This Thanksgiving we did something different. We ordered a “happy” turkey from a sustainable farm named 3 Sisters on near-by Whidbey Island. I thought they were three nuns who had branched out when Catholic Church membership dropped.
The Husband was horrified when I told him we’d be paying $8 a pound (instead of the usual 59 cents), and his razor-sharp mind calculated that the price tag for this year’s bird toted up to almost $100. Before he could get too wound up with his standard rhetoric about our place at the low end of the “99%” I quickly countered with, “How could we possibly go wrong buying a ‘happy’ turkey raised by nuns”?
Two days later, when the purchased bird was delivered by a friend, we all peered into the special bag she plopped onto the kitchen floor. Shock rippled through the group.
“He looks like Gandhi,” my friend pointed out. He was skinny, with long slender legs and a small breast. At that moment, Gandhi was the name bestowed upon this year’s Thanksgiving fowl, and I began to seriously wonder about this whole buy local sustainable living issue. I knew nothing about it, but decided to delve in with an open mind and learn. Buying Gandhi was my first experience.
The bottom line, in spite of our trepidations and outlandish expenditure, Gandhi (former member of the Heritage breed) was the most delicious, moist turkey any of us have ever tasted. Even the granddaughters, who rarely eat more than a tablespoon of meat lest they risk gaining an ounce of weight, had two helpings of turkey. We were all thankful for Gandhi.
(The Rest of the Story)
It turns out Gandhi was not raised by nuns, but rather on a family-owned farm that has been in operation for over a century. They raise beef, pork, poultry and a variety of other products. You may read more about them here .
All of their animals are Heritage breeds, a fascinating topic on its own. It makes sense their turkeys would also belong to the Heritage group, rather than the mass produced Broad-Breasted White turkeys that make up 99.9% of the turkeys sold in our supermarkets today. These mass-produced turkeys (with the meaty breasts, sometimes injected with “extra” ingredients) are raised in temperature-controlled buildings, and given constant doses of antibiotics and growth hormones so they can achieve an average gain for Toms of 32 pounds in 18 weeks (12 weeks for smaller Hens).
Gandhi, on the other hand, spent his time dining on fresh grass and insects and exercising freely in the farm’s designated area for turkeys. Since he was not force-fed special concoctions to speed up the growing process, Gandhi and his friends require 24 to 30 weeks to reach their market weight. I was told that even the state of mind of the birds when butchered has a discernable effect on the taste of the meat. Happy free-range Heritage turkeys, humanely butchered, simply taste better than their unfortunate fowl mates, which most likely live their entire lives terrified by the cramped conditions and inhumane treatment prevalent in many of these commercial enterprises.
The typical Thanksgiving turkey can be purchased for less than $15 and feed a sizeable number of dinner guests. However, one must ask oneself: is this how I choose to live?
Cooking Gandhi was its own challenge, given his stature and the fact that he cost $100. Consequently research was done and decisions were made – occasionally in “real time” - as the cooking process unfolded.
To enhance the moistness of this skinny turkey, I chose to brine him for six hours the day before Thanksgiving in a double plastic bag filled with a mixture of salt and sugar and diluted with water. At the end of the brining time, he was removed from the brine, rinsed with cold water, dried with paper towels, and then transferred to a large platter. Gandhi, resting comfortably on the platter, was then wedged onto the top shelf of my already-full refrigerator where he could dry “naturally” overnight.
Panic reigned for an hour or so when my daughter and I had to decide which recipe to follow when cooking Heritage Turkeys. The choices were all over the map – from putting him into a 450 degree oven until he was literally seared into a state of doneness to cooking him in a paper bag in a 250 degree oven for so long that we would be serving dinner at midnight.
In order to settle on the best course of action, we called my special email friend: Damon Lee Fowler, culinary historian, author of numerous cookbooks, renowned chef, all around culinary guru and writer who lives and works in Savannah, Georgia. He pointed us in the right direction with a number of helpful considerations and recommendations, and we took it from there. You can read about Damon Lee Fowler here
This year was the best Thanksgiving any of us have had. The food was delicious, the company wonderful, we laughed much of the time, and all learned a great deal about many things. It was actually the first stress-free Thanksgiving I can remember.