2011 Guide to Local and Heritage Turkeys

By Analiese Paik

The Slate or Blue Slate variety was formally recognized in 1874 by the American Poultry Association and is growing in popularity according to the Slow Food USA Ark of Taste. Photo c/o Slow Food USA

See our updated 2013 guide.

Thanksgiving is just weeks away and plans for creating delicious and memorable family feasts are in full swing.  Apples, pumpkins, winter squash, quince, chestnuts, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, turkeys and just about anything else you’d need for this harvest celebration are available locally. While buying pasture-raised turkeys from local farms as well as Heritage breed turkeys has gotten easier, some advance planning is still required. Since these turkeys are highly coveted and in short supply, my best advice is to consult this guide and place your order immediately.

The following guide lists all know sources for locally grown and Heritage breed turkeys in Fairfield County that we were able to reach at publication time. I compile the guide each year to make it easier for you to find and order the bird of your choice. While Heritage birds are considerably more expensive than broad-breasted whites, the once-yearly splurge is worth it when guests tell you it’s the most flavorful turkey they’ve ever tasted.

Turkey Cooking Advice

Turkeys are tricky to cook because the breast meat is always cooked through before the thighs are. Every chef I have spoken to advises removing the thighs and roasting them longer than the rest of the turkey to avoid overcooking the breast. There’s no undoing overdone! So whether you cut off the legs before or after roasting, cook low and slow at 325 degrees, and take the turkey out of the oven when it reaches 150 degrees. Let it rest tented in foil and the temperature should gradually rise by 10 degrees or more. If any juices are not running clear as you begin to carve the bird, return the pieces to the oven until they do. Note: Always take the temperature of the stuffing to make sure it’s reached 165 degrees when removing the turkey from the oven. If it has not, remove the stuffing from the cavity and spoon it into a casserole, then bake it until it reaches 165. I prefer cooking the stuffing as a side dish that even my vegetarian relatives can enjoy and filling the cavity with aromatics instead.

A Word about Heritage Turkeys

According to Slow Food USA's Ark of Taste, the Black turkey originated in Europe as a direct descendant of the Mexican turkeys brought back by explorers in the 1500s. The turkey made the voyage back to the Americas with early European colonists where it was crossed with Eastern wild turkeys to create the Black. Photo c/o Slow Food USA.

Almost all the turkeys grown in the US are broad-breasted whites, an industrial breed created with the singular goal of producing a bird with more white meat that matures as quickly as possible. Although these birds don’t taste like much when grown in confinement on commercial farms, they have become so popular that other breeds of turkeys nearly became extinct. Less than 10 years ago, a concerted effort was made to save these endangered Heritage breeds by convincing consumers to buy them from the few farmers that were still raising them.

Not only are Heritage turkeys richer and more flavorful, they’re part of our cultural and culinary patrimony. These are the turkeys that generations before us ate before broad-breasted whites became ubiquitous. Heritage turkeys bear a close resemblance to their wild ancestors, so expect long and lean-looking birds with a lot of dark meat. Heritage birds are raised on pasture on small sustainable farms, allowed to roam freely and forage, are supplemented with organic feed, and take twice as long as broad-breasted whites to mature. The price tag will reflect these additional costs. Note: You won’t typically find Heritage turkeys weighing more than 24 or so pounds.

The Naragansett is named for Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island where it was first developed by early colonists who crossed Eastern Wild turkeys with domesticated European turkeys (that were originally brought to Europe from Mexico) according to Slow Food USA. photo c/o Slow Food USA

I’m happy to report that the efforts of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy and Slow Food to return Heritage turkey breeds to their rightful place on our dining tables have been successful and it’s now easier than ever to purchase one of these special turkeys for your Thanksgiving celebration. The following Heritage turkey varieties are cataloged in Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste and some are recognized as either “threatened” or “endangered”. It may sound strange, but the only way to save them is to eat them. This year’s demand for these rare turkeys will influence next year’s decisions by breeders and farmers about raising them.

