Happy Turkey Week, Mama Azul on the plum tree, November 2007, photo © by Jana L’Esperance (blueskydesert). All rights reserved.
Last Saturday my friend Jana L’Esperance, who goes by the Flickr moniker blueskydesert, came to the house to shoot the turkeys. “What’s she gonna shoot ‘em with,” Jim asked, “…her huntin’ rifle?”
We — Jim and I — had reached the end of our rope as far as the turkeys were concerned. Much as we tried to keep them in the orchards, the turkeys insisted on spending most their time on the back patio, where they could watch us through the sliding glass door or have us watch them perform their amazing tricks. “Check your shoes for turkey poop,” had become our most frequently uttered sentence.
Then one evening a few days ago, we saw a news story about Frank Reese Jr., the turkey farmer responsible for saving heritage turkeys — the breeds raised for Thanksgiving Day since 1850 — from extinction.
Today’s commercial turkey has been genetically modified to get so fat in such a short period of time, the bird can hardly stand on its feet. It’s raised in confined spaces inside buildings, and it tastes nothing like bourbon reds, blacks, or any of the other breeds Reese Jr. raises.
Commercial turkeys produce more white meat than heritage turkeys. According to Reese Jr., most people today don’t know how real turkey tastes. The heritage turkey — that is, the real and original turkey — has darker, juicier meat than the Butterball that usually shows up on Thanksgiving tables.
Well, the girls won’t have anything to do with our newfound interest in our, yep, heritage turkeys, so we’ve struck a compromise. We’ll keep the two mamas and one tom. That way we can have more turklets next year, now that we know more about what we’re doing.
A friend, Trish, who is the kind of woman you could drop into the wilds anywhere and she’d survive, is going to slaughter two turkeys for her family, and in the process she’ll teach Jim how to do it. He’ll slaughter two for our Christmas dinner. The rest we’re selling, and we’re not being picky about who buys them.
So far, one local guy bought three bourbon red toms. He raises turkeys for pets; actually looked at me askew when I told him I’d heard they were excellent eating. Said he’s had turkeys since he was a boy — he looked to be about 50 — and he told us we could come visit them any time we wanted. We know where he lives; seeing his heritage turkeys is what interested us in getting our own in the first place.
And, we managed, thanks to Jana’s visit, to get our entire flock back into the pen. So, this Thanksgiving Day morning, all is peaceful.
We’re up and getting ready to spend the day with Jim’s family. We’ll be eating a commercial turkey, but until we’ve tasted better, we’ll think it’s the best food we’ve ever had. Our turkeys will spend the day free, so to speak. No, they’re not out picking apples off the ground at their leisure, but they’re alive on a beautiful Thanksgiving Day morning, and I don’t think they could ask for much more than that.
Thank you, Jana, for “shooting” these gorgeous pictures of our birds. No matter what becomes of them, we can look back and admire their beauty.
Two bourbon red toms posing (both since sold), November 2007, photo © by Jana L’Esperance (blueskydesert). All rights reserved.
Mama Eagle Eye on the flagstone near the pond, November 2007,
photo © by Jana L’Esperance (blueskydesert). All rights reserved.
Follow the Leader, baby following Mama Azul, November 2007, photo © by Jana L’Esperance (blueskydesert). All rights reserved.