While traveling around the countryside this past weekend, taking in the beautiful fall foliage and crisp weather, I decided to stop at my good friend Farmer Bill’s. He was selling apples and cider and those giant Blue Hubbard squash at his roadside stand, so I bought one of everything and stayed for a chat. We talked about the weather, the rough growing season this year, the changing of the clocks and the upcoming holidays. When the conversation turned to Thanksgiving, Farmer Bill’s top turkey “Tom” was also in the mood for a chat, providing the perfect opportunity for an expert interview.
Are all turkeys the same? No, they are not. For one, I’m a talking turkey and there aren’t too many of those around (turkeys really don’t talk, I hope you know that). But I’m also a domestic turkey, and that’s a kind of turkey bred for table eating. Domestic turkeys come in white and traditional coloring, depending on the bird. My distant cousins, the wild turkeys, who we descended from, are the original turkey bird. They were born and bred in North America, made tame by folks in Mexico, and introduced to the Europeans before Columbus came to America. Wild turkeys tend to be much smaller than the domestic varieties, probably from all that tree climbing and hill jumping they do.
Why are turkeys for Thanksgiving and not Easter? Easter is in the spring, when turkeys are in their mating season or already laying eggs, depending on the weather and the location. After a long winter, turkeys can be a little lean in the spring and not much for a good hardy meal. Give us the summer and fall to fill ourselves on berries and grains, lounging around the barnyard, and we’ll be nice and plump by November. Besides, the Pilgrims brought turkeys over from England on the Mayflower to help feed themselves and the Native Americans fed on wild turkeys, which made turkeys the perfect food for the first Thanksgiving celebration way back in 1621.
Why is turkey so good for you? Unlike beef or pork, turkey meat is not marbled with fat, so it is lower in calories and fat content, making it also lower in cholesterol. An average serving of turkey is 2 to 3 ounces, about the size of a deck of cards. Smother the turkey with gravy, deep fry the turkey, or serve it with mounds of stuffing, and turkey can begin to lose its healthy qualities.
What’s the difference between white meat and dark meat? The different colors of meat come from different parts of the bird. The difference in meat color is strictly due to the type of muscle the meat comes from. Chest muscles (or the “breast”) and the wings make up the white meat, which tends to be drier than the moist dark meat, which are the turkey thighs and drumsticks or legs. White meat has less calories and fat than the dark meat and if you remove the crunchy skin before eating, the turkey meat is even more nutritious.
How do you cook a turkey? I’ll assume that you are asking about a Thanksgiving turkey, and not that I have personal experience in cooking a turkey, but word on the farm is that most turkeys are filled with stuffing and cooked in the oven. Once the bird is thawed (if frozen prior), be sure to remove the innards, which are loose or in a bag inside, before stuffing and wash the inside well. Pack the turkey with your favorite dressing, place in a large deep pan and set in the oven at a low temperature (325 degrees). Baste the turkey often during cooking to avoid drying out or cover it with foil until the last hour of cooking. Some folks cook the birds in a paper bag or cooking bag (in a pan), to keep in the moisture. Many of the frozen birds have cooking sensors (white probe with a little red button) that pops up when the bird is done. Stuffed turkeys require longer cooking time than un-stuffed birds (longer time for the heat to penetrate all the way to the middle), so be sure to follow the cooking times provided on the package, approximately 15 minutes per pound of stuffed weight.
What goes well with turkey? Turkey is a meat that comes in a variety of forms: ground turkey, deep-fried turkey, turkey bologna, turkey hotdogs, turkey drumsticks, turkey salami, and even turkey kielbasa. But the favorite kind of turkey to serve is the kind people eat at Thanksgiving, which is stuffed, baked turkey. Some call it dressing, others call it stuffing; some cook it in the bird, others cook it alongside the bird. There are all kinds of stuffing, depending on your family traditions and ancestry, which could include oyster dressing, cornmeal stuffing, giblet stuffing, sage dressing, dried fruit stuffing, dry or wet stuffing and even apple dumpling stuffing. Great accompaniments for a stuffed turkey include mashed potatoes (for all that extra gravy), candied yams, cranberry sauce, creamed cucumbers, cornmeal rolls, all followed by homemade pumpkin or apple pie.
Why does turkey make you fall asleep after you cook it? Turkey meat contains an amino acid, called tryptophan, which is known for causing drowsiness. Unfortunately, there is not enough tryptophan in turkey to put you to sleep. Most likely, it’s the vast amount of calories consumed during Thanksgiving dinner (along with the turkey), that causes the need for an after-dinner snooze. Eat less at dinner, feel less full, and you might even feel like taking a walk instead of going to sleep
Where can I buy a turkey? Most supermarkets carry whole frozen turkeys and other turkey products in their meat section, under a variety of brand names. If looking for more local options, check out any one of these area farms that offer organic, natural or free range turkeys. Some may require early pre-season ordering, so it’s best to call ahead: Painted Meadows Farm, 1644 Elton Road, Franklinville 14737. 676-3401. Sojourner Farm, 943 East Windfall Road, Olean 14760. 372-4255. Munsee Farm, 1381 Panama Bear Lake Road, Panama 14767. 665-7414. Parable Farm Products, 9582 NE Sherman Road, Ripley 14775. 761-7224. www.parablefarm.com.
Westwood Farms, 255 Westwood Road, Lancaster 14086. 681-9697 Dart Farm, 3649 Lockport Road, Oakfield 14125. 585-948-8330. Big Horn Ranch, Michael Wright, RD 1 Box 171C, Pittsfield PA 16340. (814) 563-7348. Website: http://www.bighornmeats.com. Clan Stewart Farm, Terry and Linda Moist, 5662 Wesley Chapel Road, Huntingdon, PA 16652 (814) 667-3852. Website: www.clanstewartfarm.com. Common Ground Organic Farm, Leslie Zuck, 176 Zuck Road, Spring Mills PA 16875. (814) 364-9171. Website: www.commongroundfarm.com Grazy Days Ranch, John Lamb, 507 Moravia Road, New Galilee PA 16141. (724) 336-3730. Misty Mountain Farm, John D. Hollway, 1781 Hazelet Church Road, Cherry Tree PA 15724. (814) 743-5959. Parker's Chickens, David and Karen Parker, 36348 Armstrong Road, Centerville PA 16404. (814) 967-2602.
Are you going to be at someone’s table for Thanksgiving this year? Farmer Bill’s wife offers me a place at her table every year, but once again, I plan on visiting relatives up north in Canada for the week where they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. But a dedicated member of my flock will be sure to take my place and give thanks. I hope the stuffing is good this year.
Dodi Kingsfield, Technical Services Supervisor, Freelance Writer and Author. Dodi is employed as a Technical Supervisor for a large food manufacturer in Dunkirk, writes childrens and young adult books and does freelance writing for the web and magazines. Married for more than 20 years and a full-time mother of five, Dodi enjoys yoga, organic gardening and telling tall tales. She can be reached through her e-mail address at email@example.com.