Kitchen Intuition: Get your local turkey now

Authored By aliceodea

If you’re going to get a local turkey for Thanksgiving this year, now is the time to reserve it. Believe it or not, Thanksgiving is only a month away, and farmers are currently taking orders for delivery just before the holiday. The number of available turkeys is limited, so the only way to assure that one makes it to your table (and that you get the size you want) is to find a farmer or market and get your order in now.

If you haven’t gotten a local bird before, you may be wondering if it’s worth the trouble and the price. And that’s a fair question. The first time I splurged on one, there was a bit of sticker shock. This was back in the days when grocery stores were still giving away Thanksgiving turkeys, so the comparison was a price of zero versus probably around $5 a pound for a turkey purchased directly from the farmer.

That first year, I ended up buying a medium-sized bird for about $60. Since then, I’ve never gone back to the Butterball. It’s been more than 10 years, and I happily pay the premium every time Thanksgiving rolls around. My rationale has changed over the years. That first Thanksgiving, I was just trying to keep the holiday traditions alive. My daughter was flirting with vegetarianism and told me that she wouldn’t eat any meat served as part of the meal unless it was a turkey that had lived a comfortable, happy life right up until it was compassionately dispatched.

I broke the budget that year. I then roasted the turkey the same way I always had and was totally blown away by how juicy and delicious it came out. This was a bird that lived in a pasture and enjoyed a varied diet of grains, grass, fruits, vegetables, nuts and bugs. The meat was far more flavorful than I was used to. The juices, too, were natural, and not the salty potion that is injected into commercial turkeys.

I was sold on the superior quality of the local meat, but I also came to realize that there are other good reasons to keep getting the upgraded turkey-such as the abuse that takes place on factory farms and the fact that when I buy a local turkey, I can look the farmer in the eye and ask questions about the animal and the farm. I also have faith that the farmer is presumably making a decent living, doing something he or she enjoys, rather than treating the lives of fellow creatures as nothing more than a commodity.

I can’t always afford to pay three to four times the usual price for my food, but once a year, it’s worth it. And there are ways to mitigate the higher cost of getting a local turkey. Simply buying less is one option. In fact, it’s a lot easier to get a smaller turkey from a farmer than it is to find one at the grocery store, where the birds tend to be raised with freakishly huge breasts and are often injected with questionable fluids to push their weight up.

I also take care to use every bit of the turkey that I buy. After the holiday meal, our Thanksgiving bird gives us leftover meat that usually lasts through quite a few lunches and dinners. Further, the evening after the dinner, I strip the meat off the bones, put the carcass in a pot and cover it with water. I let that simmer slowly overnight. The next day, we wake up to the most lovely aroma in the house, along with a few quarts of turkey stock. Some we may use right away (perhaps to make a soup to use up the last of the leftover turkey later in the week), and the rest might end up in the freezer for later.

In Chattanooga, it’s still possible to reserve a Thanksgiving turkey for this year. To find a bird, you have a number of options. If you already have a relationship with a grower, check to see if they’re taking orders or can make a referral to another farm.

If you don’t already know a farmer, you can use a local harvest search engine to find a potential supplier, or simply go to the Main Street Farmers Market on a Wednesday to talk to the farmers or place your order-this past Wednesday, there were two farms taking orders (Three Barns South and Hoe Hop Valley Farm), and they will be there this coming week as well (Hoe Hop is also taking Web orders for pickup at the market the Tuesday before Thanksgiving).

You may also find what you want at Main Street Meats, as they will be offering a variety of options this year, including local, free-range, heritage breed turkeys and free-range, organic turkeys or turkey breasts-all of which can be purchased fresh, brined, or smoked and fully cooked (they will have prepared side dishes available as well). This is probably your best option for getting a turkey well ahead of time or for last-minute orders.

No matter where you might find a local turkey, the earlier you make your reservation, the better. Also, if you or someone you know has turkeys available, please feel free to leave a comment below to let others know!

Alice O’Dea has lived in Chattanooga for over 20 years, but was raised among the mucks and dairy farms in rural western New York. She didn’t really learn to cook until midlife. When she’s not puttering around in the kitchen, she enjoys running, cycling, traveling, photography and trying to get food to grow in the backyard of her Highland Park home. You can email her with questions, suggestions or comments at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not or its employees.