For Thanksgiving: A Note on Audubon and a Recipe from Elvis

Painted portrait of John J. Audubon with rifle and dog
Elvis Aron Presley / Ralph Wolfe Cowan,1976-1988
/National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution;
gift of R.W. Cowan 

This blogpost originally appeared November 25, 2009

On this, the day before our national feast, it is only right that we make mention of our national entrée, the turkey.  An awkward and delicious fowl, it was one of the favorite subjects of John James Audubon.  Turkeys were also a cheap and plentiful bird of choice in Kentucky in the early nineteenth century. In Under a Wild Sky: John James Audubon and the Making of the Birds of America, Audubon biographer William Souder records:

Turkeys were so easily gotten, he said, that in the Louisville market they could be purchased for pennies—less than the cost of an ordinary chicken.  A really big, “first rate” turkey of thirty pounds fetched only a quarter.

The turkey also became Audubon’s moniker for awhile.  Souder continues:

When Audubon began to publish his bird drawings, it was the turkey that he had engraved first.  One of his fans among the English gentry so admired his portrait of the great bird that she asked him for a miniature of it—which she then had copied onto a seal as a present for the brash American.  For many years after, anyone receiving a letter from John James Audubon found it sealed with a large blob of red wax bearing the impression of a strutting turkey cock.



Painted portrait of Elvis Presley
Elvis Aron Presley / Ralph Wolfe Cowan,1976-1988/National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of R.W. Cowan  

Of course, turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and green bean casserole are all part of the traditional table setting for tomorrow’s surfeit.  However, in honor of the National Portrait Gallery’s upcoming year of Elvis tributes, beginning with "Echoes of Elvis" (opening January 8, 2010), we would like to offer up the formula for one of Elvis’ most cherished and non-traditional repasts, the Fried Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich.  The following is from Brenda Arlene Butler’s book of Elvis’ favorite recipes, Are You Hungry Tonight?

1 small ripe banana

2 slices white bread

3 tablespoons peanut butter

2 tablespoons butter

1) In a small bowl, mash the banana with the back of a spoon.  2) Toast the bread lightly. 3) Spread the peanut butter on one piece of toast and the mashed banana on the other.  4) Fry the sandwich in melted butter until each side is golden brown.  Cut diagonally and serve hot.

Happy Thanksgiving from the staff of the National Portrait Gallery!


Grade school project made of construction paper
“Pilgrim, turkey, and pumpkin” colored, traced, and constructed by NPG writer/researcher Warren Perry, circa November 1968, Harding Academy Kindergarten, Memphis, Tennessee. 



Souder, William.  Under a Wild Sky: John James Audubon and The Making of THE BIRDS OF AMERICA.  New York: North Point Press, 2004.

Butler, Brenda Arline.  Are You Hungry Tonight?  New York: Bluewood Books (Random House), 1992.