We’re taking the day off to be with family and friends. We’ll be back tomorrow with more stories. Happy Thanksgiving!
Way back in September, we got really excited about E.N. Olivier—the brand new food boutique that specializes in flavored and artisanal olive oils and vinegars. Now that Thanksgiving is a scant few days away, we thought we should revisit this new local treasure to see how E.N. Olivier could help us create an amazing turkey. Predictably, they’ve got just the stuff in stock to help ensure that your bird will be unique, delicious, and memorable. If you’re dedicated to brining your turkey, be sure to swing by E.N. Olivier to pick up (at least) one of Victoria Taylor’s Brining Blends.
Okay, so lawmakers in Annapolis are having it out over whether we should introduce a statewide ban on arsenic in chicken and turkey feed.
You’ll excuse me if I think this one is a no-brainer. Especially when not only have “low levels of arsenic” been found in the livers of broiler chickens, but the stuff we’ve been feeding poultry to kill parasites and boost growth has apparently been “adding 30,000 pounds of arsenic to Maryland’s soil every year for decades.”
Of course the argument for continuing to feed our poultry poison (in really small amounts, we swear) is essentially an economic one: the FDA may very well approve the arsenic-containing drug Roxsarone for use nationally, which would put Maryland poultry farms at a disadvantage if it were banned in the state.
I don’t know about you, but if I were shopping for chickens in the grocery store and one of them was marked “ARSENIC-FREE,” that’s the one I would buy. And I’d certainly be willing to pay some kind of premium for it.
Really, the whole but-if-we-don’t-feed-our-chickens-poison-how-will-we-remain-competitive? argument reminds of that old Jack Benny joke, the one where the mugger says, “Look, Bud. I said your money or your life!” and Jack Benny says, “I’m thinking it over!”
The only reason it’s funny is that anyone would rather protect his life (and, so we would hope, the lives of others) than his money, right? I mean, right?
Time was, the hardest thing about a Thanksgiving turkey was cooking it. Buying one was easy: you just grab a shrinkwrapped Butterball from the frozen meat section in your supermarket and bring it home to your refrigerator. Lately, however, public interest in the ethics and health-consequences of conventional livestock breeding and raising has complicated the former no-brainer. We now find ourselves lost in a wilderness of pleasant sounding but poorly defined certifications. Here’s a compass for the food-conscious:
A heritage turkey can be any of several domestic breeds that retain many characteristics of wild turkeys (e.g. the ability to breed naturally, a long life span and slow development) that conventional supermarket varieties lack. Heritage breeds are typically pasture-raised, and can cost as much as five dollars per pound.
A bird may be of any breed to qualify as organic—and the one you buy in the supermarket may very well be of the modern, unviably top-heavy variety. The designation guarantees that the turkey was raised on an organic diet without hormones or antibiotics and was grazed in areas free of herbicides and pesticides.
Despite our traditional associations with the term, a free range turkey did not necessarily while away the hours in an idyllic paradise. According to the USDA, a bird qualifies as “free range” if the producers “demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.” On some farms, “access” can mean as little as opening a door to an overpopulated coop that the oblivious birds never venture through. If humane treatment is important to you, you may want to look for language like “pasture raised.” Or better yet, ask your farmer point blank about her methods.
But what about taste? Well, it depends. Heritage turkeys, like their wild cousins, don’t sport “super-sized” chests, and therefore carry a higher percentage of dark meat, which some people prefer, but many don’t. Heritage breeds are also naturally a bit chewier than conventional turkeys. Altering your roasting protocol (to include a day of preparatory brining) will help compensate.
The Maryland Department of Agriculture compiled a list of the state’s turkey farms with contact information and notes on varieties available, making it easier to eat local this Thanksgiving.