“…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.

For those who frequent the farmers’ market in Michigan, one becomes aware of the seasonality of produce: rhubarb, morels, and asparagus in Spring; cherries, squash, and tomatoes in Summer; apples, pumpkins, and parsnips in Autumn. What we may not realize is that there’s also a seasonality to meat. This is the first in a series of posts which will focus on the meat seasons. There’s a reason why the turkey is associated with Thanksgiving and the goose with Christmas. This week’s focus is goat, best harvested in the first part of Autumn.

Goat is at one and the same time the world’s most popular meat and arguably the most under-consumed meat in the United States (okay, maybe the most under-consumed meat is kangaroo which I’ve heard is very good from a friend of a friend who lived among the Aussies). Goat meat, bearing a close resemblance in flavor to that of lamb, has a highly desirable taste. And the reason why it begs to be eaten in the Fall has everything to do with the animal’s natural breeding cycle and milk production. Goats mate in the Fall, give birth in the Spring, and by the next Fall the male goats—which will not be used in milk production—are ripe for the harvest. Otherwise their flesh gets too tough and (some consider) too “gamey” as they age.

If you enjoy the taste of lamb and are looking to expand your horizons, I’d encourage you to just “Goat for It!”. One place to start is by contacting Hickory Knoll Farms out in Onondaga, MI. They have a presence at Grand Rapids’ Fulton Street Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings where they sell goat cheese. From time to time they’re able to provide call-ahead customers with goat meat. And while at the market picking up goat meat, don’t forget your parsnips and pumpkins.


For those looking for the flavor of a Colonial American Thanksgiving, a heritage turkey is the answer. The following news story aired in Virginia and highlights the uniqueness of the quintessential American meat…

Happy Thanksgiving!

November has rolled in (and quite beautifully, I might add). Trees have turned to brown and auburn, a couple days of relatively warm weather allowed for biking along Michigan’s trails, and–every now and then–the scent of pine or a wood fire tinges the air. Thanksgiving approaches which showcases that uniquely American meat, the turkey. Recently, I spoke with the nation’s foremost pioneer of heritage meats, Frank Reese of Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch. Not only did he introduce the United States to the term “heritage meats”, he’s helped define what constitutes an authentic “heritage” turkey.

Mr. Reese’s efforts to revive the turkey of our fore-bearers–with all its historic flavor and the traditional farming methods that produce that flavor–have been much celebrated in popular media, from USA Today to the Martha Steward Show. The following article, which appeared in the former publication ten years ago yesterday, does a beautiful job of describing the uniqueness of heritage turkey. Following the article, information is included on how one can obtain one of Frank Reese’s birds for the Thanksgiving table as well as links that may be of further interest.

Heritage Turkeys Bring That Old Taste Home

Jerry Shriver, USA TODAY, November 6, 2003

“LINDSBORG, Kan. — Those who say that a boy and his dog represent the purest expression of loyalty haven’t witnessed the bond between a man and his turkeys.

Frank Reese Jr. has been known to massage the stuffy sinuses of his gobblers and help them, in effect, blow their beaks. ‘It’s pretty gross,’ he says, needlessly.

He gives names to a few prizewinners in his flock of 3,000, and one called Charlie received a proper burial beneath a statue of St. Francis in the yard of his Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch.

But all of that is just poultry feed compared to Reese’s most heroic endeavor: He is a leader of a growing movement to save from extinction the magnificently hued, flavorful turkey varieties our forefathers enjoyed. Along with diversifying the turkey gene pool, Reese wants to help restore a lost slice of tradition to the American dinner table.

With environmental activists, cultural historians, cutting-edge cooks and even Martha Stewart aiding the cause, he and his brethren just might succeed. Heading into the holidays, ‘heritage turkeys’ are becoming increasingly available through mail order, upscale restaurants, farmers’ markets and specialty stores.

‘We’re trying to preserve not just the birds but also the heritage of turkey farming,’ says Reese, 50, who descends from four generations of livestock breeders.

He and about 30 other small-scale breeders and hatcheries have seen that heritage usurped by the forces of agribusiness since the end of World War II. Today, turkey production is controlled by a handful of giant companies, and the only birds that matter commercially are those of a single variety — the 269 million genetically engineered Broadbreasted Whites that Americans will devour this year.

From roughly the time of the Pilgrims up through the 1950s, however, the domesticated poultry population was far more diverse. A robust variety called the Standard Bronze, a descendant of the American wild turkey and domesticated European varieties, gave birth to offshoots such as Bourbon Reds, Jersey Buffs, Slates, Black Spanish, Royal Palms, Narragansetts and White Hollands. The birds were prized for their beautiful colors and feather patterns and strutted proudly upright and flew awkwardly across the feedlots of small farms. One of them appeared in roasted form in Norman Rockwell’s now-iconic Freedom From Want painting.

