Realizing that the information on heritage turkeys got butchered [“Early Birds: Now Is the Time to Preorder Sustainably Raised Thanksgiving Foods from WNC Farms,” Sept. 28, Xpress], I want to clear up a few facts and make sure you are not feeding your family heritage turkey that tastes like shoe leather for the holidays.
In 1784, when Ben Franklin suggested the U.S. national bird be the turkey, I doubt he imagined factory farms teeming with fat, genetically engineered broad-breasted white turkeys. Heritage turkeys are descendants of the birds Pilgrims would have encountered and have not been genetically tampered with. Heritage turkeys mature more slowly in 24-30 weeks (versus about 12 weeks for a commodity turkey) and can live up to 15 years (as opposed to a year and a half).
Heritage birds can have sex normally and can walk on their strong legs. Broad-breasted turkeys are engineered to grow so big, they can have trouble walking and cannot reproduce on their own, so must be artificially inseminated.
But what about taste and cost? You can expect the cost of a heritage turkey to be about 3-4 times more because it takes that much longer to raise them out. And instead of believing the farmer that raises these birds with care, look to the following references. Check out this link from the Bon Appetit article “Does Heritage Turkey Taste Better than Conventional in a Blind Taste Test?” [http://avl.mx/34w].
Testers mostly preferred the taste of the heritage turkey, but the eating experience is far from the only factor at play here. Thanksgiving is a symbolic holiday, a time when it makes more sense than ever to be mindful of the environmental and moral issues that come along with eating. It’s as good a day as any to ask yourself, “Should turkey really cost just $2 a pound?” If you decide that you’re willing to pay a premium, heritage turkeys provide an opportunity to support endangered breeds and to eat a bird that lived the lifestyle of its turkey dreams.
Heritage breeds promise juicier, more flavorful meat than do ordinary supermarket birds. But to deliver on that promise, you have to devise a different cooking method. Cooks Illustrated has a few tips [http://avl.mx/34x].
Cook carefully. I recommend crisping the bird at 500 degrees for 20 minutes, then roasting at 325 degrees. As white meat and dark meat cook at different rates, some people cook the breast and legs separately. Because heritage turkeys are almost always smaller than industrially raised birds, they require less time in the oven. When a thermometer inserted into the thigh reads 165 degrees, remove the bird.
You can still pre-order your heritage turkey from Franny’s Farm by calling 828-708-5587. We also humanely process them on our farm and offer recipes and cooking tips.
— Frances Tacy
Editor’s note: The Sept. 28 story “Early Birds: Now Is the Time to Preorder Sustainably Raised Thanksgiving Foods from WNC Farms,” contained an incorrect cooking time for heritage turkeys. Frances Tacy has provided detailed cooking information in her letter above.