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October 31, 2005

Thanksgiving Turkey from the office of Alice Waters

Dear Friends,

With Thanksgiving coming, we thought you might like to know how to order a Heritage Turkey. The Bourbon Red and the American Bronze are two of the several historic breeds of turkey that our forebears ate before the market was monopolized by the Broadbreasted White, developed in the 1950s and now the sole variety in large-scale production. The Bourbon Red and the American Bronze have firmer, darker meat with much more pronounced turkey flavor than the standard bird; they are both delicious. Frank Reese Jr., whose turkeys are directly descended from the birds of the 19th century, and his coalition of five small-scale turkey farmers are growing these birds, and Heritage Foods USA is helping to distribute them. They deserve our support!



Turkeys can be ordered in advance until November 10. In Berkeley, order from

The Pasta Shop
1786 Fourth Street
Berkeley, California
(510) 528-1786

and in San Francisco, from

Prather Ranch Meat Co.
One Ferry Building, Shop Number 32
San Francisco, California
(212) 980-6603 [Orders taken by Heritage Foods USA]

You can pick up your turkeys at these locations between November 18 and 23. Specify the size of bird you’d like when you order: 11 to 14 pounds, 15 to 18 pounds, or 19 pounds and over. The price is $7.99 a pound.  A $50 deposit is required with your order, and the balance is payable at the time of pick-up. Check or credit card preferred.


Turkeys are native to the Americas and were a primary source of meat for many Native Americans. In the 16th century, Europeans took home wild birds from the New World and bred them for their meat and egg-producing capabilities. Settlers brought these domesticated European varieties back to the Americas where they were re-bred with wild turkeys, giving rise to the varieties we know as “heritage turkeys.” Heritage turkeys are sub-breeds; the primary distinctions among them are their colorations and regional origins. Historic American turkey sub-breeds include the American Bronze, Narragansett, Bourbon Red, Jersey Buff, Slate, White Holland, Beltsville Small White, and Royal Palm. Before the industrialization of turkey farming that began in the 20th century, nearly every family farm in the United States kept a small flock of one of these fowls. The birds grazed freely, ate varied diets, roosted in trees, and grew to full size in seven or more months.

Most of the 270 million turkeys eaten annually in modern America are a far cry from the splendid birds admired by Benjamin Franklin. Virtually all of them belong to one modern variety, the Broadbreasted White. While Broadbreasted Whites grow very rapidly (reaching maturity in just two months), they are unable to mate naturally and are typically confined and fed a dubious high-fat diet dosed with antibiotics. Meanwhile, the turkeys that once populated American farms are nearly extinct. To reverse this trend, for the fourth year Heritage Foods USA is working with Frank Reese Jr. of Lindsborg, Kansas, and his coalition of five small turkey farmers to bring these birds to your Thanksgiving table. Thanks to their efforts the Bourbon Red variety has been upgraded from “Rare” to “Watch” status on the endangered list, and an upgrade for the American Bronze is expected soon. Frank’s heritage turkeys range free and forage on pasture, developing much stronger legs, thighs, and breasts than cage-raised turkeys. As a result, the meat of these birds is denser, darker, richer, and indescribably more flavorful than that of mass-produced birds.

For more information visit  Heritage Foods USA


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