MUNDANE MYSTERIES: Why Put Paper Chef’s Hats On Turkey Legs?

Sometimes, you feel like wearing a chef’s hat while you cook Thanksgiving dinner, and that’s okay. But placing a tiny chef’s hat on the end of each turkey leg could be considered taking the holiday cheer a bit too far. Why do we always see that, though, especially in movies & cartoons?

Over the years, those paper coverings have had many creative names: turkey frills, turkey booties, even turkey panties. While they’ve (thankfully) fallen out of fashion in recent years, they did originally serve a very specific purpose. According to writer John Cordy Jeaffreson in the 1800s, paper trimmings sprung up in the 17th century as a way for women to keep their hands clean while carving meat.

Here’s what he wrote in his 1875 book, A Book About the Table: “To preserve the cleanliness of her fingers, the covering was put on those parts of joints which the carver usually touched with the left hand, whilst the right made play with the shining blade. The paper-frill, which may be seen round the bony point & small end of a leg, is a memorial of the fashion in which joints were dressed for the dainty hands of lady-carvers”, before the introduction of the carving-fork.

When etiquette books started encouraging “lady-carvers” to use carving forks, the paper didn’t become obsolete…it just got frillier. During the 19th & 20th centuries, chop frills were a cute & classy way to conceal the unsightly leg bones of roast turkey, lamb, chicken, or any other bird. So, if you have dainty hands like me, you can use them if you wish…or, just use a carving fork and knife & you’ll be set.

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