Discriminating Thanksgiving shoppers who crave a bird that's
richly flavored, free-range, hormone- and antibiotic-free, and
boasting an impressive lineage will be glad to know that heritage
turkeys once again will be sold at some Bay Area markets.
Heritage turkeys will sell for about the same price as last
November, about $3.99 a pound. Stores will take pre-orders until
their supplies run out -- which, unfortunately, may be sooner than
usual this year.
Mary's Turkeys in Madera, the largest supplier of heritage
turkeys in California, last year raised about 6,000 heritage birds.
This year, there are only 4,000.
``The Midwest had a very cold winter last year when the turkeys
were supposed to be breeding,'' says Mary Pitman, who owns the farm
with her husband. ``So the turkeys didn't breed as much. And we
weren't able to get as many as we had hoped to get.''
In contrast, Heritage Foods USA, a seller of artisan foods and
rare-breed poultry and meat, has a surplus of heritage turkeys this
year after two large purchasers reneged on buying 2,000 birds. The
New York- and Michigan-based food company (which was the sales
branch of the Slow Food organization until becoming an independent
company last year), gets its heritage turkeys from six Kansas
farmers and ships them to customers across the nation. But
mail-order is more expensive. An 11- to 14-pound turkey from
is $139 including shipping.
The nation's appetite for heritage turkeys was primed four years
ago when Slow Food, a global organization dedicated to preserving
artisanal products, joined with the American Livestock Breeds
Conservancy, a non-profit group dedicated to protecting breeds of
farm animals from extinction, to work with farmers to try to save
four of the best-known old breeds of turkey before they vanished.
They are: the Bourbon Red from Bourbon County, Ky.; the
Narragansett from Rhode Island, the first American turkey breed to
be developed from ones brought from Europe and crossed with local
wild turkeys; the Jersey Buff from New Jersey; and the Standard
Bronze, the breed depicted in the classic Norman Rockwell painting
``Freedom From Want'' and the one Benjamin Franklin proposed as a
The Pitmans raise Narragansetts, which will be available at these
stores: Andronico's, Draeger's, Mollie Stone's, SaveMart, Shopper's
Corner in Santa Cruz, Berkeley Bowl in Berkeley and Golden Gate Meat
in San Francisco. Call or visit a store to reserve a heritage turkey
in advance. For a complete list of stores, go to
Pitman raises the turkeys and brings them to market when they are
6 to 7 months old, compared with 3 to 4 months old for a mass-market
turkey. Heritage turkeys have longer legs and less white meat, and
look much more aerodynamic in shape. They are sold fresh, not
frozen. And because the birds are leaner, most cooks like to brine
them at least a day before roasting to heighten their juiciness.
Because heritage turkeys are raised naturally, their sizes are
more unpredictable. The Pitmans expect this year's turkeys to be
smaller than usual. The ``small'' ones will be seven to 11 pounds;
the ``large'' ones will be 12 to 16 pounds.