  • American Bronze
  • Black, also referred to as Norfolk Black and Black Spanish
  • Bourbon Red
  • Jersey Buff
  • Midget White
  • Narragansett
  • Royal Palm
  • Slate or Blue Slate

Where to buy a local or Heritage turkey

Please read through the entire list before making your first and second choice selections. Pasture-raised turkeys from CT, NY, PA and VT plus a few options for Heritage breeds are available, but only in limited quantities.

Ekonk Hill Turkey Farm in Moosup is the largest grower of free-range, pasture-raised turkeys in the state and this year their turkeys are available for home delivery through CT Farm Fresh Express CTFEE (see more below) and at retail from Saugatuck Craft Butchery (see more below). While the breed is Broad-Breasted White, they taste nothing like supermarket turkeys from industrial farms. These turkeys are raised on pasture where they forage for bugs and insects and are raised without antibiotics and hormones. For anyone accustomed to eating store-bought turkeys, these are an excellent step up and a vote for local food!

Saugatuck Craft Butchery in Westport is offering three different types of turkeys and will take orders as soon as their doors open (any day now!) starting Saturday, Nov. 5 at 11 am when they open for the first time. Their Grand Opening will take place on November 19. Ekonk Hill Turkey Farm’s Broad-Breasted Whites are raised on open green pasture with free access to feed and shelter and full access to green grass, sunshine and fresh air. The turkeys are processed humanely right on the farm in a State Inspected facility by the farmers who raised and cared for them, treating them with kindness and respect throughout the process. The birds are raised naturally, meaning without growth stimulants or hormones. No additives or preservatives are added during processing. The turkeys come to you exactly as mother nature intended. Sizes and pricing TBA.

Owner Ryan Fibiger explained that the shop is making an exception to their local sourcing credo to offer something truly special this holiday season. “We’ve been incredibly fortunate to have a relationship with Bill and Nicolette Niman, true pioneers in sustainable farming and raising animals according to the principals on which we built Craft Butchery. Bill and his new company, BN Ranch, are raising some of the most unique and sought after birds in the country from the bloodlines of some of the original Heritage breeds. We have sourced a small number of these birds for a few lucky customers.”  According to BN Ranch, their Heritage turkeys are direct descendants of five distinct old breeds (Standard Bronze, Narragansett, Bourbon Red, White Holland, and Spanish Black) from Frank Reese’s Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch in Lindsborg, Kansas. Frank Reese is a renowned breeder of American Poultry Association (APA) approved breeds and is recognized as a crusader in the movement to conserve Heritage turkeys. His turkeys, and those of farmers associated with his ranch, are otherwise only available to our market through Heritage Food USA, which ships turkeys via FedEx Overnight. On the Niman’s ranch the breeding flock is allowed to roam freely on grassy pastures most of the year, grazing and foraging to supplement their all-natural grain and soy vegetarian diet. They are never fed antibiotics or other chemicals to promote growth or replace good animal husbandry. Sizes and pricing TBA. Broad-Breasted Whites from BN Ranch are also available.

Connecticut Farm Fresh Express (CTFFE), an online seller of exclusively CT Grown foods, is selling fresh, Broad-Breasted white turkeys from Ekonk Hill Turkey Farm for home delivery by their drivers for $4.50 per pound. Ekonk’s turkeys are raised on pasture without growth stimulants or hormones. The majority of their diet has been grass and bugs; they are grain fed as a supplement only. To reserve your turkey, download, complete and mail this form with a $20 deposit to CTFFE. Home deliveries will be scheduled for Nov. 21 or 22.

John Boy’s Farm in Cambridge, NY, a “beyond organic” grower of vegetables, poultry and livestock, is offering something new this year: free-range, Broad-Breasted Bronze turkeys. They’re “a cross between the Broad-Breasted White and American Bronze varieties which have the characteristics of both the large breast and the heritage flavor” according to John Boy. These turkeys are GMO-free and are only supplemented with feed grow organically on the farm. Choose from 14-28 pounds at $5.50 per pound for pick up only. To place a turkey order, email johnboysmarket@aol.com right away with the weight and where you want to pick it up.  Pick up options are: Nov. 20 at Muscoot, Pound Ridge or White Plains during farmers’ market hours and Tues. Nov. 22 at Erica’s Kitchen in Bedford from 3-8 p.m. Note: Your turkey is not confirmed without location.

