Those frozen packaged turkeys you now see in the grocery stores are not the kind of turkey the Native Americans shared with the Pilgrims. These Broad Breasted Whites have been specifically bred to produce greater white meat to such an extent that the large breast area and short legs precludes natural procreation.
Heritage turkeys, on the other hand, are the descendants of the original domesticated turkeys and are naturally mating, long-lived and slow-growing. Heritage breeds include the Jersey Buff, Bourbon Red, Narragansett and Royal Palm. The wild turkeys in the Blue Ridge are the eastern wild turkey, one of the six sub-specifies found in North America.
The benefit of these heritage turkeys is flavor, an element lacking in commercially processed turkeys. But finding heritage turkeys is difficult. Heritage turkeys take 24 to 28 weeks to get a 15-pound hen and most local farmers who raise these turkeys pre-sell their birds through their CSAs or word of mouth. Occasionally, you will see sign-ups at area farmers markets during the summer and these typically require a deposit. Some farms have sign-ups on their websites: One such farm is High Farms in Landrum, S.C. (near the N.C. and S.C. border, west of I-26), which raises Bourbon Red Turkeys ($6.50 per pound; highfarmsllc.com).
The largest U.S. heritage turkey farmer is Frank Reese of Good Shepherd Ranch in Kansas. His turkeys are still available online through Heritage Foods USA (www.heritagefoodsusa.com) but are expensive when overnight shipping is factored into the price. Whole Foods Market (located throughout the state, but not here yet) also carries heritage turkeys.
Looking for a food you can't find? Or do you know of other food items unique to the Q.C.? Whether it's regional foods or international, talk to me: [email protected] or 704-522-8334, extension 136.