I recently learned from Ms. Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, that turkeys have been bred to be so stupid they don’t even know how to mate.
Really. They would die out in one generation if we stopped artificially inseminating them. Imagine how much work that must be for the turkey farmer. Acting like some bee going flower to flower – although it is not quite so pretty. He or she must force the turkey tom to donate sperm (do you really need a visual?) and then insert it into the tom-ettes. For every new batch of babies.
Leaving alone the deformities and physical problems (such as difficulty walking) of being bred to have as big a breast as possible, the fact that they can’t even have - or want - sex seems to me a vital blow. On a scale from 1-10, ten being full of life and one being dead, I give them a three. Conventional turkeys are the equivalent of Frankenstein.
Fortunately, not all turkeys are like this. Just 99.99 percent of those Americans eat.
The .01 percent is America’s heritage turkeys, bred locally for hundreds of years with emphasis on flavor, beauty and meat yield, according to the Heritage Turkey Foundation. Heritage turkeys withstood the trials of natural selection, sexual selection AND human selection. Conventional turkeys – of which there is only one type and that is Broad-breasted White (sometimes called Nicholas) – have only been vetted by the latter.
When it comes to choosing the best, I agree with Obama: the more vetting the better.
Check out some of the names of heritage turkeys: Bourbon Red, Jersey Buff, Slate, Black Spanish, White Holland, Royal Palm and White Midget. I feel like I’ve entered an international crime novel. Fitting, since most of these are in danger of being snuffed out. The only way to save them, paradoxically, is to eat them.
For a fascinating but quick read on the history of the turkey, go here.
While I like to believe that all the best things in the world are available at the farmers’ market, I was disappointed to learn that Di Paola’s Turkey farm, the biggest greenmarket turkey provider in NYC, raises predominantly conventional turkeys. These are yummy birds and I like that they are raised in more pleasant conditions than most mass-produced turkeys. (The life experience of any creature influences its flavor; science will back me up on that. More on that later.)
So, I will keep buying from Di Paola, but each time I will ask about heritage birds. Maybe if they get asked enough, they will raise some and give up that whole artificial insemination routine.
[Update/Correction? I haven't been able to verify this, but over the summer a representative of DiPaola's told me that while they do raise conventional birds, their turkeys can and do mate by themselves.]
Di Paola’s sausage is delicious, and very lean – never more than 4% fat content. But here is what I did with a more challenging purchase: a large turkey back on special for $1.99.
1 turkey back
1 cup celery root, cubed
2 yellow onions, chopped
2-4 cloves garlic (larger amount if using local garlic), finely sliced
2 small carrots, chopped
5 stalks celery, chopped
2 Tbs rosemary, finally chopped
1/4 tsp ground tumeric (optional)
1/4 tsp ground cayenne (optional)
1 cup whey (optional)
1/4 cup milk
Place turkey back in Dutch oven or other large pot with lid. Fill with water until covered. Salt water and bring to simmer (small bubbles). Add all vegetables and spices. Continue to simmer for about one hour.
Remove turkey back and let cool enough to handle. Meanwhile, leave lid off simmering stock and allow liquid to reduce. Strip meat and set aside. (Reserve bones for future use.)
Add whey and milk (any kind other than soy) to simmering pot. If you want a smooth soup, puree at this point. Or leave alone for a chunky stew. Bring to a boil briefly. Add back turkey meat. Serve with toasted bread.
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