Saturday, November 21, 2009

Our 2009 Heritage Thanksgiving Turkey from Nature's Harmony Farm

Toms Struttin'

Earlier today we drove to Elberton, Georgia for another visit to Nature's Harmony Farm. Tim & Liz Young hosted turkey buyers from around the southeast for their second annual Turkey Harvest Day on the farm. As always it was great to see Tim, Liz and all the animals they have there.

We began with our electric alarm clock going off at about 7:00 am as opposed to the call and response of the farm's roosters at 4:30 am like last month. When we arrived after our 2 hour drive from Roswell, the Young's had music, cider, farm tours, and of course the guest of honor: heritage breed turkey. We picked out a 14.2 pounder which should be more than enough for the people we're feeding this year. Below are some pictures from our farm tour.

Toms & Hens

Now, why buy a heritage breed turkey versus a regular super market turkey? There is plenty of information out there on heritage breeds versus broad breasted white turkeys, but I think this New York Times article "About A Bird" from 2003 is a very good read. Please take the time to read it if you have not before; it will make you think twice about buying that supermarket turkey next year.

Aside from the ethical reasons, I think heritage breed turkeys simply taste better. I like to cook and whenever possible I seek out ingredients that are of the highest quality, especially for occasions like Thanksgiving. The meats from Nature's Harmony Farm certainly fulfill my needs. The turkeys, and all the animals at the farm, are pasture raised on grass where they are free to run around, scratch at the ground, and live a life that mimics nature as closely as possible.

For those of you who did buy a heritage breed turkey and now you're wondering how to cook it... be aware that these turkeys cook FAST. Last year we had a 13 pound turkey and it was in and out of the oven in about 1 hour and 15 minutes with an oven temperature of about 450F degrees. These birds are built very differently than a broad breasted white: the breast is much taller and elongated, and the legs and thighs are much bigger. That's what happens when a bird runs around on the farm as opposed to being cooped up in a poultry house. We followed this recipe which is similar (if not exactly the same) to the one Tim gave us when we picked up our turkey last year. Part of the reason that the turkeys are done sooner is because they are done at a lower temperature - or at least what is perceived as a lower temperature. I removed our bird from the oven when the thigh meat registered 150F degrees, and it probably should have come out at about 145F. While this might sound low, you have to take carry-over cooking into account which will take the bird into the 160+F degrees range. And, if you follow the USDA guidelines on cooking turkey you should only cook your standard grocery store bird to 165F degrees - not too much difference. The days of cooking turkey to 180F degrees are over, and whatever you do, DO NOT EVER use the plastic pop-up timer to determine the turkey's doneness. Your best tool for keeping track of the turkey's temperature is a probe thermometer.

So while it might be a little late to seek out a heritage breed turkey for this Thanksgiving (Nature's Harmony takes deposits and sold out months ago) keep an eye out for next year, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with the taste and you just might feel a little better about what's on you plate.

Mom & Piglets seen on the tour.

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