Personal Fowl

Photo Essay by Will Van Overbeek


Come to my house for Thanksgiving dinner. I know the turkey personally. My turkey is a free-range bird from a local turkey farm east of town on Webberville Road, White Egret Farm.

To qualify as "free-range," a turkey must "have access to a free range, been fed no growth hormones, not been vaccinated, and not been injected with gums, etc. for moistness. They are naturally moist because they have a layer of fat," says Lee Dexter, owner of White Egret Farm.

"Free-range turkeys are a clean source of food," she continues. "They are not cooped up in overcrowded conditions. They get out and forage for a varied diet: grasshoppers and worms and gravel and whatever else they like to pick up. There's no comparison in terms of flavor; this is particularly evident in the dark meat."

The turkeys stay in a pen at night, because, according to Dexter, "Everything likes to eat turkey."

When the farmer lets them out in the morning -- and you should see this from a turkey's eye view -- it's a stampede of reluctant dinosaurs. Some fly down from atop the shed. Well, really, it's more a flapping while hurtling to the ground. Thud! The runners (think dark meat ...) waddle violently out to pasture ignoring the hors d'oeuvres of a big juicy grasshopper offered to my soon-to-be main course.

Turkeys can't run. Too fat.

It makes my mouth water just to think of it. The toms strut around -- bright-red head genitalia changing to bright blue -- the dangly down thing from forehead to chest -- fanning tail, wings, and naked butt in a courtship display that reminds me of junior high school: "Today's lunch menu! Roast turkey, gravy, cornbread dressing, and congealed salad!"

This Thanksgiving, I'll be roasting my bird using the "Kafka Method" (according to the cookbook, Roasting: A Simple Art by Barbara Kafka, 1995, Morrow):

First I get my cockroach self out of bed. Guests are coming in two hours, and the bird sits obscenely pluck naked on the counter. The book explains, "A 15-pound turkey at room temperature takes two hours to roast," at 500 degrees, unstuffed "because there are real food safety questions. There will be smoke."

Personally, after rinsing the bird, I'll drench it inside and out with salt. Lots and lots of salt. Remember: Any raw poultry should be handled with care, so don't cross-contaminate any other food or surfaces with the raw juice. This especially goes for the stuffing. If you must indulge in unprotected stuffing, use a meat thermometer (cheap!) to reach an internal temp of 180 degrees Fahrenheit.

White Egret Farms still has turkeys available for Thanksgiving. If you are interested in a fresh turkey for Christmas, it is best to order them by Thanksgiving. To visit the farm, take MLK (Webberville Rd./FM 969) east from I-35, cross Hwy 183, and continue east for 6.6 miles. Look for the big purple and white sign on the left. The farm is open 1-6pm every day. 276-7408.

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