But after World War II, consumers stopped wanting what are now called ‘heritage varieties.’ The age of mass production had arrived, and the turkey industry developed techniques to quickly and inexpensively produce birds with abnormally plump breasts.

These birds reach slaughter weight in 10 to 16 weeks, compared with almost twice that long for heritage breeds. Raised in temperature-controlled barns, most commercial birds never see the light of day and have lost the ability to fly or reproduce. (They’re artificially inseminated.)

These production techniques affect flavor as well. Because the commercial birds’ diet is carefully controlled, they achieve a consistent taste that pleases the masses but is often derided by gourmands as bland. The older varieties, which scratched for bugs, worms and grass to supplement their feed, exercised their muscles and put on layers of fat when the weather turned cold, resulting in meat with a firm texture and rich flavors.

But science has created low-cost, perfect-looking birds, and the public loves them.

‘I’m not down on (mass producers) at all,’ Reese says. ‘They are meeting a demand. The science is pretty phenomenal.’

So is the pricing. Because heritage producers operate on a comparatively small scale, and some hand-feed their flocks expensive organic meal, they have to charge $4 to $6 a pound. Commercial producers can charge $1 a pound or less.

That economy of scale allowed mass producers to become so efficient that all other varieties became commercially obsolete within a generation. By 1997, only 1,335 breeding birds were left, according to a study by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, a non-profit preservation group. Eight heritage varieties were put on the ALBC’s ‘critical’ list, meaning fewer than 500 breeding birds existed in North America.

Even more worrisome, the study showed that fewer than 20 hatcheries and serious breeders were keeping the flame, along with an unknown number of hobbyists. Serious breeders such as Reese and Michael Walters of Stilwell, Okla., try to create flocks that conform to precise standards of appearance and form set in the 1870s. But like all small-scale farmers, they’re limited by time, space and money, especially given the almost-microscopic market for their product.

Two years ago, however, the tide began shifting. A group called Slow Food USA, whose mission is to preserve endangered aspects of food culture, took note of the heritage breeds and launched a project to generate publicity, encourage farmers to raise the varieties and link them up with consumers.

We decided that turkeys, more than any other food product, had suffered a loss in taste, so we decided to try to create markets for turkeys the way they used to be and should be,’ Slow Food USA director Patrick Martins says.

Then New York Times food writer Marian Burros, in an article detailing her search for the country’s best-tasting turkey, chose a Bourbon Red as her favorite and mentioned the Slow Food project, creating a food-world buzz.

Last year, Slow Food contacted about 30 farmers, including Reese and Walters, and agreed to make their birds available to Slow Food members and other interested consumers. They sold about 1,000 birds by mail order and 4,000 more through local markets last fall. A handful of restaurants began serving them for Thanksgiving and will do so again this year.

‘The project worked,’ Martins says. ‘People didn’t need much convincing. They were going to eat turkey anyway, so why not order one their ancestors ate?’

This year, Slow Food hopes to sell about 1,500 birds by mail and 8,500 through local markets. The farmers who supplied them last year are creating their own local consumer bases by appealing to food lovers, health-food fans and others with an interest in sustainable agriculture. And a few national mail-order sources, including Dean & DeLuca and D’Artagnan, now carry the birds.

‘My whole reason for doing this is to help find a niche in the market again, because I think these birds have a right to stay on this earth,’ Reese says, who works full time as a nurse anesthetist. He’ll never be able to easily compete, but for him, that’s beside the point: ‘The Standard Bronze turkey was the Thanksgiving turkey of America for almost 150 years.’

Says Walters, ‘People are becoming more aware of what they eat, and that interest will continue to grow.’ Three years ago, he sold about 40 heritage birds, mostly to locals, and processed them himself. But now that word has spread, his Walters Hatchery operation is incorporated and made about 1,000 birds available nationally for the holidays. He maintains a breeding flock of 300 and is confident there is enough profit potential to allow the company to grow.

The idea has caught on in smaller ways, as well, with people ordering a few eggs and raising some varieties in their backyards. Among them is novelist Barbara Kingsolver, author of the best-selling The Poisonwood Bible. She raised five Bourbon Reds last year and plans to do so next year at her new home.

‘It felt like a calling,’ she says. ‘We fed our turkeys as well as we fed our children. Fed them organic grain, allowed them to range.’

