Thanksgiving may look different this year at most homes, but the real VIP at your holiday table can continue tradition: the Thanksgiving turkey. Each November an estimated 46 million turkeys are consumed around Thanksgiving, according to the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association.
To learn more about turkeys, we headed straight to farmers who raise heritage breeds and are serving up insights along with some recipes here.
Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch – Lindsborg, Kansas
A revered authority on heritage birds, Frank Reese was the first farmer to produce for Heritage Foods, “the company at the forefront of the nonindustrial meat movement,” according to The New York Times. Reese raises several varieties of heritage turkeys at Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch in Lindsborg, Kansas, believing that the lineage of purebred birds is of utmost importance.
These heritage breeds are known for robust flavor and juiciness. The Bronze turkey, the nation’s first American standard breed, forage Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch’s pastures along with the Black turkey, long prized by Native Americans throughout Mexico and Central America. All American heritage birds present almost identical flavor profiles—deeply rich with dark turkey flavors—because they share the same bloodline as the Bronze turkey.
White Oak Pastures – Bluffton, Georgia
While Bronze turkeys are the foundation for all American domestic breeds, “the word ‘heritage,’ has been up for recent debate,” says Jenni Harris, fifth generation farmer at White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, Georgia. This 3,000-acre farm welcomes visitors throughout the year to see its “Serengeti Ecosystem Rotation Model” of farming in which large ruminants (such as cows) are followed by small ruminants (like sheep and goats) then birds (including turkeys) to provide a ‘circle of life’ while enriching the land. In fact, as part of its full circle approach, White Oak Pastures slaughters and butchers livestock by hand in its onsite zero-waste, USDA-inspected processing abattoir.
Photo Credit: White Oak Pastures
White Oak Pastures’ flock of 2,500 Nicholas Black turkeys forage the land with a grain-supplemented diet, are certified non-GMO, humanely raised, rank Step 4 in the Global Animal Partnership, and are certified EOV by the Savory Institute (which recognizes farmers who are regenerating their land). “My dad, Will Harris, talks a lot about being disgusted about the excess in the commodity market and what the USDA minimum requirements did to the food supply,” says Jenni. “When farmers weren’t rewarded to go beyond that minimum effort, it was hard to compete. If you were a true craftsperson, that simply wasn’t your goal. So, Dad put animal welfare, a diversified diet, planting native grasses, and reestablishing species first and left it up to believing in ‘May the best man win.’”
In addition to raising multiple species, White Oak Pastures offers a general store, restaurant, and cabin lodging, so you can meet the farmers who raised your bird while enjoying a weekend getaway on the farm. “The local food movement is really about building relationships with the person who grows your food,” says Jenni. “To have an ongoing dialogue and reestablish trust in the food system.”
By the time the Harris family gets in the kitchen, Jenni says they’re way too tired to make a big fuss and prefer the ‘less is more’ approach to Thanksgiving. Last year, she tried a recipe for turkey wrapped in a bacon jacket, which she says is incredibly flavorful and probably the juiciest she’s ever had, but it didn’t render down to that crispy skin she loves so much. So, this year, she’s planning a simple dry brine of salt and pepper, starting the bird on high heat and then finishing the cook low and slow. Alongside the bird, she’ll pour “cheap red wine, because the goal is to drink enough that the price is just a number,” she laughs.
Harris Turkey Farm – Newfield, Maine
More of a farm stand in West Newfield, Maine, Harris Turkey Farm is owned by Chase and Jason Harris (no relation to the Harris family of White Oak Pastures). After being gifted some baby turkeys in 2014, the couple was hooked. They now raise and process Broad Breasted Whites on their three-acre property.
A commercial breed most commonly used for meat, these beautiful turkeys are free to graze the pastures at Harris Turkey Farm. After about 17 weeks, the turkeys dress out at about 20 to 30 pounds. This year’s flock of 100 have already sold out, but don’t let that keep you from paying the farm a visit any time of year. You’ll find a host of products for sale at the farm stand including the “best you’ve ever eaten” goodness of the Harris’ homemade turkey pot pies, soups, chili, and New York-style cheesecakes.
Photo Credit: Harris Turkey Farm
Each Friday in August and September, enjoy a picnic on the farm where you can savor extra offerings from the farm’s food trailer. The first weekend of November, The Snowflake Trail happens—the Harris Turkey Farm is a stop on this special community-wide holiday trail of West Newfield shops, artisans, and farms.
When cooking a top-quality bird, of course you want top-quality results. While the Harris’ admit, “We used to cook the turkey until it looked done,” they trust a meat thermometer now.
Recipe courtesy Chase and Jason Harris
Pat the fresh or thawed turkey dry. Rub it with canola oil, season with salt and pepper (plus herbs or spices of your preference) and roast at 500°F for about 20 minutes for a golden skin that seals in the juices—no basting necessary. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F, and roast the turkey for 15 minutes per pound while its covered in aluminum foil and an oven-safe thermometer has been inserted into the thickest part of the bird’s breast. Roast until the internal temperature reaches 170°F. Remove from the oven and let rest for at least 15 minutes before carving.
Cranberry Orange Relish
Recipe courtesy Chase and Jason Harris
One pound cranberries
One large apple, core removed
One navel orange, rind intact
One cup sugar
Cut apple and orange into small chunks, then place all ingredients into a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is the consistency of a relish. Store in a covered container for up to two weeks in the refrigerator. Enjoy with poultry or pork dishes.
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