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Turkey Quest

I’m no football fan, but a few weeks ago, I went through an ordeal that I’d imagine was a bit akin to getting Super Bowl tickets. Except I was ordering my Thanksgiving turkey.

Not just any turkey, mind you. After years of indoctrination by Slow Food, I’d decided that this year, I was going to serve a heritage turkey on my Thanksgiving table.

A little background: More than 99% of all the turkeys sold in U.S. supermarkets are of one breed: the Broad-Breasted White. The breed has been fine-tuned to deliver lots of the white meat that Americans love, but they’re not the most flavorful birds. So some farmers have dedicated themselves to raising and preserving breeds, like the Bourbon Red, that were common in America before the turkey industry became, well, an industry. These breeds are said to have the flavor that the standard turkeys notoriously lack.

But I wanted to taste for myself, so I set about looking for my own heritage turkey. Slow Food and LocalHarvest.org all have helpful links to heritage-breed farmers, but I soon discovered that, in September, I was already too late. Farmers near me were all sold out; with some, I would have had to put a deposit down back in the spring (who has their Thanksgiving plans in place in April?). Mail-order was an option, but I figured having a turkey shipped long-distance sort of defeated the whole philosophy of slow, local food.

So finally, I took the (relatively) easy way out: buying through Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, a non-profit educational farm in the Hudson Valley (close enough to count as local). Still, the buying process smacked of the absurd. I’d gotten an email earlier in the month to alert me that sales would start September 22, and I put a reminder on my calendar: Order turkey from Stone Barns!

At 9 am sharp, I called the turkey hotline, only to get voicemail. Had I already missed my window? Had the birds all sold out to Stone Barns members, who get a chance to buy early? I left my name and number, and later in the day my call was returned. I put down a deposit on the turkey (yeah, I never thought I’d write that sentence either), and was instructed to pick up the bird at Stone Barns between 3 and 3:30 pm the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

So now an 8-lb. Bourbon Red and I have a date with destiny. Will it be worth all the effort? I certainly hope so. Stay tuned.

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