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AN HEIRLOOM TURKEY
November 25, 2005
 
Our heirloom turkey was scheduled to arrive via FedEx two days before Thanksgiving. Sure enough, it was waiting patiently for us on the front porch when we got back from the grocery store Tuesday afternoon.

What makes it an heirloom, Q wanted to know. I told him it was a bird of a breed they had in the 18th century, before turkeys were bred to have breasts so large they couldn't walk, that it was either an American Bronze or a Bourbon Red, that we would know which one it was when it arrived.

How will we know?

We'll look it up on the website. Each one has an ID number, and you just type in the number and find out all about your particular turkey.

Our heirloom turkey, may it rest in peace, was somewhat tall and skinny, by modern standards, and it was certainly true that its breast was much less impressive than those of its modern cousins. Its legs, though, were larger: this turkey had walked. It can take much less time for it to bake, it said on the package, so watch it carefully. It didn't give a minutes-per-pound figure at all: I could see that this turkey was a real wild card. And the breast will finish before the legs do, so you might want to cover it with foil. Okay.

It turned out that our turkey was a hen, which came as something of a shock, since we had been calling it Tom ever since we put it into the oven. Thomasina was a vegetarian and eschewed growth hormones, which is why she was so flat-chested.

Thomasina was an American Bronze. She was hatched last March on a farm in Kansas, owned by a man named Larry and his wife, Madonna. She was descended from turkeys Larry got from a friend of his named Frank, who talked Larry into adding turkeys to his pig farm. Larry and Madonna raised 800 turkeys this year; next year they hope to raise 1,000. Frank raised 2,000; he had to call Larry to come over and help him load them into the truck when it was time to take them to what the website called "their final destination," which for Thomasina was a week ago Tuesday. This cannot have been an easy job: these turkeys run around, and you have to catch them. Patrick, the man who runs the heirloom turkey market website, was present when Thomasina met her maker, and he says her final moments were, as he put it, "ethical." That Patrick sure has a way with words.

Thomasina was a wonderful turkey. Delicious. The dark meat was moist and tender, plentiful; the gravy made up dark and delicious. The breast was a little dry, because I never got around to the foil thing -- next year, for sure.

Will there be a next year? Will I send off again for an heirloom turkey who costs significantly more than the rent on my first apartment? I think I will. Thomasina and her relatives are a Critically Endangered Livestock Species, which means that fewer than 1,000 breeders were alive as of last year -- you wouldn't think we were improving that situation much by eating one of them, but it seems we did: if people buy American Bronze turkeys, then farmers will raise more of them and they won't be endangered any more. So that's the human part of saving a species: we buy them and eat them. In the ecology of livestock, we are the market, ensuring ongoing life by the judicious taking of it. Yikes.

I guess we're all like that: we will have used our span of life well if we use it all up. We may not live forever, but we'll be fruitful and the world will be better off because we were here, no matter how long we get to stay. It will want more where we came from.

Today, the house is full of a wonderful smell: turkey soup, the very last bit of Thomasina's immense and generous usefulness, warming hearts and soothing scratchy throats: our son-in-law has a terrible cold, and my daughter is stopping by for a container of soup in a little while. We will have it for supper, as well, with some leftover pie.

Thanks and thanks to the noble bird, the same 18th-century bird Ben Franklin thought ought to have been our national symbol, rather than the ruthless eagle. And thanks be to God that it is not too late, that much of human folly can have a remedy if we can only get to it in time. Give us the will to think it important enough to step off the beaten path once in a while to stop and retrieve something we almost left behind forever.
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Interested in an heirloom turkey or goose? How about a nice Red Wattle Pig? http://www.heritagefoodsusa.com/ is a most interesting website.
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Many of you have ordered Volume Three of the Let Us Bless the Lord series of meditations for use with the Daily Office. The books have not arrived here from the publisher yet, although they are expected at any moment; as soon as they do, they will be sent on to you. In the meantime, fear not: I will send you each day's meditation via email until the books arrive.
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Please accept my apologies for not writing the eMo in more than a week; I injured my back badly and have a hard time sitting. But God was good enough to give me the pain tolerance to get this one out, surely a good omen for the future!
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