Concierge Foods of Bedford Hills, NY, an online seller of farm-fresh and sustainable foods, is offering two different turkeys this year. Fresh, free-range, Broad-Breasted Bronze turkeys from John Boy’s Farm in Cambridge, NY are “a cross between the Broad-Breasted White and American Bronze varieties which have the characteristics of both the large breast and the heritage flavor” according to John Boy. These turkeys are GMO-free and are only supplemented with feed grow organically on the farm. Choose from 14-28 pounds at $6.50 per pound. Also available are two heritage varieties, Bourbon Red and Narraganset, from Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative of Lancaster, PA for $5.75 per pound up to 22 pounds in size. These birds are grown on small, sustainable family farms where they are free to roam and forage. Turkeys are delivered fresh to your door up until the day before Thanksgiving. To place an order, contact chef/owner Marc Alvarez with the variety, weight and preferred delivery date at 914-241-9200 or marc@conciergefoods.com. Concierge Foods currently serves Stamford and Greenwich communities.

Mike’s Organic Delivery is selling pasture-raised, Broad-Breasted White turkeys from Hemlock Hill Farm, one of the oldest working family farms in Westchester County, New York. The DeMaria Family raises their turkeys without the use of antibiotics or hormones and feed them natural, locally-grown grains. These birds are free to scratch in the fields and get plenty of sunshine. Size options are: 12-15 lbs, 15-18 lbs, 18-21 lbs, and 21-24 lbs. The smallest size runs about $115 and the largest size is about $175. Fresh (not frozen) turkeys must be ordered by Friday, November 18 for home delivery. Cooking instructions are included. Mike’s Organic Delivery currently serves most of southern Fairfield County, from Greenwich up to Rowayton. Delivery dates are Tuesday, November 22 or Wednesday, November 23, depending on location. All orders must be placed online via the website.

Graze, a specialty provider of Vermont artisanal and farm-fresh foods, is selling fresh, free-range turkeys from Misty Knoll Farms. Ten percent of the proceeds from the sale of these turkeys goes to support Westport’s Wakeman Town Farm, an organic demonstration homestead open to the public. When you order, please use the code WAKEMANTURKEY to activate the promotion. Misty Knoll Farms’ free-range, Broad-Breasted White turkeys are raised on the farm’s lush Vermont meadows, where they are afforded a natural, stress-free environment, a wholesome, all-natural diet and plenty of access to lush pasture, sunshine and fresh water. There are never any pesticides, hormones or antibiotics used to raise these happy birds.  Graze will deliver FREE to your door throughout Fairfield County on Monday, Nov. 21. Email or call 1-888-WE GRAZE to reserve your turkey. Or, place your entire Thanksgiving order online at Graze.

Sport Hill Farm in Easton is selling fresh, pasture-raised, Broad-Breasted Whites from an Amish farm in Pennsylvania. Choose from Naturally raised and Certified Organic turkeys from 12-14 pounds up to 28-30 pounds. Naturally raised turkeys are $3.10 lb.,  certified organic are $4.29 lb., and both need to be ordered by November 10. To place an order e-mail farmer Patti Popp at farmgal596@yahoo.com or stop by the farm on 596 Sport Hill Road. Patti will e-mail buyers when the turkeys have arrived to arrange pick-up at the farm the weekend before Thanksgiving.

Greyledge Farm in Roxbury, well-known for their high quality, grass fed beef and pastured pork and chicken, usually sells fresh (not frozen) pasture-raised, Broad-Breasted White turkeys for pick up at local farmers’ markets. Please direct inquiries to 860-350-3203 or email the farm at inquiries@greyledgefarm.com or in person with Greyledge at the Westport and Darien farmers’ markets. No information was made available to  us by publication time.

If you are unable to source a Heritage turkey locally, visit Heritage Foods USA online to place an order for direct shipment to your home. At publication time, only 8-14 pound turkeys were still available.

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