It’s not too early to parse all the issues surrounding the big meal on the November 22, my favorite holiday of the year. There are a lot of choices out there, and I am a fan of broad-breasted, naturally raised, pastured turkeys. I also adore heritage birds, but they pose a problem for the home cook. Nothing worse than having twelve assembled loved ones staring at a bony, scrawny turkey that has less fork-tender meat than Aunt Sadie is conventionally used to seeing. Heritage birds are fantastic, though, and Bourbon Reds, Royal Palms, Blue Slates, and Spanish Reds are some of my favorites. I recommend that anyone looking to make one for the first time this year gets one now and does a test drive. Trust me—since heritage birds have different flavor, musculature, bone structure, and inter- and intramuscular fat content than the conventional birds you are used to roasting, cooking times and recipes need to be adjusted, and sometimes you’ll need more total bird weight to get the same amount of meat that everyone is counting on.
Here at mspmag.com's recipes database, I have some great recipes for you, and there are lots of other resources you can check out as well. Here are two sites from William Rubel and Local Harvest that offer a lot of good information on heritage birds. Let the games begin.
Now, D’Artagnan offers some killer birds, and all their species are designed for good eating. What’s more, they know how to ship, and anyone who has dealt with shipping issues from small producers knows what I am talking about. Additionally, for those looking for a fun alternative to turkey, they are one-stop shopping for all your local and imported game—fresh and frozen, birds or bucks . . . whatever.
Turkey_3 This year I am ordering our family a white turkey from Coon Creek Family Farm, a small, certified-organic family farm located just eleven miles south of Eau Claire, WI. They raise their animals kindly, humanely, and ethically, allowing them daily access to fresh air, clean water, green grass, and sunshine. They eat lots of grasshoppers, I am assured, and love to roll in the dust. According to their website:
“Pastured Poultry” is the term used to describe how we raise our chickens and turkeys. Typically, the day-old poultry arrives by mail. They are then introduced to a warm, cozy indoor brooder environment where the temperature is regulated to meet their need for heat and safety. Once these birds are old enough (around three to four weeks of age), they are transferred to our certified organic pasture. Their pasture area is secured by a portable electric fence which is used to keep them safe from predators. Portable pens provide the birds with shade from the sun and protection from the rain. By regularly moving the fence and shelters, our poultry have access to fresh vegetation at all times. This gives our flocks a clean, healthy environment to thrive in. All of our poultry are fed certified organic grain from day one. Our feed is totally drug-free and contains no chemical additives, no animal by-products, no hormones, and no antibiotics.
Their turkeys range in weight from twelve to twenty-five pounds. The flavor is phenomenal.
Let’s say you are not living in Minnesota. Remember, it is always best to order birds from as close a source as possible. For example, Mary's Turkeys is the largest producer of heritage turkeys in Southern California, and they are adding outlets like gangbusters. See their website for a list. Reese Turkeys is a huge heritage turkey producer from Kansas that is selling in California this year as well. Want to support your local farmer? Check out Diane Leonhardt (507-767-4435, email@example.com). She is offering Bourbon Reds (that come from Joanne Griffin's stock) at $4.99 per pound. She is also the supplier for Cooks of Crocus Hill, where you can place orders at the store and pick them up the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. She also sells at the co-op in Winona and the Red Hills Farmer's Market.
Sara Austin, at Hilltop Pastures Family Farm (26134 Jasmine Drive, Fountain, 507-867-0096, firstname.lastname@example.org) is offering Bourbon Reds for $3.29 per pound (they also come from Joanne Griffin's stock). Sara’s birds range between nine pounds and fourteen pounds.
As you have probably noticed, most of these turkeys come from Joanne Griffin's stock. She breeds them and sells chicks in the spring to farmers all over the country. You can get a hold of her at Hawk's Valley Farm in Spring Grove by e-mailing email@example.com or calling 507-498-5108.
As of this writing, the folks at Clancy’s are unsure if they will be getting in any heritage turkeys because of the horrific flooding. The people they usually get theirs from are Sandy & Lonny Dietz, who lost all of their turkeys in the flood, as did Eric Hoiland, who has been mentioned in past blogs. Very sad.
Many other turkey farmers sell great birds, but not heritage species. There is Earth-Be-Glad Farm, run by Mike, Jennifer, and Johanna Rupprecht (18828 Cty. Rd. 20, Lewiston, 507-523-2564, firstname.lastname@example.org). We talked to Mike last month. He said that while they do not offer heritage turkeys, they have certified organic turkeys that are free range. He chooses to raise these turkeys because they offer a bit more for the average consumer. They are fourteen to twenty-three pounds at $2.95 per pound They butcher them the Monday before the big day, so they are super fresh. And they only do about 150 turkeys a year, so pre-ordering right now is necessary.
There is also Cedar Summit Farm (25830 Drexel Ave., New Prague, 952-758-6886, email@example.com), run by Dave and Florence Minar. When we talked to Florence about species-specific turkeys, she said they had done them in the past, but it is such a hard product to raise that they went the way of certified free-range organic birds. The biggest the heritage birds ever got was sixteen pounds. She also said that to find them in Minnesota, one should try contacting Clancy's, Lunds, or Byerly’s. But they are tres cher—five to six dollars per pound for a normally eight to nine pound bird.
And since we are writing about Minnesota turkeys, here are some facts about conventionally raised birds, including those raised in factory farms:
*Minnesota is the nation's largest producer of turkeys, raising 43.5 million birds in 2001.
*Turkey producers and processors earned $212 million in 2001, and spin-off industries earned $374 million.
*The turkey industry directly employs 6,900 people, and spin-off industries employ 7,800, including the equivalent of nearly 1,800 cash grain producers.
*The average tom takes eighteen weeks to reach a market weight of thirty pounds. The average hen takes fourteen weeks to reach fifteen pounds.
*Turkeys are fed a diet of corn, soy beans, supplemental vitamins and minerals, and water.
*A thirty-pound tom eats at least seventy-five pounds of feed. Turkeys convert feed to weight gain at a rate of 2.4:1.
*No hormones are approved for use in turkeys. FDA-approved antibiotics are used to prevent disease, but a withdrawal period is required before the birds can be slaughtered.
*In 2000, turkey consumption per person in the country was 17.75 pounds.
*Top turkey export markets for the United States in 2000 were Mexico, Russia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the Dominican Republic.