This year it'll be farm-fresh turkey served on a platter

HAPPY EATER

November 15, 1992|By ROB KASPER

On the question of whether the holiday turkey should be just-killed or long-dead and frozen, I favor the freshly demised.

The meat of the recently departed bird seems moister, the skin crisper, the leg bones bigger. But mainly I like fresh-killed fowl because it is much harder to get.

A turkey you have to drive miles to purchase is automatically more flavorful than the one you could pick up at the neighborhood supermarket. That is what I believe. Lots of other people don't think so, including a cook who has roasted some of the best birds I have ever tasted, my mother.

My mom subscribes to the belief that the best turkey is the one that is on sale. It is usually found, frozen, in a grocery store. I suspect these marked-down birds met their maker sometime around the turn of the century and have been sitting on ice ever since Lucky Lindy flew across the Atlantic.

My mother doesn't care. She believes that it is the cook, not the bird, who brings out the flavor of what is essentially boring white meat. Every time I visit her Kansas City kitchen, she proves her theory, transforming a pale hunk of defrosted fowl into a steaming, golden entree with savory stuffing and a magnificent dark gravy that I could drink by the spoonful.

Amid the grunts of approval and occasional intelligible compliments that come her way, my mother keeps the successful meal in perspective. Of course it was a delicious feast. But, equally important, it was a bargain. She knows, to the penny, what was the price per pound of the main dish.

When my mother and I see each other we don't discuss the price of turkey. Instead we try to hide our turkey-purchasing patterns from each other.

Early one Thanksgiving morning, for instance, I stumbled into my mom's kitchen to see if I could help by peeling potatoes, or yanking the giblets out of the sale bird's frozen carcass. Instead what I found was my mother dispatching my father to the grocery store.

This surprised me, because like most families we had prepared for a joyful holiday meal by spending the previous 24 hours

making repeated trips to the grocery store, each one lasting longer than the one before. We bought out several aisles. What could we have forgotten?

I suspected something. Then I spied the piece of paper my mother had pressed into my father's hand as she attempted to shoo him out of my sight. It was a coupon for frozen turkey breasts. We might have had a 20-plus-pound bird defrosting on the kitchen counter, but turkey breasts were on sale, there was room in the freezer, and the coupon was about to expire. It was a deal.

On the other hand, when my mom visits Baltimore I never discuss how much the turkey costs. Instead of price, I try to steer the conversation to the trip I took to the turkey farm.

I drive about 20 miles to get my bird at a turkey farm near the boundary line between Howard and Prince George's counties. I'm not sure the quality of the turkey sold at this farm is markedly different from the freshly killed birds I could buy at any of the poultry stands at any of the city's nearby indoor markets. But I do know that getting to the farm is much a bigger production.

I first have to phone a number that only works during the height of the turkey season, November and December, (301) 725-2074. Then I drive out Interstate 95 to pick up the bird and invariably find myself at the mercy of both rush-hour and holiday traffic.

Pastoral it ain't, at least until I make the turnoff, which I usually miss, to the road leading to the turkey farm. The farm has cattle, big dogs, turkeys, lots of feathers, and plenty of turkey aroma. Fortunately, you don't actually see your turkey come to its demise. That, with all the defeathering, is taken care of before the customer arrives. This year the price is close to $1.40 a pound, which is probably double what my mom will pay for one of her frozen specials.

I take my kids with me to the turkey farm. It teaches them things. It teaches them, for instance, that if you holler "gobble gobble" at a pen full of turkeys, the birds will holler back. It teaches them that you don't want to stand downwind of a pen full of birds.

The other day I asked my 7-year-old if he wanted to go with me this year to get the turkey. Not only did he want to go, he spoke at length about the highlight of last year's visit to the farm, the barrel of turkey heads he found behind one of the buildings.

You can't get a barrel of turkey heads at the grocery store, even with a coupon.

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