At my house, the squabbling over who gets to make Thanksgiving desserts has started, with my roommates debating who to invite in closed-door conversations and whispered telephone calls. Thanksgiving is our high holiday, the celebration of a family of friends who love to eat together.
David, the master turkey roaster, has insisted on fresh, free-range turkey since he first learned how to baste a bird ten years ago. We spend the extra bucks for two reasons: The meat tastes better, and we're supporting agricultural practices that we approve of.
But birds labeled "free-range" don't necessarily roam the wild expanses. (If you'd like to order wild turkeys, at $4.75 a pound for six- to nine-pound birds, contact San Francisco-based game distributor Polarica at 415-647-1300.) The producers of free-range birds must give their livestock some access to the outside, such as small fenced-in yards, instead of keeping the poultry in pens that make veal producers look humane. Free-range does not mean certified organic, either. For poultry to be certified organic, it must be fed only organic grain, which costs three times as much as regular chicken feed. That's reason enough to keep most small-time producers from raising organic birds.
Nevertheless, both of the major producers of free-range turkeys sold in the East Bay eschew antibiotics, animal products, and growth hormones. As Tim McCormick of Magnani Poultry told me, "We have sold Fulton Valley turkeys out of Sonoma for eighty years now, because they're always raised humanely ... the same way as they have for years."
Bay Area Whole Foods stores and Enzo's in Rockridge both sell Diestel turkeys. According to Dan Lambert, manager of Enzo's, Diestel is a family-run turkey ranch in Sonora, California that has been around since 1949. It offers two kinds of turkeys: regular old free-range, up to 32 pounds in size; and organic turkeys at up to 18 pounds.
During the holiday season, all the birds are sold fresh. Magnani is selling Fulton Valley birds for $1.99 a pound. Enzo's is selling Diestel turkeys at $2.09 a pound, while Whole Foods offers free-range Diestel turkeys for $1.69 a pound and organic turkeys for $1.99 a pound. Butchers at all three stores said that diners should order their turkeys by Saturday, November 17 for pickup on the Tuesday or Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
This year's 20-pound bird will once again cost my household $35 to $40. It will feed sixteen for dinner, we'll have enough scraps for days' worth of sandwiches, and the bones will make enough turkey stock for a big pot of soup. That's enough food to quiet the clucking until Christmas.
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