Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Heritage Turkey

The Bourbon Red.  A descendant from the Buff, a historic breed of turkey from the Mid-Atlantic states.  In the late 1800s, the Buff was brought to Kentucky and Ohio.  J.F. Barbee cross-bred the Buff with Bronze and White Holland breeds of turkeys.  Barbee's goal was to produce a turkey breed that could rival the Mammoth Bronze turkey (a precursor to today's mammoth double breasted white turkeys).  The result was what Barbee dubbed, "the Bourbon Butternut."  Apparently, the butternut was not like a "Butterball" (which, as a name for turkeys, was not recognized until 1940).  The breed got a rebranding as the Bourbon Red.

With a new name, the Bourbon Red rose in prominence. The breed's rise peaked during the 1930s and 1940s. A Bourbon Red can grow to be a large and hardy bird, with mature toms getting as large as 33 pounds while hens grow to be 18 pounds. Its large size helped in its rise, but, the breed eventually was eclipsed by broad-breasted varieties,  which became the darling of the commercial turkey industry and, eventually, of American consumers.  The Bourbon Red stock declined, and, today, it is one of the rarer breeds of turkeys.  There are only about 5,000 breeding Bourbon Reds in the United States right now.  The breed is so endangered that it found itself on the Slow Food's USA Ark of Taste (which is a list of heritage foods in danger of extinction.

But, the rumors of the Bourbon Red's demise may be premature.  This heritage breed of turkey has made a rebound, with organic farms raising these turkeys specifically for the Thanksgiving table. One of those farms is Nick's Organic Farm, which is a certified organic farm of 165 acres located near Buckeystown, Maryland. Nick's Organic Farm raises both Narrangansett and Bourbon Reds.  After doing some research into organic farms in Maryland, I chose Nick's and ordered two good sized Bourbon Red turkeys (one for myself and one for my father-in-law) for the Thanksgiving holiday.

I have spent a lot of time researching the cooking of heritage birds, deciding between roasting or smoking the bird, what kind of stuffing to use, how to prepare the birds, and the sides.  The theme for this Thanksgiving is a nod to Colonial America, with recipes being based on dishes from Mount Vernon, Monticello and Colonial Williamsburg.  Those recipes will be posted in the coming days and weeks, so stay tuned!


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