How Much Does the Turkey Matter?

As we prepare for Thanksgiving, that question may be on many people’s minds. Kim Severson, writing in today’s NY Times about a dispute with other food writers (and the ensuing cook-off she won hands down), comes down solidly on the side of “After the Bird, Everything Else Is Secondary.”

From turkey comes stock, the flavor-giving fluid that pumps through the entire meal. Good gravy depends on good stock. So does stuffing (more on our stuffing fight in a moment). Delicious turkey does not come from a 29-cent-a-pound supermarket bird with cottony, bland breast meat. They are, as my favorite turkey breeder says, the Red Delicious apples of turkeys.

A bird that has been bred to reproduce naturally and thrive in the open develops tastier meat. I’ve eaten dozens of both, and I will swear to that basic truth on my favorite turkey platter.

There is a catch. Growing a great turkey takes time and serving one costs money. But if you can afford it, it’s the way to go.

The turkeys from Ayrshire Farm in Upperville, Va., spend their days on pasture and get organic feed. Much attention has been paid to their husbandry. They are certified by the Humane Farm Animal Care program. True, they start at
$125. But frankly, no expense was too great in proving Moskin wrong.

It’s hard to think of a more fitting tribute to heritage breed turkeys, or a better explanation for why we continue to raise them — even though the baby poults cost twice as much and reach a finished weight of less than half of what their broad breasted supermarket cousins can get to.

The piece goes on to give some excellent tips for cooking a heritage turkey. If you plan to get one, this article would be a good “clip and save.” But hopefully you’ve already reserved yourself a turkey; most small producers sell out far in advance of Thanksgiving. And hopefully you’ll be able to pay less than the $125 that Severson had to come up with.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, for a whole host of reasons. To say that I’m looking forward to feasting on one of our Blue Slate tom turkeys later this month would be a gross understatement.

2 thoughts on “How Much Does the Turkey Matter?

  1. MMMmmmmMMMmmmmMMM turkey. Fresh. Hot. Steaming. With a big pile of mashed potaotes *and* dressing on the plate with it…a big yeasty cloverleaf roll…some homemade cranberry sauce…green bean casserole…sweet potatoes with brown sugar and pecans…yeah….

    Okay. Sorry for that gustatory interlude… 🙂

    But yes. Heirloom breeds, or even some of the less “heirloom”, and just naturally raised birds, have a better flavor than their mass-produced cousins.

    What goes in, is what comes out (most of the time). Fresh air, sunshine, lots of seeds/grains and little bugs, and the occasional frog/lizard/worm/snake makes for a happy healthy good tasting chicken. Or turkey, for that matter (we had a home-raised roasted chicken for Thanksgiving last year–it was the size of a turkey. LOL).

    Much the same can be said for a more 'natural' enviroment for any animal, or even vegetable. The closer one gets to their ideal, natural, growing conditions, the better the outcome. Fresh air and sunshine does wonder for people, too…we put good fuel into the plants as they grow, into the animals we raise, and then, in turn, put those well-raised products of our labors into our bodies…it *does* make a difference…

    Ah, I could go on about this all day, but it is better if I don't. LOL

    Have a good one!


  2. Met your lovely wife the other day. She is a hoot and you children are wonderful. We hope to meet you soon. Why not come for Thanksgiving? It's not a heritage bird and was nowhere near $125 but it'll be darn tasty.


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