29 September 2009

how important is heritage?

It's settled. We're going to stay in LA for Thanksgiving. We've long ago resolved not to travel by air around Thanksgiving, because of the invariable headaches, delays, cancellations and worse. But, the question always remains of whether to travel in-state to some outdoorsy destination. Last year, for example, we cooked our very first full, traditional Thanksgiving dinner... but then we immediately hit the road and drove five hours up to Mammoth, a cooler full of leftovers accompanying us.

Our first Thanksgiving

The year before, we didn't cook at all, and instead spent the holiday climbing with friends in the Owens River Gorge north of Bishop.

So this year we have decided that we'll stay in town, if not for the whole weekend, at least until Friday morning. No dine and dash. With that settled, it's time for the next question... whom to host? Naturally, if we're going to go to all that effort of cooking the full meal -- two-day-brined turkey, homemade stock which goes into the stuffing and gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, brussel sprouts, pumpkin pie and whipped cream -- then we'd really like to share it. (Though last year's full spread in front of just the two of us was quite comic!) We've invited Bob & Karla, whom we spent Thanksgiving with in Bishop two years ago, and my dear friend Jenn, who would be traveling in from Denver if she accepts. We'll see who else will be in town and without family obligations as we get closer.

And now for the most trivial but somehow still critical question: what kind of turkey to get? The liberal-guilt-laden foodie within me, the one who is too scared of all the propositions in Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma to actually read it, thinks we owe it to ourselves not to eat some yucky, mass-produced, genetically-inferior Butterball. At the very least, it seems like we should get a free-range, organic bird, since poultry farming can be a pretty grotesque affair. But I'm one of those gullible people who has completely bought into the urban legend that huge numbers of mass-produced turkeys die of heart attacks during thunderstorms, because the breeding that has given them such large, juicy breasts has also given them tiny, overly-nervous brains. My great sort-of-ancestor Ben Franklin thought the turkey was a more deserving national symbol than the bald eagle ("a bird of bad moral character"), because it was a true native of America, and was thought in those days to be a respectable, courageous bird, one who would not hesitate to attack a Red Coat -- clearly no longer the case, even if they aren't dying en masse with every thunderclap.

Last year we paid $100+ for a 9-pound heritage hen ordered online from Dean & Deluca (I believe it was labeled a Tom, but at only 9 pounds, it seems much more likely that we ate Frau Turkey, not Herr Turkey.). Here she is after brining and a butter massage.

Though she was delicious, and we felt very virtuous eating a small-breasted though certainly-more-clever bird, $100 was a lot to pay for that privilege, even if turkey prices are rising. (This year, prices for heritage birds are even higher.) It seems more justifiable, though, if we're sharing the pricey bird with close friends, and not just eating it ourselves.

So will we go the heritage route? If so, we'll have to decide fairly soon, since they always sell out weeks before Thanksgiving. What I do know for sure is that we'll have a few repeats at the table this year:

AMAZING fresh sage and celery leaf stuffing with homemade turkey stock, based on a recipe from Gourmet, but with added cream (yes, Paula Deen would be proud)

And truly the best pumpkin pie ever, from the Cooks Illustrated recipe, with homemade whipped cream (and, I will confess, store-bought pastry)

I'm getting hungry thinking about it all. Can we just skip October, and get right into the yummy holidays and ski season?

1 comment:

  1. mmmmm great pumpkin pie pic, my mouth is watering right now! i think that's a crazy amount to pay for a turkey and not sure it is worth it. we had a 40$ organic valley bird last christmas and loved it. i remember a great slate article about all the different turkey options out there, and was surprised by the taste test results! http://www.slate.com/id/2091593/


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