turkey

An estimated 88 percent of Americans surveyed still serve turkey for Thanksgiving. The average table bird is 15 pounds, sporting about 70 percent white and 30 percent dark meat.

In 2009, roughly 250 million turkeys were raised nationwide. Turkey consumption has risen more than 100 percent since 1970, and Illinois annually supplies some 2.7 million birds to feed that need.

But do you know your turkey, really? Chew on this:

Group dynamics. Turkeys exhibit a definite flock mentality, with birds often acting and reacting with what appears to be a single mind. “Every flock has its own personality,” turkey farmer Robert Kauffman says. “Some flocks are noisy. Some flocks like to wander. Some flocks just like to hang tight to their feeders.”

Bird brains. The turkey is an emblem of holiday family unity, a virtual symbol of dietary virtue in the breakfast or lunchmeat aisle. Gobblers even hob-knob with the president for photo ops. But Kauffman’s the first to admit they’re no geniuses. “You ever heard people say that birds are the modern dinosaur?” he inquires. “That explains a lot to me. They have a very primitive brain.”

Gluttonous gobblers. Turkeys are omnivores: Like the kid in the cereal ad, they’ll eat nearly anything. According to Kauffman, that may include anything that crawls or buzzes, hose ends, rocks, even the occasional arrowhead. Kauffman strives to keep his birds on a more disciplined diet of home-raised corn and soybean meal processed under tight quality controls. He questions claims that some open-range poultry are raised on a “vegetarian” diet. “Did they tell that chicken it couldn’t eat a bug while it’s out on range?” Kauffman wonders.

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White Christmas. The common commercial turkey displays white plumage simply because the color has been bred out. Pigment in the feathers can discolor the bird’s skin during dressing, resulting in a less appetizing supermarket presentation.

Gender equality. What’s better eating, the hen or the tom turkey? The consensus: There’s no difference in taste between males and females.

Drumsticks and drowsiness. Beyond the carb-loaded overindulgence of the traditional holiday table, a hearty turkey dinner is indeed conducive to post-celebratory napping. Turkey is naturally high in the amino acid l-tryptophan, which is believed to produce a calming effect.

Birdzilla? Kauffman’s largest turkey to date weighed in at 50.12 pounds, dressed. However, a bird that hefty is difficult to handle or dress. “Generally, we don’t want to have anything over 40,” he says.

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