When the birds were slaughtered for the holidays, ‘we had a lot of guests over, and everyone found an amazing difference in taste. The meat was better than any they’d tasted before.’

The momentum is building: Producers of Martha Stewart’s syndicated TV show ordered Reese’s turkeys for segments to run Tuesday and Nov. 21 (in most markets; check local listings). Neiman Marcus says it’s considering offering heritage birds. And a recent census by the ALBC showed 4,275 breeding birds are in the USA, a threefold increase over 1997.

In addition to preserving a slice of Americana and providing new thrills for foodies, larger issues are at stake, namely the lack of genetic diversity in the American turkey supply. ‘Any time you rely on one gene pool for anything, the future for that product is precarious,’ Martins says. ‘A perfect example is the potato famine in Ireland. If there had been a wider genetic pool of potatoes, there would have been more chance of having a variety that was resistant to the disease that wiped out the crop.’

ALBC researcher Marjorie Bender says a corner has been turned: The Bourbon Red is off the ‘critical’ list. But she cautions that because there are still so few breeders with significant flocks, a coyote attack or a tornado could wipe out years of progress.

‘We’re not out of the woods,’ Bender says. ‘For us, success means getting all of these birds into the recovery category. Success to me does not necessarily mean getting all these birds in top grocery stores because we then replay the current scene of production models. Patience is important.’

As Reese prepares to send about 1,600 birds to an Ohio processing plant to fill holiday orders, he’s still worried about the future but content that he has done right by his flock. ‘I’m happy knowing that my birds got to run and be free and have sex and scratch for worms and at least have some life on earth.’

And for that, in their way, the birds give thanks.”


2013 Turkeys are available, while supplies last, and may be ordered from Heritage Foods USA.


Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch

Is a Heritage Turkey Worth It?

Heritage Turkey Breeds

The boyhood Halloween experience continues to haunt me after all these years. Those activities I’ve grown up with in the month of October have now become traditions: strolls through cemeteries lined by wrought iron fences; toasted pumpkin seeds harvested during the carving of grim aspects in flesh of the large orange gourds; and the reading of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving’s 1820 tale about a bewitched borough in upstate New York–circa the 1790s–that harbors the ghost of a headless horseman. I submit that this classic example of early American literature does for Halloween what Dickens’ A Christmas Carol does for Christmas. But how? And why? The thoughts that follow are a first attempt at understanding the nature of the spell cast by this literary work.

For starters, there’s the nostalgia of the piece. It takes us back into rural, agrarian Colonial America–into upstate New York and the Hudson River Valley. Nestled amongst the rolling hills lays a quiet town (Tarry Town) containing those iconic fixtures of early American life: the baker, the alehouse, a one-room school house presided over by a schoolmaster, the village church with adjacent cemetery, and farmsteads.  Recreation and social life centered around beer, church, hunting, and agriculture. There are the “Sleepy Hollow Boys,” led by Brom Bones, who add just the right touch of revelry and mischief to town life.

This tale, moreover, is highly atmospheric. In fact, the setting itself exerts over the reader the same dream-like quality it casts over the inhabitants of Tarry Town. In Greek mythology, the line between the material and spiritual realms are intertwined, blurred even. Nymphs and faeries make their home in the woodlands and seas. The same quality is found in this literary work where the setting itself becomes, as it were, a character in the story: “A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere. Some say that the place was bewitched by a high German doctor…Certain it is, the place still continues under the sway of some witching power, that holds a spell over the minds of the good people, causing them to walk in a continual reverie.”

The climax of the old tale comes on Halloween night (that is tonight), the night–as legend has it–the spirits are most active. It was the ghostly tales told during a rich farmer’s annual frolic that set the stage for the climax of the story, an encounter with the most fearsome specter of Sleepy Hollow: the headless horseman. This, ultimately, is what this literary piece is: a well-told ghost story. And we love it for its ability to suggest that there is a world just beyond the senses, a world that is far more expansive, far more mysterious than the one that presents itself to the five senses. To conclude, allow yourself to enjoy all the magic of a ghost story, well-told. Here is Brom Bone’s recounting for Icabod Crane the Sleepy Hollow legend, borrowed here from Walt Disney’s adaptation of Washington Irving’s tale…

Author’s Note: You may also enjoy reading last year’s post, “A Treat for Halloween…with a Feast to Follow”.

The following article appears in the Autumn edition of Roadbelly Magazine, and we’ve been wanting to share it with you. The piece is written by Tiffany Ewigleben.

“Conveying the mystique and ethos of heritage meats, meats which
embody all that is noble and good about the Old World, the West, and
the Shire.”

