April. That’s how long Thanksgiving has been on my mind this year. That’s the month we asked Idle River Farms of Burlington, MI, to raise our first crop of heritage turkeys. Taking up to 2 1/2 months longer to bring to harvest than conventional turkeys, our order was placed at the 11th hour.

Ever since then, Matt & Kristal Burdick who run Idle River have been passing along images of the turkeys’ progress. From poults in May to the images that arrived today, I have been moved by these photographs–so pastoral in nature. They speak of life and, moreover, a quality of life which translates into quality of meat. The images remind me of a conversation with Mary Wills and Jill Johnson of Crane Dance Farm who run an animal welfare approved operation in Middleville, MI. Of their livestock they observed that they enjoy hundreds of good days and one bad day, while animals which are the product of the conventional meat industry have hundreds of bad days and one good day. For both, that day is harvest day.

The appointed time for the Narragansett and Bourbon Red turkeys you see pictured below is November 18. It’s a sobering thought and one that instills, paradoxically, a reverence for life and a sense of gratitude. It’s this piety that was so acute in the Native American peoples that came to know and give thanks with the earliest American colonists, and I like to think it was the Narragansett turkey that graced their tables on that first Thanksgiving.

On pasture late this summer

On pasture late this summer

A turkey appears to be investigating the plant life

A turkey appears to be investigating the plant life

Allowed to roam in the fields, the turkey eat all sorts of vegetation

Allowed to roam in the fields, the turkey eat all sorts of vegetation

To place your Thanksgiving order (and to enjoy 10% off through the end of September) visit the turkey product pages by clicking here.





This recipe is unbeatable: my mother’s hot, spiced apple cider was always associated with cool Fall nights but especially Halloween night. She brewed it in an antique coffee maker that moaned like a ghost, and the aromatics filled the house with cinnamon, clove, and allspice. This cider benefits from extended brewing times.

The Ingredients

1 gallon apple cider

1/4 C. honey

1 cinnamon stick

1 t. allspice

1 t. cloves

The Preparation

1. Place apple cider in a crock pot or large pot on the stove. Heat on high if using a crock pot or a medium heat in on the stove.

2. Add cinnamon stick, allspice, and cloves.

3. Once the cider has become hot, stir in the honey and reduce crock pot to low. If on the stove top, reduce heat to a very low setting and partially cover: the liquid should continue to steam but not simmer.

4. Allow cider to brew at least an hour, but longer is better.

5. Serve hot.

Here in the clove of the seasons, one day feels like Summer and the next like Fall. That’s certainly been our experience in Michigan this week. One part pumpkin pie and one part ice cream shake, try this pumpkin shake recipe for these in-between times…

The Ingredients

2 scoops vanilla ice cream (1 1/4 – 1 1/2 C.)

1/2 C. milk (the creamier, the better)

1/8 C. pumpkin puree

1 t. sugar

1/4 t. vanilla

1/8 t. ground cinnamon + extra for garnish

1/8 t. ground cloves

1/8 t. ground ginger

pinch salt

whipped cream (optional)

The Preparation

1. Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth

2. Top with whipped cream and garnish with cinnamon

Serves 1

NOTE: The cinnamon, cloves, and ginger may be replaced with pumpkin pie spice.

“…when the last individual of a race of living beings breathes no more, another heaven and another earth must pass before such a one can be again.”

William Beebe, American Naturalist and Explorer

1,335. That’s the number of Heritage Turkeys that remained in the United States in 1997, a number dangerously close to extinction. The Heritage Turkey, indigenous to North and South America, is the bird that our fore-bearers served on the Thanksgiving table, and is part of our American cultural treasury–every bit as iconic as George Washington, the Redwood Forests, and the Liberty Bell. But how did we come so close to losing this national treasure?

For the better part of America’s 225+ year history, turkeys were raised in range environments: breeds like the Narragansett, Royal Palm, and Bourbon Red. Between 1920 – 1950, however, a new breed (the Broad Breasted Bronze) was developed to meet a demand for greater breast widths and bigger birds, a breed which began to dominate the marketplace and displace the heritage breeds. From the 1960s on, a new breed eclipsed the Broad Breasted Bronze in popularity: the Large or Broad Breasted White Turkey, desirable because it lacked the black pin feathers which were a feature of other birds. The modern turkey industry has gotten increasingly better at developing these commercial breeds to yield maximum amounts of meat from low feed inputs, thus driving down the cost of the Thanksgiving Turkey to between $1 to $2 per pound. One of the costs of this advance, however, is that the modern Broad Breasted Bronze and Large or Broad Breasted White Turkeys cannot reproduce naturally; all require artificial insemination.

10,404. That’s the number of heritage turkeys in 2006, and their numbers are on the rise every year. Unlike their modern counterparts, heritage turkeys mate naturally, can fly and stand on their own two feet. Their slower growth rates–about 28 weeks opposed to as little as the 18 weeks of modern turkey production–means meat whose flavor has had time to develop and mature. Age imparts flavor, and those who’ve tried heritage turkey note the superior taste that comes from America’s culinary past.

Author’s Note

Pre-sales of heritage turkeys from Duba & Co. begin this week. Not only do they meet all of the requirements of The Livestock Conservancy, they are GMO-free and have spent much of their time on pasture. They are raised by Idle River Farms in Burlington, Michigan.