with other domesticated animals. As the colonists settled across North America, they continued to breed turkeys, and new American varieties of turkey arose from the returned European strains.

The popularity of turkeys in the United States has been high since the earliest days of the nation, especially during fall and winter holidays, but the idea of a turkey as a Thanksgiving staple really took off during the American Civil War. During that conflict, prominent author and editor Sarah Joesepha Hale wrote a popular book which included a lavish description of a Thanksgiving dinner wherein a roast turkey was the centerpiece. Her work helped to standardize the menu of the Thanksgiving turkey dinner that has since become a national tradition.

In the 1920’s, the way that American turkeys were raised began to shift away from family-run farms that operated independently towards centralized and industrialized production. Improvements in transportation and refrigeration allowed large-scale turkey farms to supply cities hundreds of miles away with fresh meat. Turkey producers began to breed birds specifically to maximize the amount of meat that each bird produced, especially the highly-prized breast meat. The industrialization of the production process led to the development of the Broad Breasted Bronze, which is one of the largest variants and the most popular turkey in the US up until the 1950s. During the 1950s, market researchers found that when customers bought raw turkeys from a store, they often chose the bird with the fewest visible pinfeathers. Pinfeathers are tiny feathers that are left behind when the other feathers are removed as a turkey is processed. So, Broad Breasted White turkeys, which have colorless pinfeathers, were developed in the 1960s, and they soon replaced the Broad Breasted Bronze in popularity.

While the boom in industrialized turkey breeding meant that Americans found larger and meatier birds on their Thanksgiving tables, it was less beneficial for the smaller, traditional turkey variants. Local variants that had once been widespread and popular, such as the Bourbon Red from Bourbon County, Kentucky, were neglected in favor of Broad Breasted varieties and dropped to such low numbers that they were considered to be critically endangered. A survey of turkey variants in 1997 found that, outside of the Broad Breasted White, fewer than 2,000 birds remained of all the other American turkey variants that had been developed combined. Conservation efforts began soon after and have been successful in boosting the numbers of these local variants, which are now referred to as “heritage turkeys.” A survey of heritage turkeys conducted in 2006 found over 10,000 birds. ■ Heritage turkeys are lighter and less meaty than the Broad Breasted White, but they are also much healthier birds. ■ The Broad Breasted White turkeys have been so overbred that they are no longer capable of reproducing without help, and they suffer from a number of health problems. ■ Heritage turkeys are seen as healthier fare and a more sustainable alternative to the larger birds. ■

Free TOEFL Reading Quiz: Questions

  1. Paragraph 2 supports which of the following ideas about turkeys?
    (A) The Spanish were the first society to eat turkeys.
    (B) The Aztecs and Maya ate turkeys at holiday feasts.
    (C) Humans have eaten turkeys for over 2000 years.
    (D) Black turkeys did not exist in Central America until the Spanish brought them.
  2. Why does the author mention the Ronquieres variety of turkey in paragraph 3?
    (A) to compare how two varieties of turkey were created
    (B) to support the idea that European regions produced different turkey varieties
    (C) to emphasize the importance of turkeys to colonists who settled in North America
    (D) to illustrate that North American turkeys are larger than European turkeys
  3. Which of the sentences below best expresses the essential information in the highlighted sentence in paragraph 3? Incorrect choices change the meaning in important ways or leave out essential information.
    (A) The turkeys bred by colonists in North America were much stronger than European birds.
    (B) Turkey varieties were among the most important animals that colonists from Europe carried to North America.
    (C) European colonists created new varieties of turkey as they moved across North America.
    (D) Colonists from Europe used turkey as a source of food in many places across North America.
  4. The word “lavish” in paragraph 4 is closest in meaning to
    (A) splendid
    (B) compiled
    (C) pungent
    (D) perceptive
  5. According to paragraph 4, what helped to establish the traditional menu of a Thanksgiving dinner?
    (A) the American Civil War
    (B) a woman’s writing
    (C) a new cooking method
    (D) a writer who became a cook
  6. According to paragraph 5, what factors led to the development of the Broad Breasted Bronze?
    (A) advances in technology
    (B) a lack of meat in the United States
    (C) family farms shutting down
    (D) the discovery of a new variety of wild turkey
  7. The word “boosting” in the passage is closest in meaning to
    (A) doubling
    (B) popularizing
    (C) diminishing
    (D) increasing
  8. According to paragraph 6, which of the following best characterizes the state of heritage turkeys today?
    (A) They are slowly growing in population.
    (B) They are being replaced by healthier types of turkeys.
    (C) They have stopped reproducing naturally.
    (D) They are being bred to produce larger amounts of meat.
  9. Look at the four squares [■] that indicate where the following sentence can be added to the passage.
    More importantly, demand for heritage turkeys is surging.
    Where would the sentence best fit?
    (A) 1st
    (B) 2nd
    (C) 3rd
    (D) 4th
  10. Directions: An introductory sentence for a brief summary of the passage is provided below. Complete the summary by selecting the THREE answer choices that express the most important ideas in the passage. Some sentences do not belong in the summary because they express ideas that are not presented in the passage or are minor details in the passage. This question is worth 2 points.
    Thanksgiving turkeys are the result of thousands of years of complex domestication and breeding by humans.
    (A) Aztecs and Maya were the first to domesticate turkeys in Central America.
    (B) American Turkeys were taken to Europe and bred into several varieties to enhance certain traits.
    (C) European colonists brought farm animals of many types to North America with them.
    (D) Varieties of European turkey were returned to North America and further bred into additional varieties.
    (E) Turkeys became the most popular menu item at Thanksgiving due to a book written by a popular author.
    (F) American farmers bred turkeys into many varieties, some of which have become dominant and some of which are very rare.

That’s it for the questions!

⬇️ If you’re done answering all of them, scroll down to see the answers. ⬇️

Free TOEFL Reading Quiz: Answers & Question Type

  1. C. Factual Information question.
  2. B. Rhetorical Purpose question.
  3. C. Sentence Simplification question.
  4. A. Vocabulary question.
  5. B. Factual Information question.
  6. A. Factual Information question.
  7. D. Vocabulary question.
  8. A. Factual Information question.
  9. A. Insert Text question.
  10. B, D, F. Summary question.

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