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A Heritage Thanksgiving
Images of large, beautiful turkeys with colorful feathers and tail feathers are everywhere during the Thanksgiving holiday. For many of us, eating turkey with the family on this holiday is a time honored tradition and in some special way we feel closer to our parents. However, the turkeys that were often served for this holiday in the past were very different from what many eat today. In fact, if you’re under the age of 50, you probably haven’t even tasted one of these turkeys. Now called heritage turkeys, they are distant relatives of the common Broad-Breasted White breed of the company that is now sold in 99% of supermarkets and until recently was almost extinct.
Our modern commercial chickens became popular with poultry producers in the 1960s because of their high white meat content, which is preferred by many Americans. They were also loved for their white feathers that did not change their skin color. Unfortunately, in order to promote the development of animals, their bodies and their size have been modified so that many of them are full of additives and antibiotics. Now she has unnaturally large breasts, short breastbones and short legs. Most of them are so big that their legs cannot support their weight and they cannot walk. They have to be bred using artificial breeding because they can no longer reproduce naturally. So, basically, these birds stay in one place and eat until they reach market weight so that we can enjoy their tender meat.
Instead, heritage turkeys are raised to eat fresh grass and insects. They walk, fly, breed, raise their own chicks and even help solve problems faced by farmers. They are appreciated for their taste, texture and beautiful feathers. Common types of turkeys are Standard Bronze, Bourbon Red, Jersey Buff, Slate, Black Spanish, Narragansett and White Holland. Raising heritage turkeys is time-consuming and expensive, but it preserves genetic diversity and preserves the traditional American culture that dates back to the early years of English settlement. According to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, turkeys must meet the following criteria to qualify as a heritage turkey:
1. Natural breeding: should be multiplied and maintained naturally through natural breeding, with a fertility rate of 70-80%. This means that turkeys that are sold as “heirloom” must be the result of natural breeding of grandparent pairs.
2. Long life outside: it should have a long life. Breeding hens breed for 5-7 years and toms breed for 3-5 years. They must also have the genetic ability to withstand the environmental challenges of outdoor production systems.
3. Slow growth: should have slow to slow growth. Today’s heritage turkeys weigh commercial at about 28 weeks, giving the birds time to have a strong skeletal system and healthy organs before they begin to build muscle mass. This development is similar to that of the commercial models of the early 1900s.
Raising turkeys this way is not only humane, but also results in a very tasty bird. There are four factors that affect the taste of an animal – the taste of the animal, its age, how it was raised and what it eats. Older meats have more flavor than young ones and the breed turkeys are allowed to grow more slowly, about twice as long, than the commercial Broad-Breasted White. The more the animal moves around, the more interesting it is. Apparently, turkeys raised on pasture get more exercise than turkeys raised indoors. Pigs that eat green grass, plants, and insects have a deeper taste than birds that are fed grain.
In addition to great flavor, roasting a turkey to perfection is easier than overcooking it. Since they have small breasts there is a good balance between black and white meat so that white meat cooks faster than black meat and there is no need to cover the breast with foil to prevent it from drying out when other birds are cooking. . If the breast is covered during roasting, it should be done with greaseproof paper, not foil, which is removed 30 minutes before the turkey is done roasting. Heritage turkeys are lean and small so cooking them quickly over high heat is a better option than slow roasting them all day. They should be cooked at 425-450 degrees until the internal temperature reaches 140-150 degrees. Remember not to let the tip of the thermometer touch the bone. (Note: This is different from the USDA recommendation of 160F-180F, but this temperature will dry out heritage meat. Cooking time will not allow the stuffing to cook properly so cook it first and put it inside the turkey before roasting. Alternatively, you can try adding a piece of sliced fruit. like an orange or apple inside the turkey instead of stuffing. You can also try adding butter or oil under the skin of the breast to add flavor and moisture while roasting. As always, bring the bird to room temperature before cooking and make sure to rest for 10 minutes -15 before carving.
Thanks to the efforts of organizations such as the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy and Slow Food USA, native turkeys are on the rise, but by the late 1990s they were on the verge of extinction. They realized that we have to eat them to survive because the more we eat, the more they multiply. By continuing to eat heritage turkeys and helping breeders, the quality of the birds will improve.
Instead of injecting or deep frying commercial white meat to add flavor, why not enjoy a delicious and moist turkey? Splurge once a year and make your Thanksgiving special. It will take some planning on your part if you want to try heritage turkey as it is not always available. It may be too late to buy this year’s Thanksgiving as farmers usually need to know by February, but now is a good time to look at options for 2009.
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