Duba & Company brings you meats that are more than just nutrient dense, flavorful sustenance. They bring you meats with meaning. A reverent respect for food and the people behind it seems to be in Jeff Duba’s blood. Son of the owners of the former Duba’s Restaurant, Jeff has grown up entrenched in the culinary world. The closing of Duba’s in Grand Rapids acted as the catalyst for the creation of a new company.

Former Duba’s Restaurant customers, frustrated with the lack of a good steak in town, caused the spark the started Duba’s Steaks, formed by Jeff and his father. It was decided that would sell the cuts the customers were looking for, but Jeff initially struggled with the type of meat they would be providing.

“I realized that the beef we would be selling would really just be conventional beef. A high-grade conventional beef, but still conventional beef… It comes from an industry that treats animals as if they were inanimate objects. So, I said, I’m gonna look for something else. That’s when I discovered heritage beef.”

Heritage beef comes from breeds of cattle that have been overlooked as the country’s food system shifted. From family farms to factory farms, we have made these animals rare. We’ve lost touch with cattle such as the Highland, whose long horns wouldn’t work in a CAFO; or the Dexter, a slightly smaller cattle that takes longer to reach maturity. Raising cattle has been reduced to simply making Meat™ — mass-produced¬, uniform, inhumane, and tasteless.

Sourced from pure breeds or a mix of rare breeds, these cattle are raised free of prophylactic antibiotics and growth hormones. They roam and graze pasture land — always nurtured with an all plantbased diet. The idea is to conserve these breeds and add to the genetic diversity of our livestock pool. By encouraging consumption, we can actively embrace our agricultural heritage.
With the idea firmly planted in Jeff’s mind that heritage beef would be one of their product lines, things began to take off. Leaving job security as a teacher (and philosopher), to embrace the new business, an unexpected setback suddenly occurred. In 2011, Duba’s Steaks lost their conventional beef supplier. Pursuing leads for new conventional beef would take Jeff across the country, to Colorado on the day of the Waldo Canyon Fire, and to Nebraska with an overbooked rancher, all resulting in missed opportunities to even discuss options for product.

“I say to my wife, ‘this is really strange, it feels like we are being thwarted here—but it doesn’t feel wrong, it feels like it’s meant to be.’“ Jeff looks off into the distance; eyes far away. He smiles. “Shortly after that, it became all about heritage beef. We decided to put all our energy into that. That’s what we’re passionate about anyway. The company became very focused and changed its name.”
Duba & Company-Merchants of Heritage Meats– the name itself is reminiscent of the past, reminiscent of something we have lost; knowledge unused. Jeff wants us to regain that knowledge. Duba & Company is not only a purveyor of fine meats, but also a company that provides education for the masses. After all, what better way to enjoy your food than to truly understand it?

Marketing will eventually take on the form of product flow. You will learn about the meat (such as beef), then the history of the breed (Galloway, for example), then information about the farm the meat is sourced from. Explanations of the various cuts will be available, along with cooking tutorials, via Duba & Company’s website.

Jeff is able to provide this information for his customers because of how hard he has worked to develop relationships with his farmers. Aided by his affable nature and honest passion, Jeff secured product from farms such as LEA-White in Charlotte, MI and DunDonald Highlands in Three Rivers, MI.
A natural progression of established Michigan ideals, which Jeff calls ‘symbolic potency,’ are occurring here. There is a correlation between things like microbrews, heirloom vegetables, and heritage meats. We are recapturing the lost, unearthing flavors that are unknown to us, but were known to our ancestors. By returning to a more affirming method of producing and consuming food, Duba & Company is helping us rediscover our roots — one steak at a time.

Last month we took our first family vacation. Making a conscious decision this year to take a relaxing vacation, we decided to be in one place–for an extended period of time–with little or no agenda. Of course, there are those activities one can’t help but look forward to on vacation (activities like reading, hiking, and cooking). In the weeks leading up to our week away from it all, I was struck by the notion of smoking beef brisket, a cooking method requiring time, the smoke of hickory chips, and low cooking temperatures. This would be a first for me, and the experience led to a startling self-discovery.

The preparations for the experiment began in the days leading up to our departure for the far North: the acquisition of beef brisket and a smoker with which to cook it. When my parents’ next-door neighbor–a retired Army drill Sergent–passed away suddenly, he left a treasure trove of cooking apparatus in his garage. I acquired a rotisserie, and my parents found themselves with a smoker. Our last stop before leaving for Drummond Island, therefore, was to pick up the latter. It, however, didn’t fit in our vehicle, as it was already nearly full. Of course, I had anticipated this and had envisioned creating a natural smoker in the good earth on the shore of Lake Huron. I was reminded, however, that Drummond Island is sheer rock. That is how we left for the island with beef brisket in tote, no way to smoke it, and the starry-eyed optimism that a way would materialize.

