I am a terrible cook, but there is one day a year when that rule gets suspended: Thanksgiving. I make the best turkey I’ve ever tasted, anywhere. It’s juicy and flavorful and just awesome, brined and babied and condimented to perfection. Also, besides the traditional sides I always like to get a little creative. Every year is a quest to top the previous one. I begin menu prep a month before.
One year I decided my stand-out dish would be the potato side. But not just any potatoes: unique, gourmet, way-overpriced blue potatoes from Whole Foods. But anyone can use the tiny little blue potatoes for roasting. The real feat would be in using them to make mashed potatoes. I painstakingly peeled each tiny nub, boiled and mashed them. But, here’s a little factoid in case you’re considering following the recipe: when you add all the butter and everything, the blue color turns an appalling greyish lavender. They were tasty, nutty and definitely unique, but not a soul touched them. Lesson learned: people don’t want to experiment with food at Thanksgiving.
Still, my quest to innovate is strong. This year I’ve decided that rather that the already way-too-expensive free-range bird that I normally buy at Whole Foods I need to buy a heritage turkey. What’s a heritage turkey, you wonder? Well, it’s the latest in turkey correctness. The scoop is this: the breed of bird we usually buy, even the free-range ones, are all a breed called Broad-Breasted White, bred by the industrial farming complex for the things that most maximize profit: rate of growth and feed conversion (how fast they grow so that they can be slaughtered). Lately there has been a movement to reclaim and breed “heritage” breeds of turkey like the Narragansett and the Bourbon Red.
Broad-Breasted Whites have been so over-bred for big chest muscles that they have a host of problems. Some are so top heavy they have walking problems. They can’t breed on their own. Heritage breeds have stronger genetics that don’t need antibiotics and artificial insemination. Supposedly the taste is phenomenal. Kind of sad that I wouldn’t know because I’ve never had one.
So that’s this year’s quest is to find a heritage turkey. Not as easy as it sounds! In checking with the Heritage Turkey Foundation (yes, that’s a thing and you can find it by clicking here) I discovered it’s advisable to contact a farm that breeds the turkeys. Turns out all kinds of farms in New Jersey breed livestock and sell it direct to the public. Who knew? Whole Foods, you’re toast. I am befriending my local farmer and helping feed my food before it gets slaughtered.
I found one lovely family farm in West Bumble$%^#, New Jersey, up near Vernon or something (way further west than I would normally deign to go) with a nice farmer who responded to email promptly. His farm has been in his family for seven generations! Just on the weight of the fact that he made a joke about “snail mail” and being an old-fashioned farmer I began to have fantasies that we would fall in love when I went to pick up my turkey and that I would become a farm person. But then I discovered he doesn’t breed heritage breeds, just the Broad-Breasted White bred humanely, so our love affair was over before it started. But my quest for the perfect heritage bird continued.
I finally found one which requires shipping. I was looking to avoid getting it frozen, but my local options were all sold out. Who knew heritage turkeys were so hard to come by? Happily, though, my experiment is begun. The bird will be at my door the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.
Just to be on the safe side, I will also made a small “traditional” turkey breast in case the hype about heritage turkeys is just that. And I will skip the blue potatoes. And since I’m off every day that week but Monday I may even try my hand at some pumpkin scones. Love Thanksgiving!