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Too early to buy candy, but not to talk turkey

by: Barb Randall, These American Bronze Heritage turkeys were common food in the early 1900s. Their taste is much more flavorful than commercially raised turkeys. Poultry farmer Dan Wilson considers eating heritage turkey “one of the finest dining experiences ever!”

It is really too early to be seeing Halloween candy displays in the grocery store. You and your grocer both know the candy bought today will not be tucked safely away until Oct. 31 - if you buy it now, you will eat it now.

Though it may be too early to start preparing for Halloween, it is the perfect time to begin preparing for Thanksgiving. First task on the list: select your turkey.

The Thanksgiving Turkey is the cornerstone of the celebration. The success of your bird determines whether guests go home happily overstuffed or go home grateful that you make good gravy and cranberry sauce to help the meat out. Choosing the right turkey and preparing it correctly is no light matter.

Susie and Dan Wilson of SuDan Farm in Canby sent their e-mail just when I was beginning to mull my options. Their suggestion: roast one of their locally grown heritage turkeys this year and create a Sustainable Thanksgiving Feast! 'If you've never had a heritage breed turkey raised on pasture and wholesome grains, then you are missing one of the finest dining experiences ever!' the e-mail read.

That suggestion was enough to pique my curiousity and appetite.

After a phone call and an easy 40-minute drive through Clackamas county farmland, I arrived at SuDan Farm and was greeted by Dan, his blue-and-brown eyed Australian shepherd and the contented clucking of chickens, ducks and turkeys. Famous for their lamb (which they sell at Portland and Milwaukie Farmers Markets), the Wilsons have raised poultry on the farm for the past ten years. Dan told me about raising poultry, the taste difference of a heritage turkey and demonstrated the use of ingenious 'chicken tractors' while we strolled through the pastures.

Turkeys used to have a lot more in common with wild game birds like ducks and pheasants. They were relatively small, with a fairly even distribution of white and dark meat. Their diet consisted mainly of grass and insects, which contributed to complex-tasting meat. After World War II, demand went up for inexpensive poultry and for mild-tasting white meat.

That white meat turkey sandwich you crave after the Thanksgiving Feast? That succulent breast meat is the turkey producers response to the public's demand; they selectively bred birds for larger breasts. The process they developed enabled the birds to mature more quickly, giving the meat less time to develop flavor. Since the turkeys were being mass produce, they were fed bland-tasting but economical grain. Turkeys were confined to smaller pens, which reduced opportunities to exercise, which also affected their flavor. This produced the turkey that we find in our grocery store today. Plump and juicy, this 'traditional' bird is what we have grown to look forward to each Thanksgiving.

However, now we are seeing the pendulum swing back the other way.

We want more than white meat in terms of flavor. We want to know where our food originates. Public interest in heritage turkeys is mounting and we may soon see them gracing our tables as the Thanksgiving Turkey of choice.

Heritage turkeys are what our ancestors would have eaten on Thanksgiving as recently as 60 years ago. There are many breeds from which to choose: American Bronze, Blue Slate, Narragansett, Bourbon Reds are some. They have a distinctive flavor and a variety of textures. They have a more even distribution of dark to white meat, and the white meat is more flavorful than that of a commercially grown bird.

The Wilsons raise two breeds of turkeys: Broad Breasted White turkeys and Heritage American Bronze turkeys.

Their turkeys are raised on pasture and wholesome grains, and are tended in a sincere spirit of the stewardship the Wilsons feel toward the creatures entrusted to their care.

The promise of more white meat sandwiches was tempting, but in the end I took Dan's recommendation and reserved a SuDan Farm American Bronze heritage turkey for our Thanksgiving Feast. It will be delivered fresh a few days before Thanksgiving, ready for me to stuff and roast in any way I choose.

More white meat or less - that was a tough choice, but I have a feeling I can't go wrong with a turkey from SuDan Farm.

Cook's Illustrated, the monthly magazine and resource Web site for America's Test Kitchen, suggests that the best way to cook any turkey is to brine it first. (Exceptions to this rule are injected, prebasted or kosher turkeys.) Their research indicates that soaking turkeys in a saltwater solution before cooking protects delicate white meat and keeps the meat juicier. Brining may also give poultry a meatier, firmer consistency and seasons the meat down to the bone.

The basic formula for brining turkey is one cup of table salt per gallon of cold water. This formula works for all size turkeys. Soak the turkey in the brine for eight hours, then rinse thoroughly and pat dry.

Now that I've selected my turkey, after Halloween I can start selecting the perfect stuffing recipe, side dishes and pies to prepare for our Thanksgiving celebration. Maybe I'll even sit down with a Snickers bar to do my research ...

SuDan Farm is taking orders for their Heritage American Bronze and White Broad Breast turkeys. These turkeys are not brined or injected with anything. The hens usually dress out to about ten to 13 pounds; the toms will dress out in the 16-25 pound range. The price is $2.50 per pound, plus the butchering charge, approximately $9 per bird. To order call 503-651-5262 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Please indicate whether you would like a smaller or larger bird.

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-635-8811 or by

goreview.com .