Upon arrival at our destination on the southern end of the world’s third largest fresh water island, I went rummaging through an out-building on the property, looking for anything that could be re-purposed as a smoker. There’s a dim memory I have of a picture book where a group of children go into an overstuffed attic to play. The boys find broom sticks that double as swords and horses. The girls wrap themselves in cloth, don lampshades as hats, and hold a beauty pageant. It’s a story of ingenuity and imagination, a power of the mind that I fear I seldom employ in a world where too often video games and television become our sole forms of entertainment. In my search for a make-shift smoker, that part of the brain somehow came back to life, and I found my oven in a dismantled potbelly stove.

Because cooking beef brisket is an all-day affair, I awoke early on a Tuesday morning and began by transporting the stove by wheel barrel from the outbuilding down to the rocky lake shore. There were two grills from the garage that fit perfectly inside the oven, forming two levels. A drip pan was placed on the middle level and coals were kindled below. The brisket slow-cooked over the course of about eight hours on the upper level. Every two hours or so, I added hickory chips drenched in beer to the hot coals, resulting in a sweet smoke that flavored the meat. With the sun dipping low in the western sky, my wife and I savored the thinly cut pieces of hickory-smoked beef around the campfire.

Something really did come to life that day, a part of the mind that lay dormant for quite some time. Call it ingenuity. Call it creativity. Call it dogged determination. I’ll call it the inner MacGyver.



This Autumn has been incredibly kind to us. It almost beckons us to extend the grilling–and smoking–season. If you find yourself looking to smoke some beef brisket, we just got some in. Click here for product availability.

Scotch Highland Chili3

This week, a Scotch Highland Chili I’ve been working on tied for first place in a chili cook off. Impressive though it may sound, there were really only four other chilies in the running. On the other hand, the competition did take place at a local brewpub whose staff knows a thing or two about cooking–and tasting–good food. This is the story of a chili that begins with a wager some fifteen years ago now in “a land of timeless beauty,” (it’s hard to think of Scotland without also hearing the trailer to Braveheart in my mind). The year: 1998. The bet: to eat an entire serving of haggis (exactly why that’s a bet should become abundantly clear as you read on). And hanging in the balance: a bottle of Irish liquor. It was Scott, one of my 14 flatmates in London, who threw down the gauntlet just prior to our leaving on a week-long furlough. He was off for the Emerald Isle (where Irish liquor could be procured) and I, for the enchanted city of Edinburgh and the Highlands (where haggis appears on the menus of local pubs). Read more

My vehicle jig-jagged north through the misty morning fog toward the Mackinaw Bridge on a well-known route (well-known because this was the same route one would take to our Family’s get-away on the rocky shoreline of Drummond Island). I was en route to meet with an individual whose farm is within a stone’s throw of the international bridge in Saute Sainte Marie, Michigan. He’s a university professor and ornithologist who raises an ancient breed of cattle: the Scottish Highland breed. This rare foggy morning in November, reminiscent of the opening scenes from Brigadoon, set the stage for an encounter with with these stately, primordial beasts. The fog enshrouded the Mackinaw Bridge, with the bridge’s towers–obscured by the mists–seeming to descend from some infinite point on high. The fog broke as I crossed into the overlands of Michigan’s northern peninsula, which far enough west, you’ll find the highlands of Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains. Rolling up to the farmhouse, I was greeted by Tom, who invited me in for a hot cup of coffee around the kitchen table where we soon began ruminating about the fascinating herd that was grazing just outside. Read more

Scene One

The setting for Thanksgiving 2001: The Downing House in Englewood, CO, overlooking the Cherry Hills Golf Course where, at the 1960 U.S. Open, Arnold Palmer pulled off “probably the most famous come-from-behind win in golf history,” (www.about.com). This was once the home of Jerry and Martha Dell Lewis who, as I recall, moved here from the Lone Star State with their family in the 1980s, having made their money in Texas oil as well as other successful ventures. The parties they once threw here were fabled, bringing to mind the antics of the Count of Monte Cristo. These were lavish affairs with exotic animals (giraffes and monkeys, for instance)–the kind of stuff that makes bold headlines in newspaper’s social pages. And then, they gave it all up. They created a charitable organization and bequeathed their home to it. Read more